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.