Finally… Charles Dickens!

I can’t remember how many times I pass through the Charles Dickens section at the Kinokuniya bookstore, Plaza Senayan shopping mall, Central Jakarta, without buying one of his titles until a couple of days ago my mind suddenly shifted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’ to Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.’

I have wanted to read ‘Cranford’ not long after I was so head over heels for Gaskell’s adorable language in her ‘Mary Burton’. I read the first few pages of ‘Cranford’ and as usual, Gaskell’s writing is so superb. She can always craft a gold out of straws. What seems to many of us as ordinary, boring views can instead be her rich resource. ‘Cranford’ is no exception.

But how didn’t I purchase it right after ‘Mary Barton’? Ok, let me be honest here. It’s because ‘Cranford’ features spinsters. No matter how light and cheerful the book is, as suggested by reviewers, becoming spinsters is by all means gloomy. I tend to avoid novels that touch spinsterhood. Apart from private matter about spinsterhood, I faced a very limited option to read after I had completed reading ‘Agnes Grey’ in the bookstore. Knowing that I didn’t have many choices since I have read almost all novels from my favorite authors that are in the store, I immediately remembered ‘Cranford’ once I had decided to read more materials in the Victorian era.

“Better to read a book that will satisfy my hunger on beauty amid personal issue than experiencing something I know it won’t even ignite my imagination,” my mind said at that time. So, I forced myself taking a very tough journey from office in Ciputat, South Tangerang, to the mall. It was a very tiring trip for I had to pass through some traffic jam points all along the journey. But I must not give up and directly went back at home because there was a good book awaiting me.

After a few hours on the road, I reached the store and found out ‘Cranford’ remained at the same point the last time I spotted it. I looked at ‘Cranford’ for a few times and almost brought it to the store’s cashier for payment but the spinsterhood issue moved my mind to reconsider the would-be decision. So, my eyes shifted to a tall bookshelf next to the ‘Cranford’ section. George Eliot, Sir Arthur Conan Dyle and definitely Charles Dickens. Prior to this visit, I have read at some initial pages of Dickens’ most popular novels, such as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Hard Times’, and ‘The Pickwick Papers’, none of which wowed me by the words. My most wanted masterpiece from Dickens is ‘Our Mutual Friend’. I love it from the first words I read, giving the kind of sensation after I just read books by Thomas Hardy. Unfortunately, the store does not sell ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and I know not when it will be available.

I have read the title of “The Old Curiosity Shop’, definitely but I never thought of it until that evening. I made use some valuable seconds to check some first pages of the novel at the internet given the battery of my smartphone was running out. I was not really awed with them but somehow I made a compromise. I was considering that I should try reading books from first-person narration as the reading experience with ‘Agnes Grey’ that applies such method proved to be impressive. Besides, it was time for me to seek books with complex plots with not many drama focusing on major characters. It was time for me to read novels that would overwhelm me with conflicts.

A refreshment from usual preference of beautiful, magical language as in Thomas Hardy or Elizabeth Gaskell’s masterpieces. So I bought the novel at the end. I was prepared for the long reading journey given its 500-something pages and by the time I currently on the page of 134, I am deeply immersed by the book.

The first page captured my heart. It keeps me wondering what the book will be at the end. Despite the many characters on the book, I can still follow what it has to offer because I know beforehand the core of the book. The characters of Nelly Trent completely touches my sympathy. I suddenly associate her with Hardy’s Tess. Then, I can feel the good humor sense of the book and finally………..

I applaud Dickens’ unquestionable writing skills, his vivid imaginations and his overall mind and heart put in the book. The book is so wealthy by far. In terms of story plots, language, human emotions and all important elements that readers want to digest within one book.

Thank you for myself. Thank you for eventually getting touch with the British most-beloved, prolific author after some years launching a journey into the Victorian literature. I am so relieved that I come to this point where I read books from Dickens, who can be said is the pivot of the Victorian literature.

