Wives and Daughters
The unthinkable has happened. I have fallen in love with another woman.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the other woman is a fictional character who lived in 1830s England. Her name is Molly Gibson.
I had the good pleasure of watching the 1999 BBC film adaptation of Wives and Daughters a few days ago and it is captivating. The story comes from a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) that was not quite finished when she suddenly died. In the film, the main character, Molly Gibson, is preciously played by the fine actress, Justine Waddell.
Wives and Daughters presents us with a slice of life as it was 175 years ago. After the film ended, I had to pause and reflect on how the relationships between men and women have changed so drastically since that time. We can learn from Shakespeare, and even ancient writers, that human beings are essentially the same through the ages in their emotional makeup. The parameters of their interactions, however, differ greatly.
Wives and Daughters is a story about a young woman, Molly Gibson, on the cusp of adulthood, who has an outstanding relationship with her widower father. The father remarries a rather vain, silly woman; mostly because a friend has convinced him that Molly needs a mother. The father is rather blind to the shallowness of his new bride, though Molly sees it right away—but keeps this to herself. Later in the story, the step-mother's gorgeous daughter comes home from school abroad and she is the opposite of Molly—she is a narcissist with scarcely any real feelings for other people. Nonetheless, Molly loves her as she is and becomes her only friend. It's not long before the young man Molly secretly loves, falls in love with her step-sister instead—breaking Molly's heart. Her heart is more troubled by the fact that the step-sister doesn't love the young man—he is simply a good catch of a higher social class to her—than her own loss.
There is a lot more to the story but I want talk about Molly. She is played by an attractive actress but it is her inner beauty and grace that shines out of her character I found irresistible. Molly is a young woman who shows love to everybody through her actions. She cares about others more than herself. There is nothing she will not do for others, providing it is honorable. She is the very definition of the word winsome.
Molly never reveals a secret; therefore many confide in her. She truly empathizes with people in their troubles and without fail rushes to aid them, even at risk to herself. She is intelligent, dignified, and humble. She is clean and as pure as the driven snow. I think she may be the most wonderful woman ever created as a fictional character.
I was struck by the archaic modes of romance in those days. This is not a "hook-up" culture. It is old-fashioned, to be sure. The young men in the story are not focused on sex. They are focused on marriage. And before they propose marriage they ask for the permission of the girl's father first. Quaint. It was thought that parents knew best whether to approve or disapprove of a marriage partner, using their experience in the world to judge the potential outcome of a match. These were largely not arranged marriages, but they were approved marriages—with a notable exception to this in the story. There are always exceptions.
I found the people in the film—besides Molly—to be flawed, as all people in any time are. But I couldn't help but notice they seemed, in general, to be of more noble and honorable character than we are today. There was nothing cheap about them. Their interactions were more true to the real nature of human heart, which I do not believe ever changes. I will always love Molly Gibson.
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