Wives and Daughters (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Wives and Daughters (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble…  See more details below


Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Tremendously popular in her lifetime, Elizabeth Gaskell has often been overshadowed by her contemporaries the Brontës and George Eliot. Yet the reputation of her long-neglected masterpiece Wives and Daughters continues to grow, fulfilling Henry James’s prophecy that the novel would “continue for years to come to be read and relished . . .so delicately, so elaborately, so artistically, so truthfully, and heartily is the story wrought out.”

An enchanting tale of romance, scandal, and intrigue in the gossipy English town of Hollingford around the 1830s, Wives and Daughters tells the story of Molly Gibson, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a widowed country doctor. When her father remarries, she forms a close friendship with her new stepsister—the beautiful and worldly Cynthia—until they become love rivals for the affections of Squire Hamley’s sons, Osbourne and Roger. When sudden illness and death reveal some secrets while shrouding others in even deeper mystery, Molly feels that the world is out of joint and it is up to her—trusted by all but listened to by none—to set it right.

Amy M. King is Assistant Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City and the author of Bloom: The Botanical Vernacular in the English Novel (Oxford University Press, 2003).

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From Amy M. King’s Introduction to Wives and Daughters

The novelist Henry James, in his review of Wives and Daughters (1866) written in the wake of Elizabeth Gaskell’s death, praises Gaskell’s “genius” and pronounces that the novel is “one of the very best novels of its kind” (“Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell,” pp. 1019–1020; see “For Further Reading”). In the review, quoted above, James mingles praise with warnings to his imaginary readers that they might at first find the book dull, but that which was dull would soon enough prove to be the foundation of a strong investment in—even love for—the novel’s heroine. James’s mingled but nevertheless high praise seems to have emerged from his belief that although Gaskell’s novels displayed “a minimum of head,” describing her writing style this way was a compliment to Gaskell’s “personal character,” rather than an indictment of her “intellect.” Whether one chooses on Gaskell’s behalf to be affronted or flattered by James’s review is less important, I would suggest, than parsing the review to better understand how Victorian novels known to be written by women were received by their readers. One thing we learn from James’s review is that the register for praise (and not just criticism) is related to gender. Even though James thinks highly of Wives and Daughters, he cannot forget that it is written by a woman, and would likely not think to try—which may not so much detract from his reading of the novel as condition his reading of the novel. And so with James’s emphasis on Gaskell’s facility with “domestic facts,” her adeptness with “minutiae,” and her evocation of a reader’s feelings rather than the promotion of understanding, each skill that is singled out is in some sense a stereotype of women’s interests and talents. The praise, that is, emphasizes the author’s femininity. James mentions the “gentle skill” Gaskell uses to slowly involve the reader “in the tissue of the story,” her “lightness of touch,” and the “delicacy of the handwork” she uses to perfect the “net” that ultimately entangles the reader in the novel.

James’s review may emphasize that the author is female, but, unlike our own contemporary obsession with the target demographics for various art forms—“chick-lit” and “chick-flicks,” to name two current monikers—it does not assume or even believe that the audience of the novel is necessarily female. If anything, James projects a male reader, one who will feel what he calls an “almost fraternal relation” to the heroine Molly Gibson. Elizabeth Gaskell was, as Henry James allows, a “lady-novelist,” but one who excites every “reader’s very warmest admiration.” Our contemporary concern for deemphasizing an author’s gender when evaluating art, while often simultaneously emphasizing who is meant to consume it, was not shared by the mid-Victorians. James’s review reflects this, as does the considerable attention Gaskell gave to what we now call the “packaging” of her first novel. Like her good friend Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell had sought a male pseudonym to use for her first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (1848), even though her publisher had suggested that the novel would be more popular if it was known to be the work of “a lady” (Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories, p. 183). The account that Jenny Uglow, one of Gaskell’s biographers, gives of the publishing process suggests that Gaskell was invested in the commercial presentation of the novel; Uglow speculates that Gaskell “may have felt that a man’s name (like the proposed title, “John Barton”) would make the readers take the politics of the book more seriously.” Gaskell agonized about the choice of the male pseudonym until she chose—too late—the name “Stephen Berwick” (Uglow, pp. 187–188). In the end, Mary Barton was published anonymously, but, having caused considerable controversy, the identity of its author was soon known and celebrated. Henceforth, Elizabeth Gaskell would publish her novels, if not quite in her own name, under her married appellation of “Mrs. Gaskell.”

