Friday, December 14, 2018


Ruth. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1853. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: There is an assize-town in one of the eastern counties which was much distinguished by the Tudor sovereigns, and, in consequence of their favour and protection, attained a degree of importance that surprises the modern traveller.

Premise/plot: Ruth Hilton, a young apprenticed seamstress, makes a mistake when she falls in love with a wealthy young man, Henry Bellingham. The two run away together--to Wales, I believe. When he becomes sick, his mother comes and rescues him from the "evil tramp" Ruth. What will Ruth's future be now? Is there hope for this 'fallen woman'?

Thankfully Elizabeth Gaskell is NOT Nathaniel Hawthorne. And there are plenty of kind, warm-hearted Christian souls who extend grace, compassion, and actual care. Mr. Thurstan Benson (a Dissenting minister) and his sister, Faith, open up their home and their hearts to the pregnant Ruth. She will remain with them for years raising her son Leonard.

Not content to live off of charity, Ruth first becomes a governess and then later a sick nurse. The novel illustrates through its characters--Ruth, Faith, Sally, Thurstan, etc.--faith in action.

My thoughts: I love, love, love Elizabeth Gaskell. This novel is a tragedy. A beautiful, well-written tragedy with unforgettable characters. I had forgotten the sadness and just remembered the goodness. I knew I loved it. I knew I needed to reread it at some point. I knew I considered the characters good friends. I forgot all the sads. The fact that I find it a devastating read--emotionally--only testifies that the characterization is excellent.

  • Well, my dear, you must learn to think and work too; or, if you can't do both, you must leave off thinking.
  • The night before, she had seen her dead mother in her sleep, and she wakened, weeping. And now she dreamed of Mr Bellingham, and smiled. And yet, was this a more evil dream than the other?
  • The future lay wrapped in a golden mist, which she did not care to penetrate; but if he, her sun, was out of sight and gone, the golden mist became dark heavy gloom, through which no hope could come. He took her hand.
  • Low and soft, with much hesitation, came the "Yes;" the fatal word of which she so little imagined the infinite consequences. The thought of being with him was all and everything.
  • Poor Ruth! her faith was only building up vain castles in the air; they towered up into heaven, it is true, but, after all, they were but visions.
  • "In the eye of God, she is exactly the same as if the life she has led had left no trace behind. We knew her errors before, Faith." "Yes, but not this disgrace—this badge of her shame!" "Faith, Faith! let me beg of you not to speak so of the little innocent babe, who may be God's messenger to lead her back to Him.
  • "I think you, Thurstan, are the first person I ever heard rejoicing over the birth of an illegitimate child. It appears to me, I must own, rather questionable morality." 
  • You yourself have not greater sorrow over this young creature's sin than I have: the difference is this, you confuse the consequences with the sin."
  • We are both right: I, in the way in which the child ought to be viewed; you, dear good Faith, for thinking of taking her home with us. God bless you, dear, for it!
  • It is better not to expect or calculate consequences. The longer I live, the more fully I see that. Let us try simply to do right actions, without thinking of the feelings they are to call out in others.
  • My dear Ruth, you don't know how often I sin; I do so wrong, with my few temptations. We are both of us great sinners in the eyes of the Most Holy; let us pray for each other.
  • I cannot abide the way some folk has of denying there's trouble or pain to be met; just as if their saying there was none, would do away with it.
  • There's a right and a wrong way of setting about everything—and to my thinking, the right way is to take a thing up heartily, if it is only making a bed.
  • 'Sally, do you think God has put us into the world just to be selfish, and do nothing but see after our own souls? or to help one another with heart and hand, as Christ did to all who wanted help?'
  •  Everything may be done in a right way or a wrong; the right way is to do it as well as we can, as in God's sight; the wrong is to do it in a self-seeking spirit, which either leads us to neglect it to follow out some device of our own for our own ends, or to give up too much time and thought to it both before and after the doing.
  • Those summer mornings were happy, for she was learning neither to look backwards nor forwards, but to live faithfully and earnestly in the present.
  • I dare not think of happiness—I must not look forward to sorrow. God did not put me here to consider either of these things.
  • The time that has pressed down my life like brands of hot iron, and scarred me for ever, has been nothing to you.
  • "Leonard—when I was very young I did very wrong. I think God, who knows all, will judge me more tenderly than men—but I did wrong in a way which you cannot understand yet"
  •  I declare before God, that if I believe in any one human truth, it is this—that to every woman who, like Ruth, has sinned, should be given a chance of self-redemption—and that such a chance should be given in no supercilious or contemptuous manner, but in the spirit of the holy Christ."I state my firm belief, that it is God's will that we should not dare to trample any of His creatures down to the hopeless dust;
  • Now, let us stand firm on the truth. You have no new fault to repent of. Be brave and faithful. It is to God you answer, not to men.
  • The shame of having your sin known to the world, should be as nothing to the shame you felt at having sinned. We have dreaded men too much, and God too little, in the course we have taken.
  • Any fastidiousness I shall have to get rid of, and I shall be better without; but any true refinement I am sure I shall find of use;    
  • Would you not rather be nursed by a person who spoke gently and moved quietly about than by a loud bustling woman?
  • There is always something aggravating in being told, that the mood in which we are now viewing things strongly will not be our mood at some other time. It implies that our present feelings are blinding us, and that some more clear-sighted spectator is able to distinguish our future better than we do ourselves.
  • Her left hand truly knew not what her right hand did; and Leonard was overwhelmed now to hear of the love and the reverence with which the poor and outcast had surrounded her. 
  • From that day forward Leonard walked erect in the streets of Eccleston, where "many arose and called her blessed."
  •  "We have no right to weigh human lives against each other."

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Lois Tinúviel said...

I own this one and I need to get around to reading it. I've enjoying everything by Elizabeth Gaskell I've read so far.

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Cleo @ Classical Carousel said...

I think this book is my favourite Gaskell although I have yet to read Wives and Daughters. It shows true human compassion and perseverance in the face of adversity. I will definitely have to re-read it one day soon!

Carol said...

I love the sound of this one especially after reading your comment that Gaskell is not Nathaniel Hawthorne. How depressing was that book! (i.e. The Scarlet Letter)

Annette said...

I read this book several years ago. It's the saddest book.

Elena said...

I really enjoyed North & South and Cranford. I had Wives and Daughters as my other Gaskell novel to read soon, but have recently heard about Ruth and Mary Barton and have added both to my Classics Club. This one sounds sad but also hopeful. Gaskell had so much versatility between her writing styles (comic, tragedy, romance) and social classes she focused on. I definitely want to read more of her work!

I will link my Cranford review, if interested