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As in North and South, Gaskell explores the values and inequities of Victorian society here. The main character, a desperate young woman who has lost her job and has no family to assist her, falls prey to a handsome gent--it's the old "seduced and abandoned" theme. But Ruth gets a chance to redeem her life and to provide a happier future for her son--temporarily, of course. Although there are no surprises here (the story is quite predictable), Gaskell makes it interesting with her fine characterizations and understanding of the human heart.
trying to see the world with my ears
This is a great companion to Eliot's Adam Bede and Hardy's Tess for its pregnant-outside-of- wedlock protagonist (although Gaskill's sentimentality leads to a different treatment).
I found this to be the best structured of Gaskill's novels, and I think Mr Benson one of the more interesting characters she created. I've heard that Ruth was based on a real character known to Gaskill's family. Hooray for Gaskill for taking up the topic as early as she did (though overall she still placated Victorian sensibilities and made Ruth a "too good to be true" character to try to garner contemporary readers sympathies)
Ruth, orphaned and alone at the age of 12, is lead astray at 16 by an affluent, self centered young man in his early 20's and then abandoned after she becomes pregnant. She is taken in by a kindly, sympathetic clergyman and his sister who share their home. Assuming the identity of a young widow, Ruth raises her child and is grateful for her good fortune and the generosity of those around her. After a dozen years, her secret of being an unwed mother is, through unexpected connections, revealed. She is then rejected and shunned by members of the community who had previously welcomed her into their homes. The rest of the story concerns Ruth's redemption; she is finally recognized and elevated for always putting the welfare of others ahead of her own. The novel is beautifully executed with a bittersweet ending. I have read and listed to a number of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels and have found each to be unique and memorable. The author balances sorrow and joy in equal parts.
The narrator does a great job of subtly changing between the many characters' voices.
I cried. (But I cry at Hallmark ads...) I was most struck by how well the story illustrates the redemptive power of true selflessness...without expectation of any reward.
I love Gaskell's ability to develop characters. She takes what would be background characters in, say, a Jane Austen novel...the destitute widow, the spinster sisters, the crippled neighbor...and gives them the lead roles. Their seemingly everyday struggles and triumphs built up to heroic proportions. Very satisfying.
Eve Matheson has a fine expressive musical voice which brings out the subtle details and exquisite character sketches Gaskell wove into this story including as an aside, the splendid example of parents' counterproductive interference with the romance of a daughter. Rich, handsome Henry Bellingham calls to mind John Willoughby, "Sense and Sensibility" who, I am sure you recall, seduced Eliza Brandon then abandoned her unmarried, pregnant and penniless, a circumstance which often reduced a woman to prostitution and a short, brutish life; i.e. a death sentence. His public humiliation of Marianne Dashwood was her social death sentence. His behavior revealed a true character totally different from the noble and amiable person which we thought we knew. I go on and on about Willoughby because Bellingham is a Willoughby. As you remember, after her illness, Marianne became a stronger, better woman. Myself, I didn't like her until then. Ruth became a stronger better person after she was abandoned by Bellingham. She took charge of her life and that of her son. While she was certainly the weaker of the two in the beginning of her relationship with Bellingham, as time went on, she grew strong while he remained the same. So much stronger she became, that she sent him packing when he offers belated marriage, i.e. salvation, wealth, ease for herself and her child.
I often read of women similarly situated being put to death so let us not congratulate ourselves that the attitudes expressed in this story are dated and we live in a time superior to Ruth's world of the 1800's. Indeed, one often sees stories where the woman is killed for much smaller offenses or is guilty of being a rape victim. Ruth is here among us, today, in the Twenty-First Century. Our women's groups are notable by their silence as they mostly are on issues of real consequence. Let us be humble before our Ruths. Listen, hear the silence.
If the elderly servant, Sally, had been the rule for Elizabeth Gaskell in forming her characters in this book, it would have been another great like "North and South". Sally's wit and comic urbanity, contrasts sharply with the nauseatingly sweet goodness of Ruth, the innocent led into predictable sin by a wealthy young rake. The result is a preachy fairy tale of Christian redemption through sacrifice. Elizabeth Gaskell is a clever observer of people and their foibles, but in Ruth she missteps in giving her heroine unearthly beauty and divine purity, thus, taking her out of the realm of common mortals. Nevertheless, Gaskell writes an entertaining story which only requires a suspension of disbelief in human nature. The reader is excellent.
