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In some ways this is a deeply sentimental, predictable story, in which Ruth, like Tess D'Urberville, is hung out to dry by her author. Compared with the much feistier heroines of the Brontes,Ruth can seem implausibly passive. But it is still a fascinating and gripping account of Victorian mores, and one that makes the listener all the happier to be living in the 21st century. Beautifully read by Eve Mattheson who at least doubles the pleasure.
"A window into Victorian Britain"
Elizabeth Gaskell?s excellent 3-dimensional characters (Mr. Bradshaw, whose inflexible adherence to his interpretation of the bible make him tragically mistaken in his belief that he is good whilst his actions make him cruel and heartless; Mr. Benson, who believes, erroneously ? also because of rigid Victorian religious views ? that he is evil, whilst in reality he is charitable and Christ-like in his attitude to ?sin?) give a true insight into Victorian society.
Apart from some seemingly endless ramblings in sections of Ruth, in the main, it is a thoughtful, skilfully structured novel which gives a vivid portrayal of how it was to live in Victorian times.
Eve Matheson is quite brilliant in her narration and portrayals of all the characters. I highly recommend this audiobook.
"Old fashioned morality tale"
I've read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Elizabeth Gaskell in which she illustrates the injustices in Victorian society, particularly toward women who have to work for a living. In Ruth she explores the double-standards in moral behaviour expected in women compared with men and how a woman's entire life was blighted by a lapse in early life. It was brave of the author, at that time, to try and paint a sympathetic picture of a girl who co-habited with a man and bore a illegitimate child. To modern sensibilities, thank goodness, the self-righteous censure by Society described in the story of the mother and "innocent" child are obnoxious but probably reflected the hypocrisy of the time.
Ruth is a very long book; it's an epic story; Elizabeth Gaskell wrote beautifully in a style that suits being read; and it is read superbly well by Eve Matheson. But, for me, it had far too much pious religiosity, perpetually saying that cruel things were God's Will. I don't remember Elizabeth Gaskell's other books containing such repellent sentiments, perhaps she had to put this stuff in to counter censure by her critics, but it may also be that my mind has been influenced by being so impressed by Richard Dawkin's recent excoriating exposure of religious hypocrisy.
"An unusually sympathetic view of a single mother"
This novel first appeared in 1853, so its sympathetic view of a very young woman whose naivete led her to be seduced by a social superior was exceptionally insightful.
Ruth's 'sin' is never represented as laudable but is presented to us as a sad event brought about by her own ignorance and lack of motherly advice.
Ruth herself is seen to be the embodiment of nineteenth century womanly virtue, in all but one important sense: she is the mother of an illegitimate child. Her religion is deep and pure and her compassion for others demonstrated daily. Mrs Gaskell seems to forgive the character a great deal because she is seen to be modest, shy and possesses a quiet dignity and self-possession. In addition to all this exceptional dignity of bearing, she is beautiful and innocent-looking.
I had to suppress the cynical part of my brain which kept wondering how she would have been received had she been less beautiful and more brazenly outspoken.
My only reservation is that a certain mawkish sentimentality creeps in when Ruth's self-sacrifice and contrition is described. Since Charles Dickens has remained popular despite his mawkish tendencies I think Mrs Gaskell can be forgiven, just as she forgives the lovely Ruth.
The story is predictable, and indeed heavily signposted. But the redemption of a young girl seduced, and abandoned with her baby, by an older and richer man is most powerful. Above all the strength and conviction of Mrs Gaskell's advocacy of her heroine is truly moving. And, most engaging of all, both justification and restoration are set within a believing Christian context. In our enlightened century, we expect atheist anger; instead we are giving the warmth of true faith - unusual and deeply affecting. And what a lovely reader is Eve Matheson! Please can she read more classics - her voice is pure gold.
"Eve Matheson's narration is outstanding"
I have read 'Ruth' more than once but hearing it narrated by Eve Matheson brought it absolutely to life in a way I hadn't experienced before. I would recommend this to anyone.
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