Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

Ruth is a social novel written by the famous English author, Elizabeth Gaskell, in 1853. It is consisting of three volumes and published by Chapman and Hall.

Review of Ruth

Ruth, the social novel which is very sympathetic towards Ruth. although not all of the characters in this novel are near being as Christ-like as Mr. and Miss Benson. This novel portrays the devastating tragedies of Ruth’s life.

Sally the housekeeper kept the humour but Ruth’s character was indulged of pure love for all mankind even till her death. She has a forgiving heart to nurse back Mr Donne. Her own son with Mr Benson who could give him the care and education that he deserved whether he be a child born out of wedlock or not.

Besides, my other favourite character was Mr Benson, he had all the right ideas of true Christianity even when his whole parish made the decision to leave his congregation because of Ruth. He stood by her as a true Christian would.

Ruth is a novel of great social commitment, through which the author confronts the picture of the female condition and the loss of status, which forced many women to live on the margins of society.

Author of successful novels, a friend of Charlotte Bronte and many other writers of her time, Elizabeth Gaskell has always held a place of honour in Victorian women’s literature. In this novel, the writer tells the life of Ruth, a young orphan who works as a seamstress.

The girl meets the aristocrat Henry Bellingham and her life changes from a humble and honest worker to a fallen woman, a lost, unseemly and compromised woman, who sometime later will give birth to a son illegitimate, due to the relationship with Bellingham according to the society.

Thus begins a path of loss, fragility, difficulties, and sacrifices of Ruth. Because Ruth wants to give her son a better life and doesn’t get discouraged, even if the past was haunting her wherever she goes.

Ruth Novel Summary

The story tells about a fallen woman of the Victorian era. Ruth Hilton is a young orphan girl who works at Mrs Mason’s reputed sweetshop. Ruth is sent to a ball party to repair dresses and there she meets Henry Bellingham, who is instantly attracted to her.

Mrs Mason sacks Ruth from her sweet shop for the sake of her shop’s reputation.
Ruth goes to London for a holiday with Mr Bellingham and his mother spots them out. She orders Bellingham to leave Ruth with some money right there. Frustrated Ruth tries to commit suicide but Mr Benson saves her.

Ruth finds herself to be pregnant. She names her child, Leonard. She now works at Mr Bradshaw’s house as a governess.

Later on, Mr Bellingham meets Ruth coincidentally and proposes for marriage but she rejects him. Mr Bradshaw learns that Ruth is a fallen woman and has an illegitimate child, banishes her from his home.

Ruth eventually falls sick and dies from sickness. By that time Mr Bradshaw has changed in his mentality and at the end of the novel, he takes Leonard to Mr Benson and forms a friendship with him. Mr Bradshaw feels guilty and responsible for the death of Ruth.

Ruth Famous Quotes

“Similarity of opinion is not always—I think not often—needed for fullness and perfection of love.”

“Her thoughts are full of other things just now; and people have such different ways of showing feeling: some by silence, some by words.”

“…I have never seen mountains before, and they fill me and oppress me so much that I could not sleep; I must keep awake this first night, and see that they don’t fall on the earth and overwhelm it.”

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell characters

• Ruth Hilton –
Ruth is the protagonist of the novel. She is considered to be a fallen woman according to society. She later changes her name to Mrs Denbigh.
• Henry Bellingham –
Henry Bellingham is an aristocratic rake figure. He is Ruth’s secret lover. He later changes his name to Mr Donne.
• Leonard –
Leonard is the illegitimate son of Ruth and Henry Bellingham. In the end, he is taken to Mr Benson.
• Mr Benson –
Mr Benson is a disabled and kind Minister who gives shelter to Ruth and later to her son.
• Miss Benson –
Miss Benson is the kind sister of Mr Benson.
• Mr Bradshaw –
Mr Bradshaw is a local businessman who later on keeps Ruth as a governess in his house.
• Jemima Bradshaw –
Daughter of Mr Bradshaw. She is in awe of Ruth but later defends her as a friend.
• Mr Farquhar –
Mr Farquhar is a business partner of Mr Bradshaw, who later marries his daughter, Jemima Bradshaw.

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell analysis

The book is a social novel, showing the Victorian perspective about sin and illegitimacy. It is a very compassionate portrayal of a ‘fallen woman’, a type of person normally ostracized from respectable society. This novel draws out the social stigma of illegitimacy.

Ruth is one of the 19th-century British and American novels that presents a “fallen woman” with an illegitimate child in the role of the protagonist. Ruth is a working orphan girl who is distinguished from her peers by both unusual sensitivity and sexual ignorance.

Elizabeth Gaskell emphasises Ruth’s guilt, regret, and struggle to expiate her sin.
Ruth goes on to gain a respectable position in society as a governess as the novel proceeds. Elizabeth Gaskell was actually powerful and progressive in her writing style and subject matter and mostly framed her stories as critiques of Victorian attitudes.

Gaskell introduces Ruth Hilton using the third-person narrator in the past tense.
As a work that deals with seduction and illegitimacy, it inevitably attracted controversies and social receptions. This novel receives multiple reactions. On one hand, it was a “prohibited book” in her own house, her friends regret as it was published and her two acquaintances burnt their copies.

Contrarily, some critics commented that Gaskell presented the character of Ruth as too much as a victim of Bellingham’s advantages. Gaskell filled the story with so many mitigate circumstances that Ruth barely seemed a representative example of a “fallen woman.”

Frequently asked questions

• Who published Ruth?
The Chapman and Hall published the social novel, Ruth.

• In which year Ruth was set in?
Ruth was set in 1853.

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