The Classics Circuit: A Dark Night's Work


In a dogged effort to better ourselves with more refined reading, A Reader's Respite bravely signed up for The Classics Circuit's tour of author Elizabeth Gaskell. If you're anything like us, about the only work we could name by this well-regarded author was the novel Cranford, which the BBC boldly turned into a mini-series starring Judi Dench earlier this year. (A review of Cranford, by the way, will be featured over at Notes From the North this coming Friday!)

A Reader's Respite, however, wasn't quite brave enough to tackle one of Gaskell's novels and instead we opted to read one of her lesser known novellas, this one entitled A Dark Night's Work.



Published in 1863, A Dark Night's Work is the story of Ellinor Wilkins, daughter to a well-to-do country lawyer in rural England. Having lost her mother and sister at a very young age, Ellinor develops an intense bond with her father and enjoys all of his attention and financial comforts throughout her childhood.

Her bond with Mr. Wilkins is so strong that, as is wont to happen in these circumstances, Ellinor is also blind to his faults, not the least of which are an over-reaching pride and drunkenness. As Ellinor grows into adulthood, she will eventually meet and become engaged to a young man of a noble family.

Just as she is about to float blindly from one comfortable life with her father into another with a husband, tragedy strikes.

Mr. Wilkins, in a fit of drunken rage, commits murder. Desperate to avoid the disgrace, Ellinor, her father and a family servant hide the body.

From here on out, the story is chiefly concerned with the effects of a guilty conscious. Each person concerned deals with the guilt in devastating ways and the effects are far-reaching into the future.

Gaskell's forte with this novella is her examination of character and tragedy. She foreshadows early in the story,

...it is approaching all of us at this very time; you, reader, I, writer, have each our great sorrow bearing down on us. It may be yet beyond the dimmest point of our horizon, but in the stillness of the night our hearts shrink at the sound of its coming footstep. Well is it for those who fall into the hands of the Lord rather than into the hands of men; but worst of all is it for him who has hereafter to mingle the gall of remorse with the cup held out to him by his doom.
A Dark Night's Work, Elizabeth Gaskell


Very gothic, no?

Gaskell doesn't attempt to develop much sympathy for Ellinor's plight. Rather, she simply states facts without sentiment and allows the reader's to draw their own conclusions. You may, as you read her story, determine that Ellinor gets everything she had coming to her. Or you may decide the consequences are rather too harsh.

Either way, the novella is a story with dark undertones of family dynamics and social mores, rather impressive for the time frame and rather reminds us of Edith Wharton's darker works which weren't to come along for another fifty years.

If you're interested in Gaskell's work, most of her writings are available on Google Books or Project Gutenberg, free of charge.






FDC Disclaimer: This book came to us via a free download on to our Amazonian Devil Device (aka, the Kindle) from Amazon.com. No Kindles were harmed in the making of this review.

16 comments:

  1. Sounds very cool...I've meant to read Gaskell, but always get sidetracked. This seems very ...wow

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  2. hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day! http://kantahanan.blogspot.com/

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  3. I've never read this, but do try her Wives and Daughters sometime. It's charming, and Molly Gibson is one of my favorite heroines.

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  4. Ooooh, very Gothic. I did classic myself a little bit this year, but will admit to being a bit of an idiot in that area. I think I would enjoy this one!

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  5. Well I am glad to know that no kindles were harmed :p

    I love Gaskell. You want gothic get your hands on Ruth. Stay away from the ammy reviews though. One has a nasty nasty spoiler.

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  6. oooo I love the gothic sound to it!

    Interesting how Gaskell focuses on the gritty side of life, it seems. I'm glad you enjoyed it!! Thanks for joining the Circuit

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  7. love "Amazonian Devil Device"!!! How appropriate!

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  8. I've only read 'North and South' by Elizabeth Gaskell after watching the BBC series and was pretty impressed with her. 'A Dark Night's Work' sounds very intense and interesting.

    Also, the Classics Circuit sounds like a good solid challenge!

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  9. I haven't read this one--sounds dark, harsh, and interesting. Thanks for the review. One of the things I really like about Gaskell is her ability to tell both sides of an argument, and it sounds like she does that again here.

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  10. Ooh, creepy and Victorian. I like it.

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  11. I have never read anything by Gaskell. I couldn't even have named Cranford. This sounds like a fascinating story. I wonder what the consequences are.

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  12. I'm actually looking forward to reading more of her works, including *finally* reading Cranford from start to finish, lol.

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  13. I'm glad you seem to have enjoyed this book! It does sound very intriguing. And thanks for the mention.

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  14. This novella sounds very interesting - almost like We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I'm still wading my way through North and South, but it has really picked up. If I survive N&S, I'll have to try this one.

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  15. I love when I, the Dear Reader, am directly addressed by the Dear Writer!

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  16. I really would love to read Cranford because I loved that BBC production. And it's being shown again on PBS this month.

    Maybe I'll try Wives and Daughters, as Susan suggests.

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Fire away!