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by Elisabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

First, I feel a bit cheated because it didn't say anywhere on the book cover that it's unfinished and who reads 700 pages of romance only to learn at page 708 that the author snuffed it before the main characters could even get engaged.

Second, and this remark is concomitant to the first, if this book were written today it would have been made to fit into 350 pages, tops, and that would have suited me better.

Apart from that, and on a slightly more intellectual note, I liked it. There is caustic humour hidden in every other sentence and a page seldom went by without a chuckle. It reminds me a LOT of Flaubert, only he hates his characters, which makes reading it unpleasant and tiresome at times, whereas she is fond of them all, even the most flawed have a good side.

I couldn't help but read it from a feminist standpoint. The women, even the smart ones, aren't educated, don't seem to travel any further than Calais, and their main concern is to look neat. Mr. Gibson loves his daughter more than anything, but he won't let her go to school or even read the classics. Instead of falling for some exterior female character Robert could have met in London with a mind to match his own, he chooses Molly who's in many ways his own creature. The only gutsy woman is Lady Cummings, and she's shown as a domestic despot - and to a lesser extend Harriet, who acts like a deus ex machina (and is conscious of being a plot device!). I doubt Gaskell meant it as a feminist pamphlet, but I certainly took it that way.

I believe her actual point was that it is meaningless to pine for the good old days of yore - pre-industrialism, pre-railroad, in a mythical golden age of agricultural happiness - since people have always been people and our lot hasn't changed much either way. Or, again, this could be me pasting my own feelings on the book.

And on a crack!ficcy note, I totally feel like writing Molly/Cynthia femslash. Molly's the only person Cynthia comes even close to loving - she only has respect for Mr. Gibson, and lots of affinities to Mr. Henderson. And Molly is far too sheltered to even think of it in these terms, but there is nothing she wouldn't do for Cynthia, which is more than she can say for anyone else bar her father. Robert is another matter - she loves him in good part precisely because he won't make demands on her.

(...and Lady Harriet could be made to fit in somehow)

Short version: I liked it, I recommend it if you have the time to spare (715 pages in the Penguin edition).
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