The narrator of this story sounds so glum that it makes the listener dread the next sentence. It's almost as though she's apologizing for telling you a sad story. I recommend choosing the version narrated by Nadia May.
In some ways this is a deeply sentimental, predictable story, in which Ruth, like Tess D'Urberville, is hung out to dry by her author. Compared with the much feistier heroines of the Brontes,Ruth can seem implausibly passive. But it is still a fascinating and gripping account of Victorian mores, and one that makes the listener all the happier to be living in the 21st century. Beautifully read by Eve Mattheson who at least doubles the pleasure.
"A window into Victorian Britain"
Elizabeth Gaskell?s excellent 3-dimensional characters (Mr. Bradshaw, whose inflexible adherence to his interpretation of the bible make him tragically mistaken in his belief that he is good whilst his actions make him cruel and heartless; Mr. Benson, who believes, erroneously ? also because of rigid Victorian religious views ? that he is evil, whilst in reality he is charitable and Christ-like in his attitude to ?sin?) give a true insight into Victorian society.
Apart from some seemingly endless ramblings in sections of Ruth, in the main, it is a thoughtful, skilfully structured novel which gives a vivid portrayal of how it was to live in Victorian times.
Eve Matheson is quite brilliant in her narration and portrayals of all the characters. I highly recommend this audiobook.
"Old fashioned morality tale"
I've read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Elizabeth Gaskell in which she illustrates the injustices in Victorian society, particularly toward women who have to work for a living. In Ruth she explores the double-standards in moral behaviour expected in women compared with men and how a woman's entire life was blighted by a lapse in early life. It was brave of the author, at that time, to try and paint a sympathetic picture of a girl who co-habited with a man and bore a illegitimate child. To modern sensibilities, thank goodness, the self-righteous censure by Society described in the story of the mother and "innocent" child are obnoxious but probably reflected the hypocrisy of the time.
Ruth is a very long book; it's an epic story; Elizabeth Gaskell wrote beautifully in a style that suits being read; and it is read superbly well by Eve Matheson. But, for me, it had far too much pious religiosity, perpetually saying that cruel things were God's Will. I don't remember Elizabeth Gaskell's other books containing such repellent sentiments, perhaps she had to put this stuff in to counter censure by her critics, but it may also be that my mind has been influenced by being so impressed by Richard Dawkin's recent excoriating exposure of religious hypocrisy.
"An unusually sympathetic view of a single mother"
This novel first appeared in 1853, so its sympathetic view of a very young woman whose naivete led her to be seduced by a social superior was exceptionally insightful.
Ruth's 'sin' is never represented as laudable but is presented to us as a sad event brought about by her own ignorance and lack of motherly advice.
Ruth herself is seen to be the embodiment of nineteenth century womanly virtue, in all but one important sense: she is the mother of an illegitimate child. Her religion is deep and pure and her compassion for others demonstrated daily. Mrs Gaskell seems to forgive the character a great deal because she is seen to be modest, shy and possesses a quiet dignity and self-possession. In addition to all this exceptional dignity of bearing, she is beautiful and innocent-looking.
I had to suppress the cynical part of my brain which kept wondering how she would have been received had she been less beautiful and more brazenly outspoken.
My only reservation is that a certain mawkish sentimentality creeps in when Ruth's self-sacrifice and contrition is described. Since Charles Dickens has remained popular despite his mawkish tendencies I think Mrs Gaskell can be forgiven, just as she forgives the lovely Ruth.
The story is predictable, and indeed heavily signposted. But the redemption of a young girl seduced, and abandoned with her baby, by an older and richer man is most powerful. Above all the strength and conviction of Mrs Gaskell's advocacy of her heroine is truly moving. And, most engaging of all, both justification and restoration are set within a believing Christian context. In our enlightened century, we expect atheist anger; instead we are giving the warmth of true faith - unusual and deeply affecting. And what a lovely reader is Eve Matheson! Please can she read more classics - her voice is pure gold.
"Eve Matheson's narration is outstanding"
I have read 'Ruth' more than once but hearing it narrated by Eve Matheson brought it absolutely to life in a way I hadn't experienced before. I would recommend this to anyone.
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