Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell) - BBC miniseries

Who is Elizabeth Gaskell? I'd never heard of her until Netflix recommended the BBC's renditions of her stories based on my interest in Jane Austen's tales. Elizabeth Gaskell was a British novelist born in 1810, near the end of Austen's life. I can't say I've ever heard of her novels except through Netflix, but now I've had the pleasure to view two four-episode miniseries based on her novels North and South and Wives and Daughters. While Austen's works deal more often with the top levels of society, what I've seen of Gaskell's stories deals more with the working middle class.

I saw North and South first and gave it three stars. I liked it, but I couldn't get over how it seemed like another Pride and Prejudice, only for the working class. I like Pride and Prejudice a lot, and North and South didn't quite match it, though the BBC did a fine job and the story was full of the conflicts between the aristocracy of the working class and the poor laborers. It was intriguing. The romance, however, was somewhat baffling. The man seemed very cold, almost never smiling (I tell you, it was like Pride and Prejudice!), and I couldn't quite understand what the heroine saw in him, besides his good looks. Perhaps the book does the romance more justice. Also, the story ends with a very tender, romantic kiss, which I've been told is very unlikely for the times (any kiss at all), but perhaps Gaskell's times were more advanced than Austen's, or perhaps it was more appropriate for the working class (or maybe the BBC just took artistic license, which I didn't really mind; the kiss is sweet).

Having enjoyed one Gaskell story, I decided to try another, Wives and Daughters. While it is a romance, it is more about the relationships 17-year-old Mollie Gibson, daughter of her small town's doctor, forms with her new stepmother, stepsister, and the other townspeople. It was a beautiful, heart-wrenching story with a lovely ending. I cried at parts. And I gave it four stars. Elizabeth Gaskell never finished the novel, so I don't know exactly how much liberty the BBC took to give the tale an ending. Sadly, but perhaps more in line with the times, there is no kiss between the hero and heroine. Nonetheless, it's a moving love story, a lot about not seeing that the person right in front of you who shares your passions is actually your soul mate. Some say Wives and Daughters is Gaskell's best work. I was pleased with it myself, and if you have the time to spend watching four 75-minute episodes, I think you will enjoy it too.

I just thought I'd pass on this surprising find. Am I the only one who knows nothing about Elizabeth Gaskell?


  1. Oh that sounds fantastic! I LOVE BBC renditions of books!

  2. In Gaskell's novel North and South we really get to see how Margaret's and Mr. Thornton's feelings for each-other develop. The ending of the adaptation was complete artistic license. ;)

    I go a little into detail on comparing N&S with P&P on my blog.

    Wives and Daughters is my favorite of Gaskell's work and the BBCs adaptation is a beautiful, they stayed very true to the novel.
    I liked the ending they came up with although I couldn't help thinking of poor Mr. Gibson left alone with his Hyacinth. ;)

  3. Katherine, thank you for your comment and the link to your blog, all about Elizabeth Gaskell!

    I'm glad to hear the BBC's Wives and Daughters was so true to the book. I like the ending a lot, but yes, poor Mr. Gibson, indeed!


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