The last and unfinished novel of E. Gaskell, published in the Cornhill Magazine, 1864–6, and in volume form 1866.
This novel, Mrs Gaskell's masterpiece, centres on two families, the Gibsons and the Hamleys. Mr Gibson, surgeon in the little country town of Hollingford, is a widower with one daughter, Molly. As she grows up her father feels he ought to marry again for her sake. He marries a widow, Mrs Kirkpatrick, formerly governess in the family of Lord Cumnor, the local magnate. Molly is made unhappy by her graceful stepmother's shallow selfishness, but her lot is improved when her stepmother's daughter by her previous marriage, Cynthia, joins the household. Cynthia is a fascinating beauty, more sincere than her mother, but with few moral principles.
The Hamleys are an ancient county family—the proud and hot‐tempered Squire, his invalid wife, their elder son Osborne who is handsome and clever, and a young son, Roger, sturdy, honest, and a late developer. Molly Gibson often stays with the Hamleys, and discovers that Osborne is secretly married to a French nursery‐maid. Molly has begun to love and admire Roger, but he becomes engaged to Cynthia, and, being by now a successful scientist, goes on an expedition to Africa. Cynthia is in fact already secretly engaged to Preston, Lord Cumnor's ill‐bred agent, and she enlists Molly's help in extricating herself from this entanglement, thus compromising Molly's reputation. Osborne Hamley is bitterly estranged from his father, but when Osborne dies and the secret of his marriage is revealed, Squire Hamley, repenting his harshness, adopts Osborne's baby son. Cynthia throws over Roger Hamley and marries a man more suited to her, and when Roger returns he has realized that it is Molly whom he really loves.
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Elizabeth Gaskell (1810—1865) novelist and short-story writer