My views on life as told by these Victorian writers

qupteOne of the greatest reading benefits is knowing that I am not a solo fighter to affirm my perspectives on life. From religion, social status, gender… writers share what they think about the world, which in coincidence, matches with my own. And I can say there are things from each of the book that I have read which are just what I feel. As my latest reading experiences are, still, on Victorian era, I’d love to highlight what I and the fantastic four authors have in common:

Thomas Hardy

Oh yes, there he is, again and again. He remains my darling for the Victorian era. His books are endless resources for my writings. What makes me liking this writer is definitely due to his views on life which are similar with mine. Below are some of his works that best describe my thoughts:

Far from the Madding Crowd
Feminism is the first word that emerges in my mind the first time I read about Bathsheba Everdene. She’s the kind of feminist that I adore. I don’t exactly know well the definition of feminism. All I agree is that a woman must be independent, capable of doing her tasks and making ends meet on her own but she, one day, will be a wife and a mother because she wants to be like that. And she does that out of love, not by force. When she is at home, she respects her husband wholeheartedly.

Jude the Obscure
Whenever I think about Jude, the main character in the book, introversion is the first word that perfectly characterizes him. I and Jude both agree that reading is the key to the world, or even, the tool that crafts our beings. Introversion and reading are best partners in life. Perfect mates to live up our dreams. Jude is the reflections of my characterization as someone who sticks at his introversion, lives the life according to his idealism amidst the world that prefers looking at extroverts.

The Woodlanders
Sometimes, the best thing falling in love with someone is limited as standing by his side, giving a helping hand when he needs that, being his best friend even when he’s in love with another woman. So painful yet that experience has brought so much joy for Marty South, one of the characters in the book. The death of Giles Winterborne doesn’t encourage her to immediately find another lover. Is being faithful to an unrequited love is a pathetic romance? You have your say. But for me, her decision to love, to have her heart crushed, to fall until she reaches the very bottom  of her life is a very brave, risky thing to do. She doesn’t mind being so vulnerable and that what makes her heart is so precious.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is really sweet. She’s the kind of writer that nourishes your soul with her poetic, beautiful phrases. She is, what I call, as moderate realist. Neither skeptical nor an optimist. She’s such a refreshment.

Wives and Daughters
Molly Gibson, the heroine of the novel, speaks my stance about womanhood very well in Wives and Daughters. I used to really hate table manners, ladylike sort of things when I was a teenager. I hated make up, wore dresses and girly accessories. They were so nonsense. They took up so much of my priceless time. Womanhood used to be so annoying for me. I even wished I were born as a boy, LOL. At that time, I thought boys were so free. No norms, public statements that would limit their movements. While girls were born with so many duties, stereotypes. And if they went against public norms, their lives would be doomed, filled with gossips.

But that was then. Just like Molly, now I understand the nicest things of becoming a woman. I enjoy them all by the time I was turning, may be, 25. Sounds a bit late but each and every of us has a wonderful journey of his or her own. My time happens when I was 25 years old. But still, I keep my tomboyish trait and let it flourishes once in a while, like when I do exercises and watch sport games.

Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey
By the time I write this post, I almost complete reading Agnes Grey and I really love reading it. I usually prefer to read books with third person narration but Agnes Grey proves me that reading novels using first person narration method can be awesome, too. I am so fond of Agnes, the heroine of the book. Apart from the fact that she’s a bookworm and introvert, just like I am, she’s so bold and brutally honest. She’s so firm with her belief although that means she is risky of losing her jobs.

She does not give up easily pursuing her dreams despite the fact she faces hatred, unfair treatments, harsh words from her bosses and their families. She knows some people view her profession as a governess is no more than a servant but she keeps doing what she feels correct. Oh the last thing I really like about Agnes is that she’s not a people pleaser.

George Eliot

Adam Bede
Dinah Morris, one of the major characters in this novel, amazes me because of her religiosity. She devotes her life for her religion then share what she has with the poor, the depressed or those in need of spiritual help out of love not for the sake of good impressions. She knows well what she wishes in her life, she practices her religious rituals because she knows what they mean to her life.

