Wives and Daughters

Front Cover
Penguin, 1866 - Fiction - 679 pages
1383 Reviews
Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centers on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new stepsister enters Molly's quiet life-loveable, but worldly and troubling Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford. Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society. "No nineteenth-century novel contains a more devastating rejection than this of the Victorian male assumption of moral authority," writes Pam Morris in her introduction to this edition, in which she explores the novel's main themes-the role of women, Darwinism, and the concept of Englishness-and its literary and social context.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: Wives and Daughters

User Review  - Goodreads

This book was excellent! Would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good story. My only disappointment was that it was unfinished - I'm sure the ending would have been great. Read full review

Review: Wives and Daughters

User Review  - Goodreads

The only reason this gets 4 stars is because of the length. I know that Gaskell like many writes in her day wrote for magazines and serials and writing more and more probably meant more money (correct ... Read full review

All 33 reviews »

Selected pages


Wives and Daughters
A Note by the Cornhill Editor
Textual Variants

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1866)

Elizabeth Gaskell was born on September 29, 1810 to a Unitarian clergyman, who was also a civil servant and journalist. Her mother died when she was young, and she was brought up by her aunt in Knutsford, a small village that was the prototype for Cranford, Hollingford and the setting for numerous other short stories. In 1832, she married William Gaskell, a Unitarian clergyman in Manchester. She participated in his ministry and collaborated with him to write the poem Sketches among the Poor in 1837. Our Society at Cranford was the first two chapters of Cranford and it appeared in Dickens' Household Words in 1851. Dickens liked it so much that he pressed Gaskell for more episodes, and she produced eight more of them between 1852 and 1853. She also wrote My Lady Ludlow and Lois the Witch, a novella that concerns the Salem witch trials. Wives and Daughters ran in Cornhill from August 1864 to January 1866. The final installment was never written but the ending was known and the novel exists now virtually complete. The story centers on a series of relationships between family groups in Hollingford. Most critics agree that her greatest achievement is the short novel Cousin Phillis. Gaskell was also followed by controversy. In 1853, she offended many readers with Ruth, which explored seduction and illegitimacy that led the "fallen woman" into ostracism and inevitable prostitution. The novel presents the social conduct in a small community when tolerance and morality clash. Critics praised the novel's moral lessons but Gaskell's own congregation burned the book and it was banned in many libraries. In 1857, The Life of Charlotte Brontė was published. The biography was initially praised but angry protests came from some of the people it dealt with. Gaskell was against any biographical notice of her being written during her lifetime. After her death on November 12, 1865, her family refused to make family letters or biographical data available.

Bibliographic information