19 April 2010

Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)

I do not enjoy Gaskell. I find her quite, quite dull. I was going to add the disclaimer that this opinion has been formed from having read only two of her novels, but upon discovering that she only ever wrote six I feel that a blanket statement is suitable considering I have in fact read a third of her oeuvre.

We had to study North and South at high school. I remember that English class well. We had an entirely useless substitute teacher for most of the year. She set us 50 questions to answer on North and South. My friend and I, deciding that the task cut into far too much lying in the sun time, decided to submit the project as a joint effort. And neither of us finished our halves. The teacher laughed softly when we wove a fictitious tale of forgetfulness and camaraderie and we thought no more of it. It was only on the last day of term that she announced in high dudgeon that anyone who had not completed the assignment would receive an 'E' for the semester. Unlike in Harry Potter, this is not indicative of 'Exceeds Expectations'. An 'E' meant 'you go to a school where we do not award fail grades, but, be not comforted, we are not amused'.

So, obviously, I feel great discontent whenever I think about North and South. It was not sufficiently gripping to hold my attention and I have long written it off as a plodding tome that extols the idiocies of the upper class and the inadequacies of the lower class with no hint of hope for either.

But this post is not about North and South. Nay! It is about Wives and Daughters.

I shall be brief in my criticism because the book itself was brief. I borrowed it from the library and did not realise I had taken the "In Half the Time" version. Supposedly, these editions cut out unnecessary minor characters and plot lines which have no influence over the ending. Considering Gaskell died before finishing the book I feel that this approach is slightly cavalier. John Smith who was cut out in chapter three could well have been meant to turn up in the final chapter and save the day!

Not that the day needed saving. That would suggest that the book was in any way interesting. And it was not. It was duller than David Cameron's dishwater. It was also silly and insipid. I don't understand why Gaskell is so often compared to Austen. Even the emptiest of Austen's novels (Emma... vomit) could steamroller over Gaskell's works. I shudder to think what the novel is like if this is the interesting, important cut of the work. Cynthia was the only sympathetic and mildly intelligent character and she promised to marry Mr Preston if he'd loan her twenty pounds.

A classic best left on the shelf I feel. Behind a locked glass cabinet. With a warning sign- "Open at risk of death from supreme boredom".

Rating: 4/10.
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