Sunday, 5 December 2010

Wives and Daughters

Can't say I'm enjoying the Radio 4 adaption of Wives and Daughters. Something about those arch actressy voices gets on my nerves. Did the Victorians really speak like that? I did enjoy listening to Jenny Uglow talking about Elizabeth Gaskell on Woman's Hour though, and as she pointed out, the fact that the novel is unfinished does not detract from our enjoyment of it.

I'd always vaguely thought of Gaskell's novels as 'industrial' and consequently avoided them, but reading Cranford a couple of years ago opened my eyes to a warmly humourous writer with a deeply perceptive knowledge of human nature.

Wives and Daughters is a coming of age story and follows the life of Molly Gibson from a child to a woman of nineteen. Molly is the daughter of the local surgeon, a widower. When he re-marries Molly does not get on with her stepmother, a woman only concerned with keeping up appearances, but adores her new step-sister, Cynthia. Molly is a deeply moral girl with fierce loyalties to her father and friends, but it is in the portrayal of the sarcastic Cynthia and her mother that Gaskell really excels.

I'm pretty sure Gaskell was influenced by Maria Edgeworth and she actually mentions Edgeworth in Wives and Daughters. Now there's a topic for a dissertation ... if only I was a student again!

12 comments:

Anbolyn said...

I have a copy of Wives & Daughters on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it in the new year. I haven't read any Maria Edgeworth - now I might have to!

Steph said...

I feel like the fact that I've not read anything by Gaskell is a HUGE lapse in my reading history. I really would like to try her, but I'm not sure where to begin. Where would you recommend?

Karenlibrarian said...

I haven't listened to W&D on audio but I loved the BBC miniseries adaptation! And the book is just wonderful. I agree that sometimes an audio reader can change your perception of a book. But how cool that the radio has entire books? I can't think of a radio station that would do that here! National Public Radio does broadcast short stories once a week but a Victorian novel? Not in my lifetime, sadly.

At least Oprah's next two books are Dickens.

Penny said...

I haven't listened to the radio version. I love talking books, but sometimes the reader's voice just isn't 'right'. Mind you, as John and I were saying to each other yesterday, in every book we've ever read, the characters all have Scottish accents, because that's how WE read them in our heads! :o)
I'm thinking I have to give Maria Edgeworth a go... Can't think why I haven't before now... (And all her characters will sound Scottish, too!!!)
Glad you've started reading Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is one of my favourite books of all time.

LifetimeReader said...

Sorry to hear that W&D radio is not more enjoyable. I love the book very much--and enjoyed the BBC miniseries as well. What a lovely copy you have!

bookssnob said...

I have read most of Gaskell but not Wives and Daughters, and would love to dip back into her. Oh the trials of having so many wonderful classics yet to read!

I think Gaskell is often overlooked because of her 'industrial' stereotype - just because a lot of her books are set in mill towns, it doesn't make them boring!

I can't do radio adaptations..I like the idea of them because I can 'read' while doing something else, but the something else invariably ends up distracting me from the listening and I don't take any of it in. Such a shame!

Mae said...

I'll have to re-read this and give Maria Edgeworth a go. I remember being devastated that we couldn't get a proper ending because Gaskell died before completing the novel.

Grad said...

I'll be looking for Elizabeth Gaskell next time I'm at the library or bookstore. How is it I haven't read any of her stuff? I seem to remember seeing Cranford produced for television. BBC perhaps?

makedoandread said...

I also thought Gaskell was an industrial writer when I first approached her. Fortunately, I loved North and South, so I have steadily been working my way through her work ever since.

Isn't is fascinating when authors reference others? I love when Jane Austen does that. I hear you on wanting to be a student again...!

Vintage Reading said...

Anbolyn, you must read it. W&D is one of my favourite reads this year!

Steph, I would start with Cranford as it is composed of short stories which you can dip in and out of. Hope you enjoy it!

Karen, Radio 4 is generally very good and certainly features quite a few Victorian novels. I'm very sensitive to the voices, though, if they don't appeal I switch off! I've been looking at Oprah's books page, I'm very impressed.

Penny, it's true, you do imagine the actors to speak with your own accent - in my case they would sound like characters from Eastenders! I need to re-read Cranford. Loved the gentle humour.

LifetimeReader, the Random House vintage classics editions are indeed beautiful, there are a few I'd like to collect. So glad I read W&D this year.

booksnob, so glad I'm not the only one who can't do adaptions! For me, reading is an interaction between author and reader and I don't want an intrusive 'other' voice in there.

Mae, yes, I agree with you about the ending it is disappointing. I think it's pretty certain how it would have ended because I believe she left a draft. Her death was quite sudden and unexpected, too, according to the Uglow biog.

Grad, yes the BBC Cranford adaption was very popular here. 'Fraid I didn't watch it because I was probably reading!
W&E is quite spectacular and well worth a read.

makedoandread, yes I think the 'industrial' tag has done her no favours. Austen referring to Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney in Northanger Abbey was what made me read Belinda. Love all that intertextual stuff - I should be a student again!

Kleurrijk said...

Hi Nicola,
Just now I see that you sent me a message in july on my Jane Austen weblog.
But the nice thing is that I found your weblog today. I am always happy to find people who like reading, and specially when thay are fond of Jane Austen or/and the Bronte Sisters.
Iam going to follow your weblog. If my English is wrong here and there, excuse me, I am from Holland and English is not my nattive language.

Melwyk said...

Oh, I loved this book. When I read it I had no idea about the ending...what a surprise that was ;)

I found you through your Rumer Godden posts-- nice to see another fan of Rumer Godden, I've been rereading some of hers lately.