I can imagine Ms. Gaskell cackling to herself as she concluded this book. Much like many of my students do as they turn in amateurish writing that they think is brilliant. Sadly, they and Ms. Gaskell, will be shocked that passion doesn’t all compensate for talent. The writing was not good.
Characters were undeveloped or used as props in her plot. The majority of the women in this book are hysterical and vapid. I’m still on the fence whether she was buying into or satirizing the infantilization of women. Some of the grown women, who had children of their own, seemed to be as whiny and needy as teenagers.
The second half of novel felt predictable and maudlin. Mr. Hale can’t handle the truth in any form. His daughter Margaret and their maid Dixon, have to concoct ways in which to tell him the status of the family and finances so as not to upset him. Seriously?!?
In a way, she preceded G.R.R. Martin in her way of dispatching characters. Towards the end it becomes humorous because as soon as someone mentions they don’t feel well, you can be on the look out for the next paragraph to mention how he or she “passed away in the night”. It really could be made into an interesting drinking game if you wanted to.
The good in the novel was the subject matter that Ms. Gaskell tackled. I did not expect the theme of social justice, class warfare, and women’s autonomy to be tackled in a mid-Victorian novel. The fact that Ms. Gaskell attempted to bring these topics to her contemporary culture gives her credit in my esteem. While I did not care for the writing, the subject matter has given me a lot to think about and to discuss with others who’ve read the book. I cautiously recommend this one. Read it only if you won’t be distracted by her poor writing skills.