Ruth, ch. 13
Eccleston is clearly a northern industrial town, probably Manchester. The 'low grey cloud', the 'rumbling stones' and 'lamp-posts' and the 'strange, uncouth voice' suggest that, at this stage, Mrs. Gaskell had planned to set her novel in the raw, modern Victorian environment. But as the story proceeds all this slips away. In its place Mrs. Gaskell silently substitutes the pastoral setting of her own childhood in Knutsford. Here is the description of the Bensons' house in the next chapter :
Ruth, sleepless, weary, restless with the oppression of a sorrow which she dared not face and contemplate bravely, kept avvake all the early part of the night. Many a time did she rise, and go to the long casement window, and look abroad over the still and quiet town-over the grey stone walls, and chimneys, and old high-pointed roofson to the far-away hilly line of the horizon, lying calm under the bright moonshine. It was late in the morning when she awoke from her long-deferred slumbers; and "'hen she went downstairs, she found Mr. and Miss Benson awaiting her in the parlour. That homely, pretty, oldfashioned little room! How bright and still and clean it looked! The window (all the windows at the back of the
house were casements) was open, to let in the sweet morning air, and streaming eastern sunshine. 1-he long jessamine sprays, with their \Vhite-scented stars, forced themselves almost into the room. The little square garden beyond, with grey stone walls all round, was rich and mellow in its autumnal colouring, running from deep crimson hollyhocks up to amber and gold nasturtiums, and all toned down by the clear and delicate air. It was so still, that the gossamer-webs, laden with de\v, did not tremble or quiver in the least; but the sun was drawing to himself the sweet incense of many flowers, and the parlour was scented with the odours of mignonette and stocks. Miss Benson was arranging a bunch of China and damask roses in an old-fashioned jar; they lay, all dewy and fresh, on the white breakfast-cloth when Ruth entered.