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Ruth

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Book Overview: 

The book is a social novel, dealing with Victorian views about sin and illegitimacy. It is a surprisingly compassionate portrayal of a ‘fallen woman’, a type of person normally outcast from respectable society. The title of the novel refers to the main character Ruth Hilton, an orphaned young seamstress who is seduced and then abandoned by gentleman Henry Bellingham. Ruth, pregnant and alone, is taken in by a minister and his sister. They conceal her single status under the pretense of widowhood in order to protect her child from the social stigma of illegitimacy. Ruth goes on to gain a respectable position in society as a governess, which is threatened by the return of Bellingham and the revelation of her secret.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .hing you all night, and had just gone out in the morning for a breath of fresh air, this girl pushed herself before me, and insisted upon speaking to me. I really had to send Mrs Morgan to her before I could return to your room. A more impudent, hardened manner, I never saw."

"Ruth was neither impudent nor hardened; she was ignorant enough, and might offend from knowing no better."

He was getting weary of the discussion, and wished it had never been begun. From the time he had become conscious of his mother's presence, he had felt the dilemma he was in in regard to Ruth, and various plans had directly crossed his brain; but it had been so troublesome to weigh and consider them all properly, that they had been put aside to be settled when he grew stronger. But this difficulty in which he was placed by his connexion with Ruth, associated the idea of her in his mind with annoyance and angry regret at the whole affair. He wished, in the languid way in which. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Gaskell as always is brilliant. I love her characterisation and dialogue and Ruth is a fascinating, interesting read, especially in terms of its discussion of morality, gender and sexuality in Victorian society.

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