chapter  37
4 Pages

Wives and Daughters, ch. 45

As her art matured, Mrs. Gaskell more and more embodied the meaning of her stories in dialogue and action, externalizing the themes in the encounter and conflict of characters, letting the ideas and moral emphasis seep through by implication. This is supremely true of Wives and Dauyhters, whose central idea is the contrast between Molly Gibson's generous simplicity and everyone else's selfishness. Each character fills an appropriate place in the novel's vision of human imperfection, and it is noteworthy how the author organizes to a comic end the methods which in her earlier works had reinforced the tragic urgency of her subject. Mrs. Gibson is the chief example of human deficiency. Her egotism, vanity and hypocrisy, were they not held in check by the author's detached tolerance, would suffuse the novel with tragic seriousness, for Mrs. Gibson spreads suffering and falsehood wherever she goes. Yet at no stage does Mrs. Gaskell merely assert these failings or refer to their existence. They are there, in the dialogue :

'You and I must go on the next journey, I think, my dear,' said Mrs. Gibson, almost chiming in with Molly's wish that she could get away from Hollingford into some new air and life for a week or two. 'We have been stay-athomes for a long time, and variety of scene is so desirable for the young! But I think the travellers will be wishing themselves at home by this nice bright fireside. "There's no place like home," as the poet says. " 'Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam," it begins, and it's both very pretty and very true. It's a great blessing to have such

a dear little home as this, is not it, Molly?' 'Yes,' said Molly, rather drearily, having something of

'To be sure, love, it would be very nice for you and me to go a little journey all by ourselves. You and I. No one else. If it were not such miserable weather, we would have gone off on a little impromptu tour. I've been longing for something of the kind for some weeks; but we live such a restricted kind of life here ! I declare sometimes I get quite sick of the very sight of the chairs and tables that I know so well. And one misses the others, too! It seems so flat and deserted without them!'