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Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

This story opens with a young girl on a visit to a stately mansion, which is a local tourist attraction. Exhausted and waiting for the rest of the party to finish the tour, she falls asleep under a tree. She is discovered by the daughter of the house and the governess, who comfort her and put her to bed in the governess's room, promising to wake her before the tourists leave. However, the governess forgets and the girl is stranded in the mansion. Her father arrives to take her home. Many years later, her father brings the same governess home as his new wife. The lady has a daughter of her own and the two girls become close friends. Another mansion in the neighborhood is owned by a wealthy squire with two young sons. How their lives and the lives of the two young stepsisters become inextricably entwined forms the rest of this interesting story.Wives and Daughters: An Everyday Story was Elizabeth Gaskell's last book. It remained unfinished with her sudden death in 1865 while it was being serialized in the Cornhill magazine. The book was completed by journalist, Frederick Greenwood and the final section was published in 1866.Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mrs. Gaskell as she was better known, was a friend and biographer of Charlotte Bronte. She was also well known in her own right as a writer during the Victorian era. Her works offer deep insights into many strata of society of that time. As a child she suffered great privation and insecurity after her mother died and she was sent to live with various relatives, though her father and brothers kept in contact with her and encouraged her to study and write. She married a Unitarian minister and traveled extensively with him. It was during the course of her travels that she began keeping a journal and discovered her talent for writing. Her social circle included such greats as Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Ruskin.Wives and Daughters is set in the pre-Reform Bill era of the 1830s, a piece of legislation that allowed people from more than just the upper echelons of society to have voting privileges. The character of Molly Gibson, who evolves from an impulsive and unthinking young girl into a strong and independent woman proves to be capable of making the right decisions without compromising her own sense of ethics. She also becomes a tower of strength to those around her. Wives and Daughters is a very interesting and powerful read that combines romance, memorable characters and great insights into social structure more than a hundred years ago.

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