I, too, my ultimate goal in life is getting closer and closer to Alloh swt. I want to make Him as the best ever friend in the world and the hereafter through questioning, self-learning, doing religious rituals under His guidance as stated in Koran and the sunah from the Prophet Muhammad saw (peace be upon him). To make my life much more meaningful, I’d like to share good things and help people out of love and because Alloh swt wishes me to do so. I’d love to make Islam as my way of life, fully implement it to live the days full of peace even as days go wild because I have Alloh swt in my heart. (the source of the picture: http://www.azquotes.com)

Five fictional characters whose personalities resemble my own

fictional characters

picture source: virtualvictorian.blogspot.com

One of the most surprising things that can happen when reading novels is knowing that one or several characters in the books have personalities that resemble my own. When this occurs, I have mixed feelings; sometimes I feel my weirdness is no longer special because there are even artificial people who behave or think like what I do. On the other hand, I feel that I’m not alone in embracing my oddity; that there are a lot of people who are just as unique, melancholy, overly sensitive, whatever kind of traits that label my personality.

So, these are the characters whom I find some parts of my overall personality are embedded in them:

  1. Jude Fawley

I discover most parts of my personality in this character; a deep thinker, an introvert, a loner, a hard worker, an overly sensitive person. One thing that we share in a common; we work hard on our goals no matter how often we get confused on whether we are pessimist or realists. Oh not to forget: we are both bookworms.

  1. Cynthia Kirkpatrick

She is one of the puzzled characters I have met so far; elegant, educated, very pretty,classy woman. No.. I’m not that physically charming or may not be as intelligent as her. What shocks me when I read about her is that she’s moody and is full of masks. One moment she can be so happy in front of her parents but in another moment she can be look so down in front of Molly Gibson, her stepsister. She seems calm, cool when she talks with Mr. Gibson, her stepfather, whom she respects highly but she looks disrespectful when she is with her mother. She wisely chooses her words when speaking in front of her stepfather or strangers but she does not watch her mouth when she has discussions with her mother.

And she’s so smart in hiding her problems. She won’t tell her matters unless she is forced to do so. Even if she does that, she is opened to certain people only. My similarity with her lies on our mood swing trait. Sometimes I can be extremely joyful then quickly be gloomy. But oftentimes, I can control emotion. On average, I’m a peaceful person.

  1. Molly Gibson

Molly is a very loveable character. She is innocent and super kind person who becomes the best confidante for almost all characters in the ‘Wives and Daughters’. I’m not that agreeable loveable like her but yes I’m a nice person. I see my tomboyishness in Molly. And her rebellious character is just like me. She dislikes ladylike conduct, fashion mode and table manner that are highly held by her stepmother. I have the same saying for this matter as well.

  1. Marty South

It’s too bad that Thomas Hardy does not put her as a major character in “The Woodlanders’ for I think her loyalty to Giles Winterborne is outstanding. Although I can’t foresee myself to be so faithful as Marty South when it comes to romance but I regard myself as a loyalist almost in all aspects of life. I have only John Steinbeck as my most favorite novelist, Juventus as the sole football club, Alessandro Del Piero as the one footballer that sticks in my heart and Westlife as the once-and-for-all musician in my music preference after all these years. And I’ll be way much more faithful when Alloh swt finds me and him one day, ameen..

  1. Tess Durbeyfield

Tess is the perfect person once could ever be in the Victorian era. Among the positive list of her characteristics; decent, patient, good-tempered, Tess properly suits with this trait: the love that I have to my family. And as hard as she works for her family, I do the same thing all for the sake of the ones that I unconditionally love until the very bit of my heart.

“Wives and Daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Twelve years old Molly Gibson has her little world come into a hectic when she is invited to join a gala in the mansion of the earl and the countess Lord and Lady Cunmor of the Towers. This is the kind of much-awaited event for ladies at the Hollingford, the town when Molly, the heroine of the novel, resides with his handsome, respectable father and doctor Mr. Gibson. Her mother has passed away when she is just three years old. Since Mr. Gibson often travels to meet then cure his patients, Molly is taken care by her nurse, Betty.

