<i>Sylvia's Lovers</i> (1863)

Patsy Stoneman

in Elizabeth Gaskell

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780719074479
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781701188 | DOI:
Sylvia's Lovers (1863)

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Like Mary Barton and Ruth, Sylvia's Lovers has its source in George Crabbe's tales of tragedy among the poor. Because the striking public events in Sylvia's Lovers seem incongruous in a ‘pastoral love-story’, they have been criticised, like many of the short stories of this period, as melodramatic. Sylvia's Lovers is not framed as a purely private story but deals explicitly with the interaction of public and private events. In particular, like North and South, it investigates the relation between aggression on a public scale and ideologies of masculinity as manifested in courtship and the family. The industrial novels traced working-class violence to frustrated parental love, and in Sylvia's Lovers, this process is ritually enacted. The novel is the third of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels to hinge around a lie, and each lie derives from a denial of female sexuality. It also appears to represent opposed ethics, but shows that each is motivated by self-interest, which is the ‘law of the market’ as well as the ‘law of the jungle’.

Keywords: Sylvia's Lovers; Elizabeth Gaskell; George Crabbe; public; private; aggression; masculinity; parental love; ethics; female sexuality

Chapter.  5864 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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