To read Wives and Daughters today is to forget perhaps the extraordinary opportunity that writing fiction presented to Victorian women. The book trade during the period was a profoundly commercial enterprise. And unlike in earlier periods, the arts were divorced from either university ties or elite patronage, which particularly benefited women writers. Writing literature was one of the very few professional pursuits open to women in Victorian society. Elizabeth Gaskell was connected to a broad literary community of women, many of whom were her friends and some of whom she actively promoted with her own connections. This circle, which included Charlotte Brontë, Geraldine Jewsbury, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Caroline Clive, reads like a list of the most popular and important female literary figures of the day. And yet it would be a mistake to assume that a novel such as Wives and Daughters is solely the province of the female reader. Our contemporary perspective might look to the title Wives and Daughters and think the book is directed to the female reader, even though the title was most likely influenced by Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862). The conventional assumption about novels, and romance plots and domestic narratives in particular, is that women make up their primary audience; indeed, the stereotype of the woman who reads too many novels, and becomes sick from “gorging” on too many delicious reads, originated in the eighteenth century and circulated widely in the Victorian period. And yet a host of descriptions, anecdotal evidence, figures from circulating libraries, and surveys about book ownership and reading habits suggest that men were as avid novel readers as women. And indeed what, exactly, in the novel marks it out for the female reader? As will become apparent as you read the novel and the following discussion, the work of Elizabeth Gaskell cannot be slotted into contemporary demographic readerships, but rather is inviting—as Henry James himself said—to anyone interested in an “‘everyday story’ . . . in an everyday style.”