This innocent, poor, sweet girl visits the Towers with Miss Browings, who have been so close with the Mr. Gibson’s family, ever since the mother is alive. The occasion proves to be so boring, hot for Molly that she decides to take a walk to the garden without any knowledge of the Miss Brownings.

She wanders around the yard, gets exhausted then falls asleep. Thanks to the good care of Mrs. Kirkpatrick, or she goes by name of Clare, the governess of the house, Molly is very well treated although she feels so awkward being the mansion. Her father, or Molly calls as papa, picks her up the next day.

Years go forward and Molly is now 17 years old. She grows into a beautiful, innocent and super tender young girl. Her kindness catches the heart of Mrs. Hamleys, who repeatedly persuades Mr. Gibson of bringing her to her Hamley mansion for a couple of days for companionship. Mrs. Hamley, who have two sons – Osborne and Roger, is so fond of Molly. Mr. Gibson takes his daughter to the Hamleys after he finds out that one of his pupils has a crush on Molly. Mr. Gibson thinks Molly is too early to fall in love thus he puts her in the Hamleys for summer holiday and for the best reason is distancing her from the student.

Despite all of her unawareness on the cause of her visit to the Hamleys, Molly agrees to go there. She befriends with the sick Mrs. Hamley and both of them share a lot of good times. She even becomes her confidante. Mrs. Hamley regards Molly as her daughter. She tells the stories of his sons, of how she is so proud of Osborne as someone who is so skilled at poetry writing. Given Mrs. Hamley’s complimentary opinions about Osborne, Molly starts developing her admiration to him.

Mr. Gibson and Mr. Hamley are such good friends. Mr. Gibson likes his pal’s straight-forwarded, honest, easily get-tempered yet good-hearted traits. On one occasion, Mr. Hamley mentions Mr. Gibson’s widower, the subject that takes the latter’s by surprise yet catches his deep thinking.

At the same time, Mrs. Kirkpatrick is surprised that the Lady Cunmor and Lord Cunmor brings up the possibility of the marriage between Mrs. Kirkpatrick or Clare with Mr. Gibson. In short, Mr. Gibson proposes Clare then get married despite an initial rejection from Molly. Cynthia, Clare’s only daughter, is not present in the wedding. In spite of Clare’s kindness when Molly gets lost in the Towers, both of them often get caught in arguments. Clare notices small details, she wants Molly to behave ladylike. She turns out to be a bit demanding, manipulative. She sometimes complains of not being taken whenever her husband sets out for curing his patients. Although Molly gets sick with her stepmother’s beautiful yet vain trait, the young girl prefers to stay silent for the sake of her father’s happiness as what Roger advises her to do.

Meanwhile, the Hamleys sets into a period of darkness not long after the wedding takes place. Mrs. Hamley’s health deteriorates after the family learns on the overwhelming debt Osborne has to bear during his education. What makes it even unbearable for Mr. Hamley is that Osborne does not want to explain where the money goes. Mr. Hamley expels him, asks him to only return home when he can pay all the debt. This father-and-son conflict causes Mrs. Hamley’s condition to get even more worsening until a few days before Molly leaves her, Mrs. Hamley barely concious, she does not even talk to her, she grows much more distant and depends much of her life on medicines.

She eventually passes away and the life in the Hamleys never gets the same again. The relationship between Mr. Hamley and Osborne are often involved in arguments; Mr. Hamley gets frustrated with Osborne’s unexplained debt causes, the firstborns reluctant outdoor activities and his relatively high spending. On the other hand, Mr. Hamley’s ill-tempered character does not align with Osborne’s yet is in tune with Roger given the second-born patience.

Molly finally welcomes Cynthia. Surprisingly, they become very close in relatively short time. Cynthia is a graceful, pretty, charming young lady who spends two years studying in France. Initially, Cynthia is a gracious listener and they can get along very shortly. Cynthia admits that she really loves her new stepsister and can get closer to her than her own mother because the mother-and-daughter have not seen each other for two years.

Cynthia is such a complex and complicated character. To Molly, she is so warm, cheerful and can share a lot of stories with her. To her stepfather, Cynthia can be so calm, relaxed, a good kind of daughter but in front of her own mother, Cynthia is sarcastic, a bit mean, outspoken. Mrs. Gibson and Cynthia sometimes can argue over small things that Mrs. Gibson find it a bit hard to control Cynthia.

Occasionally, Mr. Preston, the Tower’s agent, pays a visit to the Gibsons. The man who is detested by Lady Harriet, is attracted with Cynthia and sometimes, compliments Molly. This coquettish behaviour makes Molly so sick. On the other hand, Roger falls in love with Cynthia. He even proposes her before he departs for a scheduled two-year experiment overseas. Although Cynthia accepts his proposal, Cynthia does not want to inform this news, even to Roger’s father. She hardly calls this as an engagement for no one knows what may happen in two years to come. Their agreement is known by Mr. Hamley via Mr. Gibson who has promised to tell everything to Mr. Hamley if there were a special relationship between Roger and Cynthia or between the former and Molly.

After Roger leaves for his funded observation about nature, the center of the problems in the book is all about the suspicious connection between Mr. Preston and Cynthia which forces Molly to take actions. It is later revealed that Cynthia once agrees to marry with Mr. Preston, a promise that keeps his eyes on her throughout the years. She admits to Molly that she does that because she once owes some amount of money back then. She once likes him but the feeling is no longer present. Molly urges Cynthia to tell all of her problems to her father so that Mr. Preston won’t press her about the marriage but Cynthia refuses to do so.

Molly comes to rescue her stepsister’s fate. She agrees to meet Mr. Preston to persuade the latter to abandon the promised marriage, which goes unfulfilled somehow. Their meeting and another one that takes place in a different spot arises suspicions among the Hollingford citizens. The Miss Brownings then investigates this matter and informs Molly’s affairs with Mr. Preston to his father. Luckily, Mr. Gibson does not let his mind be consumed with this gossip. He questions his daughter about the matter. Molly answers his father’s curiosity with firmness, honesty without any harsh words that may downgrade Cynthia’s reputation.

On the other hand, the house of Hamley is so full with problems after Roger leaves the house. Despite the money that he will send back to his father, Mr. Hamley feels lonely. His relationship with Osborne doesn’t get any better. The two seems hesitant to start things all over again. Mr. Hamley is too occupied with his financial problems, his anger to Osborne remains on fire. Osborne is too absorbed with his own problems. He seeks money by writing poems but brings no significant outcome thus he has to ask for Roger’s help on this. The news that his wife, Aimee, gets pregnant brings him joy yet causes a headache for he lacks of money. The silence of the two is broken with the death of Osborne, who has been battling with his digestion for some moments.

The fact that Mr. Hamley does not know about his son’s condition plus their war of words has made him so deep in sadness and regret. And when Molly tells him all that she knows about Osborne’s secret marriage, Mr. Hamley gets even more depressive. He believes that the marriage plays a key role on his quietness for he completely understands Mr. Hamley does not like him to marry a Frenchwoman. Instead of potentially putting his father in an outrage, Osborne opts to keep silent all this time.

Molly, under the advice of his father, writes a letter to Aimee concerning the health of his poor husband, who has passed away by the time the letter is composed. Aimee, who has plenty experiences in taking care of the sick, feels the condition is worse than she thinks. She holds her son then sets out a journey to Hollingford.

She cries all the way in the trip and by the moment she gets to the house she learns that all her anxiety is indeed true. While Mr. Hamley is more interested with taking care of his grandson, Molly and Mr. Gibson helps Aimee to cope with the hard times. The widow initially does not want to eat. All she wants to do is motionlessly gazing at the windows. Only after Mr. Gibson thrusts her son to Aimee’s body that the woman starts swallowing the food.

