Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Concluding remarks by George Murray Smith, the editor of The Cornhill Magazine, in which the installments of the unfinished novel Wives and Daughters were first published serially:

While you read any one of the last three books we have named [i.e, Wives and Daughters, Cousin Phillis, and Sylvia’s Lovers], you feel yourself caught out of an abominable wicked world, crawling with selfishness and reeking with base passions, into one where there is much weakness, many mistakes, sufferings long and bitter, but where it is possible for people to live calm and wholesome lives; and, what is more, you feel that this is at least as real a world as the other. The kindly spirit which thinks no ill looks out of her pages irradiate; and while we read them, we breathe the purer intelligence which prefers to deal with emotions and passions which have a living root in minds within the pale of salvation, and not with those which rot without it.

In other words, it is a book well worth reading. For more on what stood out, when and why I read it, and related works, see below.

What Stood Out

Some apt and pithy observations as well as skillful characterizations for major and minor characters alike.

  • I think that if advice is good it’s the best comfort.
  • The long continuance merely of dissatisfaction is sure of itself to deepen the feeling.
  • One man may steal a horse, but another must not look over the hedge.
  • A certain obtuseness of feeling goes a great way towards a character for good temper.
  • Fine feathers make fine birds.
  • You must never trifle with the love of an honest man. You don’t know what pain you may give.
  • At such hours of indisposition as she was then passing through, apprehensions take the shape of certainties, lying await in our paths.
  • Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.
  • All sorts of thoughts cross one’s mind—it depends upon whether one gives them harbour and encouragement.
  • Give me a wise man of science in love! No one beats him in folly.


“It will be very dull when I shall have killed myself, as it were, and live only in trying to do, and to be, as other people like. I don’t see any end to it. I might as well never have lived.”

Very often she did not go out at all, sooner than have to give a plan of her intended proceedings, when perhaps she had no plan at all,—only thought of wandering out at her own sweet will, and of taking pleasure in the bright solemn fading of the year.

“I am so well prepared for misfortune by the frequent contemplation of its possibility that I believe I can receive any ill news with apparent equanimity and real resignation.”


“I am not good, and I never shall be now. Perhaps I might be a heroine still, but I shall never be a good woman, I know.” “Do you think it easier to be a heroine?” “Yes, as far as one knows of heroines from history. I’m capable of a great jerk, an effort, and then a relaxation—but steady, every-day goodness is beyond me. I must be a moral kangaroo!”

Let Cynthia be ever so proud, ever so glad, or so grateful, or even indignant, remorseful, grieved or sorry, the very fact that she was expected by another to entertain any of these emotions, would have been enough to prevent her expressing them.

Mrs. Gibson

Mrs. Gibson, who felt that she had somehow lost her place in her husband’s favour, took it into her head that she could reinstate herself if she was successful in finding a good match for his daughter Molly. She knew that her husband had forbidden her to try for this end, as distinctly as words could express a meaning; but her own words so seldom expressed her meaning, or if they did, she held to her opinions so loosely, that she had no idea but that it was the same with other people.

When and Why I Read It

After seeing the miniseries adaptation, I wanted to read the novel.

Genre: fiction (classic literature)
Date started / date finished:  27-May-16 to 16-Jun-16
Length: 680 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 4274
Originally published in: 1864
Amazon link: Wives and Daughters

Related Media

  • Cranford miniseries
  • Wives and Daughters miniseries
  • North and South miniseries
  • North and South by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Mary Barton by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Ruth by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell