A Novel. By the Author of "Mary Barton." In Three Volumes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1853. 36 pp Vol I ads dated 1853, plus front endpapers printed with ads in Vols I & II. Original blind-stamped purple-brown cloth.
First Edition of this novel about a seamstress who is done wrong by a country "gentleman," and who is taken in by members of a parish who believe that widowhood explains the existence of her child. Over the years Ruth becomes a governess, becomes a member of the church and community, and also becomes a woman of "mature warmth and grace" -- so much so that the secret father of her child returns to propose marriage (but is shocked to be rebuffed by her). However, his reappearance divulges the illegitimacy of the child to the parishioners, who promptly throw her out of church and employment. She volunteers to be a nurse to help combat a cholera epidemic, and dies of the disease -- proving herself to be considerably more "Christian" than the "Christians" around her.~Suddenly Elizabeth Gaskell found herself at the centre of an ethical controversy. Her novel knocked the self-righteous smirk off the face of the smug Victorian bourgeoisie which had long forgotten that kindness and compassion were an essential part of Christ's teaching...~The effect of RUTH, at the time of its publication, cannot easily be imagined now. Elizabeth Gaskell wanted to write the story of one good woman in an era when the gross hypocrisy of Victorian conventions left those outside the educated class with no recourse to moral or social justice of any kind... The storm broke over the author's head within days of publication. The book was burned and withdrawn from circulating libraries: one periodical deplored what it called her "loss of reputation," and she was looked at askance by her conventional acquaintances... Elizabeth Gaskell exposed a social evil by writing about one individual with compassion. [CGEL]~Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, with their strong female characters, have recently been "re-discovered," and are enjoying a new popularity. She seems to be "in transition" from the level of second-tier novelist toward the higher level accorded her contemporaries Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. Walter Smith's recent in-depth bibliography of her works amplifies this trend.~This is a very good set in the original cloth, with wear at a few extremities, mainly along the rear joints; several of the original pale-yellow endpapers are cracked. As always with this purplish cloth, the spines have aged to a honey brown hue. Parrish (VICTORIAN LADY NOVELISTS) p. 61 (with ads as in this copy); Sadleir 933 (with endpaper ads at front of Vols I & II only, as here, but with no ad catalogue); Wolff 2425 (with endpaper ads only at front of Vol I, and no ad catalogue). Item #10229