As the sorrow plaguing the house of Hamley starts subsiding, a contrastive fact occurs in the Gibsons family as Cynthia’s affairs are uncovered. It is Lady Harriet, who after learns the gossip about Molly, confronts Mr. Preston and inquires him. Mr. Preston tells the truth which satisfies Lady Harriet. Although Lady Cunmor once promises not to opn the secret can’t help telling this to Clare when the latter pays a visit. Lady Cunmor even attack Clare on the latter’s ways of raising Cynthia for her actions put Molly into a great trouble.

The tension boils up when everything that relates to Cynthia’s affairs are completely untold. Mr. Gibson’s fury makes his relationship with his wife a bit shaky for Clare defends Cynthia. Cynthia is angry with Molly, too. But not long after this incident, Cynthia amends her mistakes. She sends a letter to Roger saying she cancels the marriage proposal. When Roger gets back home a few months earlier that the schedule because of her brother death, Cynthia later gets married with Mr. Henderson, a lawyer from London.

Molly can’t help being overjoyed with his arrival. Although she initially acts normal as a good friend to Roger but she gradually acts a bit weird that raises Roger’s suspicions. He eventually admits to Mr. Gibson on his love to his daughter and delays confessing his true feeling as he fears his past feeling to Cynthia taints his love image to Molly. Mr. Gibson encourages Roger to fight for her love and he does that implicitly right before he sails back again in the sea. He makes unique, funny gestures under the rain that are visible from Molly’s room window. It’s a bit insufficient to translate Roger’s gestures for readers but the writer says Molly feels genuinely happy with what Roger does before they parts for several months to come.

Why Analyzing ‘Wives and Daughters’ A Difficult Task

On the surface, “Wives and Daughters” is no special than a story of a well-to-do orphan girl namely Molly Gibson going through her puberty years till growing up as a young lady. Her quiet life that is filled with a sole love from his papa, Mr. Gibson, significantly changes with the coming of a new stepmother, Clare Kirkpatrick and a new step sister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The fact that her friend, Roger Hamley, whom she falls in love with prefers her step sister exacerbates Molly’s condition. Then there is Mr. Preston to make things much more complicated. The gossiping nature among residents in Hollingford puts Molly as an innocent victim concerning the past relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston.

And all internal problems plaguing the house of Hamley adds more color to this book that eventually readers learn how precious the virtue of Molly is. The novel ends happily as Roger, a very good man, sends signals how he finally realize his love for Molly while Cynthia gets married with a lawyer namely Mr. Henderson.

If you think the 766-pages book is all about that then you may miss the point. The book which takes almost four months long to finish reading it goes way beyond the overall summary. The fact that Gaskell puts so many little stories here and then have got me to think what the novel is all about. That is why digesting each little story, putting my eyes as if I were in the novel are the tools that lead me to realize the values or changes in each and every character’s personality.

As I complete reading all the pages I learn that Molly grows from a tomboy, spoiled girl to a compassionate, understanding and very patient daughter. Her kindness becomes her very prominent value after has been tested in some hard moments.

Her father, Mr. Gibson, is probably the one who does not change a lot. He remains a firm, loving father who maintains his dignity in his profession. He can fairly share his love and attention for Molly, his wife and his stepdaughter. For Molly, he remains a closed papa who trusts her when others don’t. He keeps his head cool whenever his wife acts like a drama queen. His love does not undermine his assertiveness when it comes to professionalism. For instance, he gets so furious when Clare admits she overhears his conversation with his fellow doctor regarding the health of Osborne Hamley that leads her to gradually accept Roger Hamley as the future husband of Cynthia. While for Cynthia, Mr. Gibson’s opinions are the only things that worth obeyed. Mr. Gibson is the only person in the house that worth her respect, not even her mother.

It’s interesting to learn Mrs. Gibson’s changed personality. What was used to be an elegant, kind-hearted woman for Molly when she was a teenager has turned into an annoying and materialistic wife and mother although she is not a cruel one.

