Wednesday, 11 January 2012


I know Elisabeth Gaskell primarily as the biographer of Charlotte Brontë, but also in her own right as the author of, among other, Cranford and North and South. Both these books show an author with an excellent writing style, covering subjects that may not be the easiest to deal with.
With this in mind, when my book club chose Ruth for our next reading, I was looking forward to a piece of literature work that would keep my interest up - alas, this proved to be the mistake from the beginning...
If it hadn't been for a book club reading, I would have quit by the middle of the book - I was that disappointed with it.  Reading beforehand about Ruth, I knew that it was based on a true case of a "fallen woman" whose story Gaskell wanted to use to change public opinion.  This was what had triggered my interest and this was what I was expecting.  Instead, I found a main character so unbelievably convenient and predictable that I doubt the book had the effect envisaged.  But to take things from the beginning:

Already from the first pages, the book reads like a "pink" novel, where Ruth is portrayed so naive, that I honestly cannot believe it - 
"Remember how young, and innocent, and motherless she was!"
a girl from a poor background, stuck in a room with a bunch of other girls and coming into contact with the aristocracy, surely would be in a position to know more about life!!!
A second point that irritated me was the immense amount of nature - even in the direst of situations, there would be such a long passage of beautiful nature, that in the end would counterbalance the evil.  In my opinion, this should not be the purpose of the novel.  It is a somber story to tell, and it should not be done in such a mild manner (this reminds me that Gaskell apparently forbade her daughters to read Ruth.  Why?).  
And then there were the tears.  All this crying...particularly in the first part of the book, it appears as if the characters, above all Ruth and Miss Benson, can cry on cue...  I know that I am a cynic, but this is definitely beyond average tolerance...

Time-break now for a good point in the book - Sally.  A very likable, believable character who is also well depicted and whose contribution improves the readability of Ruth. A simple maid, who knows a lot more about life than she lets people to believe, is well aware of the rules of society and how to "bend" them.  She proves to be the saviour of Ruth...

Back to the minus points:  I found the incident between Jemina and the dressmaker that resulted into revealing  Ruth's identity very good but very short, undermining its significance for the remainder of the book.  And, while I'm not a practising Christian, I must admit that even I was displeased with the characters imploring God during all the different situations - this can not have been considered serious practice even in the 19th century... 
Something worth mentioning:  I found the description of the Bradshaw family in the second half of the book much more exciting than the Benson/Hilton family, and I would go so far as to say that to me they seem like two different styles of writing...Does anyone know whether this could be the case?  

Last point - Ruth's death:
"I see the Light coming", said she.  "The Light is coming", she said. And, raising herself slowly, she stretched out her arms, and then fell back, very still for evermore"
(no comments...)

I still believe that Gaskell is a serious writer, but find that Ruth was an unfortunate piece of work, which was based primarily on Gaskell's own beliefs and ideals (which, honestly, were not the best possible - one only has to know how she tried to "upgrade" Charlotte Brontë in her biography to realise that she was not all that "goodie"), rather on the matter in hand.  Shame really...

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