Title / Ruth
Author / Elizabeth Gaskell
Publication date / 1853 (first published)
Page no. / 432
Star rating / ★★★.5
This is one of Gaskell’s social novels, as it focuses on the idea of a ‘fallen woman’. Ruth Hilton, a orphaned young seamstress, catches the eye of Henry Bellingham, but when he deserts her, she is offered to start a new life. It is an interesting look into the ‘fallen women’, as Gaskell forces society to question whether ostracising them is the only way forward, and whether all the fault should be placed on the women. As a modern reader it really makes you think about how quick we can be to judge people, even when we don’t have the full story and that there may be those that we judge more harshly then we should. While I did enjoy this novel, I personally didn’t enjoy it as much as her other works. I felt Ruth as a heroine was too perfect. I understand the point Gaskell was trying to get across of judging ‘fallen women’ too harshly, but to me it just felt very heavy-handed. While I respect Ruth’s strength, I felt she was slightly one-dimensional – she seemingly has no flaws and the only ‘mistake’ she makes is a illegitimate child, which isn’t really her fault in the first place. I personally also found that it was very heavy in religious thinking and scriptural references, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. Overall it was an interesting read, and I did enjoy it for the most part. However if you are new to Gaskell, I would maybe suggest starting with North and South or Cranford, instead of Ruth.
Title / Shirley
Author / Charlotte Bronte
Publication date / 1849 (first published)
Page no. / 702
Star rating / ★★★.5
Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley is the story of two contrasting heroines. This one is quite hard to rate, because I appreciated the novel more than I enjoyed reading it. The feminist tone of the novel is great to read about, and the friendship of the two female protagonist is amazing, which make it quite an important read in my opinion. However the plot is not very engaging, and that does drag the book down a bit. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the development of the characters and their relationship with each other, especially Caroline and Shirley. The commentary on class struggles and structure, as well as the development of new technology are an interesting backdrop, and although the novel is drawn out it is an very interesting look at society at the time. I think I will have to re-read this a few times to get all the layers of this novel. It is a dense, but fascinating novel.
Have you read these books? What did you think?
See you next time