Places: Wives and Daughters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: serial, 1864-1866; book, 1866

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Places DiscussedHollingford

Hollingford. Wives and DaughtersEnglish provincial town that provides the main setting in which country life and her central figures interact as their stories unfold. Molly Gibson, the central figure and moral fulcrum of the novel, lives her whole sheltered life in Hollingford, growing up in a single-parent home. Mr. Gibson, her father, a well-known and respected doctor, is usually seen making his rounds with house calls, up and down many dirt roads, from morning until evening. Although he is not a native of the town, his practice and domestic life are here. Molly Gibson herself is greatly attached to the town. However, her father, as a man of scientific and rational bent, has little patience and energy for the rustic and parochial manners and peculiarities of the locals. He lives there primarily for the sake of his daughter, for all she knows and is conversant with is in Hollingford. However, despite her familiarity with the town and its people, she is often susceptible to her own timidity and modesty because Hollingford is a small community of simple people.

Hollingford is representative of many English country towns with old but fading aristocracies; its leading citizens are the count and countess Cumnor. Other residents include figures such as the two Misses Browning, as typical of small English country towns. These women represent the past, frowning here and there with disapproval at change.

Hollingford is a rather dull and slow-paced place, in which the place of women is in the home, doing needlework or reading pretty books and novels. Unlike the Cumnors, not all Hollingford people can go to London or other cosmopolitan centers for a change of air or season. Hollingford is a small community of country folks, with a few exceptions, whose cause for much talk, anticipation, and great preparation is an event at Cumnor Towers or an occasional ball.

Cumnor Towers

Cumnor Towers. Official residence and estate of the count and countess Cumnor, who carry on the old traditions of noblesse oblige by periodically hosting balls for their neighbors to display their gentility and refinement. The count and countess live in waning gentility, and their daughter, Lady Harriet, is almost radical in her views; she represents a major change in the country’s social and class structures.

Gibson home

Gibson home. Modest Hollingford home of Molly Gibson and her widowed father. Reared by her father, she is not completely free to show any sentimental or emotional feeling in this domestic space. With all of her existing unvoiced emotions, Molly has to endure the ways and whims of a new stepmother in this house, her private space. Mr. Gibson and his daughter have to adjust to his new wife’s penchant for posh domesticity and her emulative taste of the aristocratic Cumnors’ refinement. Mr. Gibson’s forced silence in all of his wife’s wishes and whims and his preoccupation with his medical duties leave little attention for Molly’s innermost feelings and suffering. Eventually, this home becomes a prison to Molly.

Hamley Hall

Hamley Hall. Family home and estate of Squire Hamley, which represents an aspect of country society that contrasts strongly to that of the aristocracy. From an ancient family whose wealth depends on advantageous marriages, he is eccentric and cantankerous but at heart quite compassionate. He tries to uphold feudal traditions in a time of social change; Hamley Hall estate and its dwindling fortune represent the old feudal ways.

BibliographyCecil, David. Early Victorian Novelists: Essays in Reevaluation. London: Constable, 1934. Establishes Gaskell’s importance in comparison with the other great Victorian novelists. Contains a lengthy essay on Gaskell, including critical discussion of Wives and Daughters.Gérin, Winifred. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Biography. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1976. A highly personal rather than scholarly discussion of Gaskell’s work. Includes a chapter on Wives and Daughters.Horsman, Alan. The Victorian Novel. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1990. Includes a chapter on Gaskell, in which Horsman analyzes the way she discussed the problems of a changing society in her work. Analysis of Wives and Daughters emphasizes the effect of outsiders in a self-contained society.Lansbury, Coral. Elizabeth Gaskell. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A chapter considers Wives and Daughters in detail.Lansbury, Coral. Elizabeth Gaskell: The Novel of Social Crisis. London: Elek, 1975. Evaluation of Gaskell’s work. Emphasizes the economic and social aspects of Wives and Daughters.Rathburn, Robert C., and Martin Steinmann, eds. From Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958. A collection of essays. Includes a chapter on Gaskell by Yvonne French, who presents an overview of Gaskell’s life and work and gives a balanced analysis of Wives and Daughters.Rubenius, Aina. The Woman Question in Mrs. Gaskell’s Life and Works. 1950. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1973. Discusses women’s issues and focuses on the treatment of these matters in Wives and Daughters.
Categories: Places