While Cynthia, you can hardly guess how moody she is. What was used to be a smart, sort of high-class woman has altered into a flirtatious, sarcastic and moody person. She is brutally honest to even her own mother in a way that she often argues with her or, you can say, she does not respect her mother as much as she does to her stepfather. She is an indecisive one when it comes to love. Despite her intelligence, she is powerless to solve her own problems with Mr. Preston that she needs Molly’s help. Cynthia is a nice, loving sister to Molly but I think her indecisiveness sort of taints her good image.

Roger Hamley,a kind of boy-next-door person; a good-hearted, introvert, slowly-but-surely learner, shy man who does not envy his brother, Osborne Hamley, for an unfair attention shown by their parents. You can find all good values in Roger; a devoted son, a very decent brother, a supportive fellow, a very faithful lover. One thing that is missing from his personality: his failure to see a golden beyond silvery things; he prefers Cynthia to Molly although he finally sets his heart to the latter after Cynthia annuls their engagement.

What makes analyzing the novel is difficult even without your own knowledge is understanding the alterations of each and every character through small events, reading the gestures, imagining his/her motions and finally learning their personalities through their actions and languages. And these are all presented in detailed moments, some are even trivial, that may fail catch your attention. On the surface, you read their talk about certain topics or debate on important decisions but actually you learn their personality. I think it is learning the characters’ shifted personalities is the main lesson that I draw from this book not a mere knowing the plot of the book.

As such, I enjoy witnessing the growing up process of Molly although, yes, it’s a tiring journey. As I have read ‘Mary Barton’, it’s fascinating how Gaskell paints a picture of a good character, who through errors and mistakes, she stands out from the crowd. Molly provides a good sample of this. If one asks me what makes me like the book I would say that I salute on Gaskell’s message of showing the good will come out as a winner in the end and gets what she wants no matter how, as I sometimes perceive, naive, stupid she is. It goes in parallel with Mary Barton, who rescues her love after putting him in danger because of her own mistake. After errors, losses, she eventually lives the life that she wants. In short, Gaskell crafts good stories about life through these novels; a life that is about ups and downs, good times and hard times, errors and remedies, losses and acceptance, and all that is grey in between.

Let me be honest. Four things I dislike from Victorian novels

Reading less than 30 Victorian novels from four different writers is, I know, insufficient to call this dislikeness list a representation of the overall canon literature era. I have created this list, however, according to my readings so far that will likely change in the near future for I promise to myself to read more books written by authors, except Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Oscar Wilde.

Too women centric

This may sound too subjective but I always feel women bear too much in almost each story that I have read. Even if they are heroines I find women during Victorian era suffer too much. The first sample is Molly Gibson in ‘Wives and Daughters’, a super thick novel that has been completed this week after a 3.5-month of an on-and-off reading process. She is a flawless character; honest, really good-tempered, compassionate, very tender, lovable girl. She is too soft-hearted that she acts kindly to her stepsister Cynthia who gets engaged to the love of the former. Even when Molly becomes the subject of gossip among Hollingford people as resulted from her intention to fix the relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston, Molly remains in good terms with Cynthia. What distresses me while reading the novel is how much Molly disturbed by the Victorian womanhood standards set by, particularly, her stepmother, Clare or Mrs. Kirkpatrick who later changes her last name as Mrs. Gibson. The stepmother is so noisy and annoyed with Molly’s curly hair, messy dress and her relatively tomboyish traits. I feel this kind of similiar disturbance when reading ‘The Mill on the Floss” in which Maggie Tulliver is often teased by her relatives and is compared to her girlish cousin because of her tomboyish personalities, too. How hard it is to be a good woman in the eyes of the soceity at that time even if Molly and Maggie come from rich families. How complicated their lives are…

For women from low social status their sitution is much more difficult, for instance is Tess Durbeyfield. This heroine is my most unforgettable one because of her tragical, depressive life story. It’s her real life struggles that are just beyond my senses. Not only her romance is so heartbreaking but also her impoverished family forces her to do whatever she can to make ends meet. Although yes she marries the love of her life, Angel Clare, yet their sweet tale lasts so quick, incomparable with their long separation.

