Ruth (Penguin Classics)
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Ruth Hilton is an orphaned young seamstress who catches the eye of a gentleman, Henry Bellingham, who is captivated by her simplicity and beauty. When she loses her job and home, he offers her comfort and shelter, only to cruelly desert her soon after. Nearly dead with grief and shame, Ruth is offered the chance of a new life among people who give her love and respect, even though they are at first unaware of her secret - an illegitimate child. When Henry enters her life again, however, Ruth must make the impossible choice between social acceptance and personal pride.
In writing Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell daringly confronted prevailing views about sin and illegitimacy with her compassionate and honest portrait of a 'fallen woman'.
eternal consequences. She turned sick and faint whenever Mr Donne’s name was casually mentioned. No one saw it; but she felt the miserable stop in her heart’s beating, and wished that she could prevent it by any exercise of self-command. She had never named his identity with Mr Bellingham, nor had she spoken about the sea-side interview. Deep shame made her silent and reserved on all her life before Leonard’s birth; from that time she rose again in her self-respect, and spoke as openly as a child
Jemima bent every power she possessed upon the one object of ascertaining what Ruth really was. Sometimes the strain was very painful; the constant tension made her soul weary; and she moaned aloud, and upbraided circumstance (she dared not go higher – to the maker of circumstance) for having deprived her of her unsuspicious happy ignorance. Things were in this state when Mr Richard Bradshaw came on his annual home visit. He was to remain another year in London, and then to return and be
to the hearts of many. For an instant the old man looked on all the upturned faces, listening, with wet eyes, to hear what he could say to interpret that which was in their hearts, dumb and unshaped, of God’s doings as shown in her life. He looked, and, as he gazed, a mist came before him, and he could not see his sermon, nor his hearers, but only Ruth, as she had been – stricken low, and crouching from sight, in the upland field by Llan-dhu – like a woeful, hunted creature. And now her life was
with a symbolic world of nature, of sunlight and moonlight, allowing free play to image and to disjunction. The nature of Ruth is clear from its opening, the story being set ‘now many years ago’, distance in time being a common romance characteristic, while the evocation of the town stresses remoteness and quaintness equally with changes wrought by the modern age; indeed it even gives a sense of the action beginning in the eighteenth century rather than (as the novel’s strict chronology would
lectured by him; not that she was aware of this liking of hers, but still it would have been more pleasant to be scolded than so quietly passed over. Her two little sisters, with their wide-awake eyes, had long ago put things together, and conjectured. Every day they had some fresh mystery together, to be imparted in garden-walks and whispered talks. ‘Lizzie, did you see how the tears came into Mimie’s eyes when Mr Farquhar looked so displeased when she said good people were always dull? I think