Monday, October 15, 2018

Sylvia's Lovers

Sylvia's Lovers. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1863/1997. Everyman Paperbacks. 560 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: On the north-eastern shores of England there is a town called Monkshaven, containing at the present day about fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Premise/plot: The heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell's Sylvia's Lovers is Sylvia Robson. (Relatively) soon after the novel opens, Sylvia falls in love with a specksioneer Charley Kinraid. This frustrates the plans of her cousin, Philip Hepburn. He is also in love with Sylvia. He hasn't been courting her, but, he has been tutoring her. Philip has heard a few rumors that Kinraid essentially has left a string of girls all madly in love with him. (He is a sailor.) But Sylvia isn't going to be warned or lectured or bossed about by her cousin!

One day Philip witnesses Kinraid being pressed into service--being taken up by the press gang. (Military service not being all voluntary at that time). Charley begs Philip to tell Sylvia what has happened, begs him to let her know that his disappearance was not of his doing. By the time Philip makes his way to visit Sylvia and her family--his family too mind you--word has reached them--the town/village--that Kinraid is DEAD. Some of his belongings have washed up from the sea. Philip decides--for better or worse--to keep quiet.

But Kinraid's disappearance does not necessarily mean that Philip will succeed in his efforts to woo the young and beautiful Sylvia. In fact, if Sylvia's father, Daniel, had stayed out of trouble, I'm confident that his efforts would have continued to fail. But. Daniel Robson acted the fool--a noble fool, perhaps. He decided to participate in a RIOT. He was right there in the heart of the action--no mistaking his intentions.

Who was there to take care of the family when Daniel Robson was arrested? imprisoned? taken away to face trial and sentencing? Good, kind, dependable Philip, that's who. He was so good, so kind, so compassionate, so faithful. When he does propose, she says yes. Even if there's a tiny bit of doubt at the back of her mind if it's the right thing to do. She doesn't love-love Philip. But. She does care for him some.

Philip thinks that there's a good chance that Charley will die in action during the war--the English are fighting the French--or at sea--storms do happen. But Charley returns. And Philip and Sylvia are in for quite a SHOCK when he does...

My thoughts: I really enjoyed Sylvia's Lovers. If there was a movie adaptation of it, I would definitely watch it. (Most of Gaskell's other novels have been adapted for film.) I think fans of Poldark may enjoy this one.

Oddly enough, I was Team Philip for most of the book. In some ways, I find him the most developed character of the book. Sylvia was developed to some extent, but she felt a bit distant to me.

I loved the religious/spiritual themes of this one. 

  • Will our descendants have a wonder about us, such as we have about the inconsistency of our forefathers, or a surprise at our blindness that we do not perceive that, holding such and such opinions, our course of action must be so and so, or that the logical consequence of particular opinions must be convictions which at present we hold in abhorrence? (63)
  • Then he went on to wonder if the lives of one generation were but a repetition of the lives of those who had gone before, with no variation but from the internal cause that some had greater capacity for suffering than others. (218)
  • I tell thee my flesh and blood wasn't made for forgiving and forgetting. Once for all, thou must take me at my word. When I love I love, and when I hate I hate, and him as has done harm to me, or to mine, I may keep fra' striking or murdering, but I'll niver forgive. (300)
  • It seemed to be Sylvia's fate to captivate more people than she cared to like back again. (313)
  • God pities us as a father pities his poor wandering children; the nearer I come to death the clearer I see him. (445)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Alyssa Nelson said...

Sounds like a great read! I've been thinking that I need to read more adult classics--looks like a good one to get started. Great review!

Carol said...

My 13 yr old and I have been watching the Cranford series & really enjoying it. I've read some of Gaskell's other books & loved them (North & South is my favourite so far) but I haven't read this one. Great review, Becky. Will definitely look out for this one.