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Wives and Daughters 4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 183 reviews.
Linybean More than 1 year ago
At first, I was a little daunted by how very long this book is, but I soon found myself grateful that I got to spend so much time in its world. This is one of the few books I started to read and just couldn't put down. Dark circles and extra cups of coffee were present many mornings because I stayed up so late reading! I suppose the thing I love most about Wives and Daughters is that it is a purely non-guilty pleasure. The characters are excellently written...virtue and sympathy reign supreme. There are no shocking twists and no, dare I say, improper scenes, and that is exactly what makes it such a good read. Although the plot is a little predictable, it's still satisfying. I can't wait until enough time passes so I can read it again!
Guest More than 1 year ago
While Gaskell is not as skillful a writer as Jane Austen, either in language or characterization, the story is still very much worth reading. Although her story is nominally a romance, the best parts of the book are the more platonic relationships. Heroine Molly Gibson and her doctor father have an understated, affectionate relationship, full of amusing banter and genuine development. (In fact, although a relatively minor character, Dr. Gibson fairly steals the story.) Molly's relationship with her step-sister Cynthia is interesting as well - often frustrating, but also quite touching. Next to these strong depictions, Molly's romantic intrigues are predictable and dull. I would suggest, however, buying a different version than the Barnes and Noble Classic Series. I bought this version at the store, and was very disappointed with it. For one thing, I was unaware that the footnotes would spoil parts of the book - they do. Also, I was unaware that the book doesn't have an ending. Yes, that's right, the book does NOT have an ending. The author died before writing the last few chapters. I was quite upset that the Barnes and Noble Classics edition didn't warn me of this.
lovenovels More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Wives and Daughters, and have to say that it was a good book. Its a very long story so it does take a while to read, however, I think that it is worth the time. Im not going to waste time reciting the plot, im also not going to 'give the story away'. Im simply going to say that if you are considering reading this book, do it! I definitely enjoyed it. I will tell you though, that the author died before completing the story, however, dont listen to the other posts which tell you that they are frustrated and unsatisfied due to the lack of an ending. Dont listen! when the story cuts out, it is very clear were the author was going to go with the story. You will not be left wondering how it was going to end. Not at all! and you will love the ending. Read this book.
LotusNM More than 1 year ago
Wow! Elizabeth Gaskell is able to create a beautifully written, peaceful novel about life in a small English town. Though not incredibly suspenseful, the story is a page turner somehow. Each scene is beautifully painted with words, and each character is not only well crafted but has a sense of finish so that the reader can fully grasp and relate to the story. I never thought that a book about life in a small town in the 1800's would be so satisfying. I definitely recommend this for those readers who need a book that's more entertaining than meaningful and for those who want to quietly curl up and read a pleasant classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an exquisite and delicate story that, at the same time, incorporates that delicious feeling of intrigue found in so many of the great English writers of the 19th c. I have read them all and actually found it far more readable and enjoyable than much of Austen or Eliot. These characters are sketched entirely by their own language and the reactions of others, rather than the author's side pronouncements. The absence of a last installment (the book originally was published as a serial) is a very minor drawback because you can easily guess exactly what will happen. The characters are so finely drawn that you will recognize yourself and others in their faults, flaws and sincere attempts to be good people. The language is so readable and so often amusing, while foregoing some of the ostentation that makes me sometimes want to skip entire pages of Victorian novels. If you have any interest in 19th c English novels, you must read this.
msuchoas More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were complex and mutlifaceted. The love stories and plots were classic. It gave great details to let you imagine the scenes, the dress and the customs. This was considered one of Elizabeth Gaskell's best novels, although I didn't know it was an unfinished novel. It gets close enough to let you imagine the end but doesn't quite wrap it up. Could be good for a book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What I love about this book is how it portrays in all the charecters diferent types of love. Molly's simple, innocent love, Roger's self-sacrificing love.On a whole think this is one of Gaskels best ones ever!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book may have been written in Victorian England but the topic is modern. Elizabeth Gaskell is a fabulous writer. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gaskell rightfully subtitled this novel "an everyday story", and with materials most authors would make trivial and wearying, Gaskell created of one the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. Gaskell has a wonderful way of not directly describing the characters, but lets their personalities play out through a series of small and seemingly trivial events and conversations. But she has a way of making the most trivial conversations seem fascinating. Though far more central than the other her other short novel I've read, Cranford, it still reads like a series of small vignettes, link together by only the characters. And I found all the characters pretty well developed and complex. I'm not particularly sensitive, but I really felt for most of the characters. And many of the characters are legitimately funny and entertaining (Mrs. Gibson in particular pompous idiot, which are always entertaining in Victorian fiction. Strangely, Gaskell died before she wrote the last chapter, but I think the place where the book ends leaves it open, and may be a little better than the obvious ending she was planning. Overall, I found this book extremely fulfilling, and far more complete than most novels that authors actually finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There needs to be a disclaimer warning people the the author died before finishing this book! It was very frustrating! Other than that I found the book intriging and well written . . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Comparable to the great Jane Austen, in my own humble opinion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My Nook was out of commission so I had to read a "real book" and I had bought this book a few years ago so I started it and read it nonstop for a few days until I finished it. It was so good! Even though a little tedious at times, it really was a wonderful glimpse into that period of time. I loved the characters and especially Molly and Cynthia. Wish it had been completed but it still was a great novel. Can't wait to find the PBS version of it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a long-time devotee of the novels of Charles Dickens, it surprised me that I had never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell. What a wonderful discovery! I loved this book. It had the charm and elegance of an Austen novel, with a bit of humor thrown in. I especially enjoyed the author's opinion on the differences between the sexes and between the classes. I definitely will read the other books this talented writer produced.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book...it is one of my all-time favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I completely ADORE this WONDERFUL story and was SO upset when it just stopped so suddenly. Upon further research I did find out she was unable to do the ending as she did die before she could finish it. While my heart is broken, I am glad I was able to see where it was headed. I wanted to read about Roger being able to say what was in his heart, and what happens to him the next 6 months on his expedition in Africa... But am glad that we are able to read such an amazing work as this. The movie wraps it up very well, and I am glad to have that comfort as I am unable to see the sweet tender final chapter unfold.
Elle_Wilvee More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this, I've been trying to find works similar to Austen and my other favorite authors and this is very similar in style. That being said, I wish someone would have told me before I started that there is no ending to this novel! Mrs. Gaskell died before the novel was finished, so it ends in an abrupt and unsatisfying way. I'm going to watch the BBC miniseries now and hope that gives me some closure.
Caroline Dike More than 1 year ago
I reccomend this book because it tells an intricately woven and elaborate story of love, heartbreak, and death. It is not too dramatic and has more substance than newer novels. If you enjoy classics or are interested in a book- read it. Wives and Daughters is a wonderful novel which shows that marriage and love are two very different things. The book also shows that beauty on the outside can cover ugliness of the heart on thee inside.I loved reading Wives and Daughters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wives and Daughters is one of my favorite novels of all time. I haven't read it in years, but I just purchased it for the Nook and can't wait to immerse myself in its intrigue. Molly Gibson is calling!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wives and Daughters is such a lovable book. There is not much to attract in the very beginning but it catches your attention as the story moves on. I love the relationship the stepsisters have and the frustration you feel for the love triangle. Overall it is a great buy and the only regret you feel in the end is that it was unfinished.
a2zbooks More than 1 year ago
I am glad purchased the book as it is a classic and worth reading. Surprised about quality of paperback, great font, helpful notes and commentary.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an English major, I love stories. Many are dull, but this is a delightful tale on the level of 'Little Women.' Its perfectly charming and Clair and Molly are sweet. The views of the Dr. are comical and although it is not finished, in the habit of most Victorian novels, you can tell where it will end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes - it is true- the author died before the end of this book, but enough of it was finished to cleary see what was going to happen (if you need to - watch the BBC movie and they have added a good ending to it). I cannot believe that this book has not gotten as much attention as Pride and Prejudice. Runs along the same lines as the Austen books. Innocent romance with endearing characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this amazing novel, Elizabeth Gaskell has written an antithesis to all the Gothic novels being produced during this era. Molly is incredibly realistic and down to earth, and each character is developed so fully that it might leave some doubt as to whether these characters are purely fictional. An amazing read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's the kind of book that takes you away, that you get so wrapped into the charater's lives that you compltely forget about what's going on in your own life. It protrays the stuggles and triumphs that women face everday.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book very good. It reminds me of books by Jane Austen. Molly is a loveable character and you find yourself becoming part of the story.