Last weekend I indulged in a rare spree of binge-watching. In the course of a few days, I watched the BBC's four-hour adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.
Alright, so my definition of binge-watching may not be typical. But I don't usually watch much of anything. No TV shows -- none. I see an occasional movie. Perhaps now you will better appreciate the distinguishing honor I gave Wives and Daughters by taking the time to watch this mini-series for the second time (or is it the third? I'm not sure!).
The setting and pace of this story is much like Austen. But the underlying themes animating it are all Gaskell's own: the inevitable march of progress, the sacred importance of individuality, the value and strength of women; the emptiness of wealth, rank, and display; and the great impediment constructed between human beings by class divisions.
I love how Molly Gibson is drawn into a complicated web of relationships at every level of society. And the entire plot is set in motion by a rather random event--her father's interception of a love letter sent by an infatuated admirer.
As usual, the cast of characters is played by a host of well-loved British actors. If you haven't yet seen this sweet story, then maybe some name-dropping will entice you:
And now I'll get to the most important part of this blog post --
Have you read the book YET?
I love this book almost as much as North and South. I struggle at times in trying to decide which of these novels should be known as her masterpiece. Do you understand what that means, coming from me?!
If you love classic Victorian literature, if you love Austen or Gaskell, if you love character-driven books, then please don't pass by this book. It is Gaskell's last work, the cumulation of her writing and story-telling skills -- and it shows. It's a much more polished work than North and South.
There's only one drawback to the book: it has no ending. Gaskell died very suddenly before it was finished. Fortunately, however, she was within close sight of the ending. The reader knows that the pieces will all fall in place, they are merely deprived of knowing exactly how the author would have played her final hand.
The mini-series does a wonderful job of creating an ending that works for the drama of film. The proposal scene is one I have watched over and over again. I can't think of a proposal scene I love more in any other film. (Do you have a favorite accepted-proposal scene?)
I have only one complaint concerning the film version of Wives and Daughters. And it's a complaint I must direct at the screenplay writer, Andrew Davies: a handhold cannot replace a kiss in a final scene! There, I said it. And let me know if you feel the same. After investing four hours of our time in a romantic story, we viewers deserve a kiss!
At least North and South delivers on that score!
Would Gaskell have given us a kiss? Ah, we'll never know....
Up Next -- Get ready to join me as I lead a Mary Barton group read soon! Grab a free ebook copy of Gaskell's first novel and start reading.