Excessive details

There are some novels which I think contain too many details, some of which are unnecessary, making the reading process sometimes burden my mind. For instance in ‘Adam Bede’. George Eliot allocates a number of pages about Methodist whenever she wants to describe the characterization of Dinah Morris. Apart from my limited knowledge about Methodist, I think that it does not really shape Dinah Morris as a distinctive character compared to, say, someone who is a Catholic follower but not a Methodist one in particular. She is really a religious person who spends a lot of time to help those in need but what makes her especially distinctive to those who are close to God without any certain sect is uncertain. Or may be you can shed another light on this topic for this is beyond my understanding.

Another sample for this point is in ‘Wives and Daughters’. As this super thick book wants to depict the growing period of Molly and another character, needles to say that Elizabeth Gaskell needs to write this really long story. Yet there are some chapters which I think are insignificant to the formation of the characters. For instance is when Gaskell puts a chapter on Cynthia’s visit to the Kirkpatrick family in London which although she meets Mr. Henderson whom later she marries with, I don’t think this should be a certain chapter for another visit to the family takes place later on.

Too depressive

Some stories in this Victorian era proves to be too somber with “The Mill on the Floss” is my leading example. It is very miserable to recall what happens between Maggie and Tom Tulliver for it costs their lives to eventually realize how much the latter loves the former.

Another fine example is of course “Jude the Obscure”. Very desolate, dark, pathetic. Sorrowful tone is all over the book even if yes, there are some lovely moments between Jude Fawley and Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead or called as Sue. Hardy’s attempts to go against social norms by presenting the affairs between Jude and Sue, who are distant relatives, turn out to be disastrous. Their decision to elope then register their marriage only after they get sick of people’ gossips make the matter even worse. You can find almost all tartness here: divorce, poverty, sickness, death, rumours, forced reunion. And the finale sparks my anger as Sue gets back to her old lover Mr. Richard Pillotson while sadness leads Jude to death.

Some of you may choose “Jude the Obscure” as more depressive than “The Mill on the Floss” but I select the other way around because “The Mill” is very heartbreaking while “Jude” is sometimes like a karma as they should not get married given their relative status. While Hardy ignites controversy at that time due to their forbidden romance and illegal union the end of the book suggests you that he advices readers not to go against the norms.

Where is the romance?

 

If you want to read Victorian novels for finding romance story, like major scenes about romance, well I think you’ve got a relatively wrong reason although this depends on which books you choose. I think most of Victorian writers put society norms, family mattters, materialism, manner aspects above love stories. From Oscar Wilde to George Eliot, they have the same tendency; that society completely influences characters’ personal affairs. Worse, there are some books that reveal happy love stories after the novels almost come to a close. For instances are ‘Mary Barton’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Wives and Daughters’. Elizabeth Gaskell reunites the love of Mary and Jem just after they have gone some misunderstandings and have escaped from death penalty.

In ‘Tess”, things get much wretched. While the joy between Tess and Angel begins at the center of the novel when they meet in a dairy I think their most enduring lovely moments start only when they have separated for quite a long time. Their joy lasts too quick for Tess is later executed for killing Alec.

Although ‘Mary’ and ‘Far’ are written by different authors yet Gaskell and Hardy’s views on romance is similar in a way that the love story can only tasted only when characters have gone through difficult moments that test their faith. In ‘Far’, Batsheba and Gabriel Oak gets married in a very quite, modest ceremony just when the book is about to end.

I get dissapointed with the ending bond between Roger Hamley and Molly Gibson for they don’t even verbally confess their true feelings. In the last chapter, Roger is seen to have given gestures that attract Molly’s attention. It’s too bad Gaskell leaves this novel unfinished after 766 pages long yet readers can fancy that both Roger and Molly share the same feeling. And that happens just a few pages after the book ends.

How I wish to complain to those authors who give little enjoyment when it comes to real romance!