Mini book club: Wives and Daughters

Mini Book Club (me and my spouse) just finished the fifth book on our Victorian novel list, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Published as a serial in 1864-1866, it was the last novel Gaskell ever wrote. In fact, when she died suddenly in Paris in 1865, the novel was left unfinished.

While a friend finished the book up for Gaskell, she had come close enough to the end that there’s not much question how the last few threads of plot will be tied off, so it doesn’t take much away from the reading experience.

How does it compare to the other titles on our list, you ask? While Wives is more similar to Lady Audley’s Secret than anything else on our list, it doesn’t match Braddon’s book for suspense. The plot has more in common with a Jane Austen book, though with a more feminist slant. Wives starkly portrays the feeling of being trapped (and entrapped) through the characters of Molly Gibson and Cynthia Fitzpatrick. But just like Braddon, Gaskell’s writing style has a much more modern feel than, say, Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens — one reason I liked it more than Jane Eyre or Our Mutual Friend.

Right after we finished Wives, Mini Book Club watched the 2002 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation. In addition to the visual feast of costumes and carriages, we were eager to see what the television version would do about the ending. Would the story just stop, like the book? Would it reproduce the ending written by Gaskell’s friend? Or would it do something entirely different?

Reader, the show did something completely different — and I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m afraid you’re going to have to watch it yourself to find out. Spoilers!

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