Book Review: Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've been a bit afraid of this book. I'd heard it was considered one of the saddest of tales in British literature. In the past I'd started this book at least twice, then stopped.
I'm over-joyed to say I fell in love with this book and finished reading it Sunday night!
It is a beautiful story. It is not a cheerful story, but it is a story of sweet- tenderness, sacrifice and love.

Ruth Hilton, when we first meet her is an auburn haired teenage girl working long hours in a workshop. Her parents are both dead. Her benefactor had arranged for her to apprentice in a dressmakers workshop. Ruth had been left with out a mother since she was a young girl. Certain topics of conversation that a mother teaches her daughter were never taught to Ruth. Ruth is naive, easily persuaded. She is not wise enough to understand the ramifications of wrong choices. She does not think of future consequences, only of her emotional entanglement with wealthy boyish Mr. Henry Bellingham. Mr. Bellingham is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is already engaged to be married, and as an only child his mother has controlled his life. He knows that his mother will not accept his relationship with Ruth, yet he pursues Ruth and seduces her. In Victorian England a woman that lives with another man outside of marriage is considered to be a harlot and she is ostracized. Few people have empathy for Ruth, behind her back they are venomous in their judgment. Mr. Bellingham ends his relationship with Ruth, he leaves her quickly in a trail of dust. Ruth is left alone, with little money, no family, no job, no home. Ruth soon realizes she is pregnant.

Ruth in the beginning pages is a meek little kitten. She is considered outwardly to be beautiful. Through the course of the book her inward beauty is revealed. I willed her to live and to be brave. I was taken-in by her transformation. I was smitten with her love for her child. I could not put the book down because I had to know what would happen to them. I was enraged at the cruelty and hatefulness of those in the Church that condemned both her and her child. Yet, this too had a transformation

I loved this book and was swept away by Ruth's story of innocence, betrayal, tenderness and selflessness for her child, and her transformation in to a form-able woman of integrity---despite her mistreatment.

Elizabeth Gaskell has weaved a splendid story!
I loved her descriptive use of the environment such as the rain and gray clouds to enhance the emotions of the story.

My favorite quote from page 391:
"Her ways were very quiet; she never spoke much. Anyone who has been oppressed with the weight of a vital secret for years, and much more anyone the character of whose life has been stamped by one event, and that producing sorrow and shame, is naturally reserved. And yet Ruth's silence was not like reserve; it was too gentle and tender for that. It had more the effect of a hush of all loud or disturbing emotions, and out of the deep calm the words that came forth had a beautiful power."

Published by Oxford World's Classics  
432 Pages
Victorian/Classic British Literature/England
Originally Published by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1853
Mrs. Gaskell (1810-1865) was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
She wrote several books:
The Life of Charlotte Bronte
North and South
Wives and Daughters
Mary Barton
Sylvia's Lovers

I've tried to read Sylvia's Lovers before and the dialect stumbled me. I plan to try again.
I've read The Life of Charlotte Bronte and loved it! Wonderful book that gives a biography of Charlotte Bronte, but it also gives the reader what life was like during the first half of the 1800's. Daily life is explored, how they dressed, what they ate, their duties, etc. I plan to re-read this book.
I've seen a movie version of Wives and Daughters and it is one of my favorites.


  1. I've never heard of this book, it's sounds really good though. :)

    I haven't read any books by Mrs. Gaskell but I do have 'The life of Charlotte Bronte' on my bookshelf and look forward to reading it soon.

    I also loved the movies 'North and South','Wives and Daughters' and 'Cranford" One day I'll get around to reading the books!

    Great review!

  2. Thank you so much Cathy for stopping by and commenting. I plan to read all of Gaskell's books over the next couple of years. I'm looking forward to reading North and South the most!

  3. I heard this one on BBC radio. The dramatized version. They play a lot of the classics this way and is a wonderful way to experience these books. BBC also repeats every few years as well, I would definitely suggest anyone to look into it. It really brings the characters to life.

  4. Thanks Escape Aritist, I will check into this. I do have a CD of a reading of North and South. Really wonderful! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. This sounds lovely and is definitely on my to read list. So far I've only read Cranford and North and South. Very different but I loved them both.

  6. This is on my TBR list for the Classics Club Challenge. Thanks for whetting my appetite even more!


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