The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

To mark our new season of Knutsford discussions on Sylvia’s Lovers, Dr Diane Duffy has compiled a series of quotes from Chapters 1-7. These chapters will be covered in her October 2023 session.  Follow the Gaskell Society on Twitter and look out for the hashtag #sylviaslovers for daily tweets from late September. 

Chapter 1

…the old families kept aloof from the unsavoury yet adventurous trade which brought wealth to generation after generation of certain families in Monkshaven. The magnates of Monkshaven were those who had the largest number of ships engaged in the whaling-trade.

…living in closer neighbourhood to the metropolis—the centre of politics and news—inspired the inhabitants of the southern counties with a strong feeling of that kind of patriotism which consists in hating all other nations;

In 1793 the proceedings of the French had set Europe on fire, and the English were raging with anti-Gallican excitement…

Chapter 2

…good housewives did not despise coming themselves to the Butter Cross, and, smelling and depreciating the articles they wanted, kept up a perpetual struggle of words, trying, often in vain, to beat down prices.

…mother’s words are scarce, and weigh heavy. Feyther’s liker me, and we talk a deal o’ rubble; but mother’s words are liker to hewn stone. She puts a deal o’ meaning in ’em.

The fresh salt breeze was bringing up the lashing, leaping tide from the blue sea beyond the bar. Behind the returning girls there rocked the white-sailed ship, as if she were all alive with eagerness for her anchors to be heaved.

For six long summer months those sailors had been as if dead from all news of those they loved; shut up in terrible, dreary Arctic seas from the hungry sight of sweethearts and friends, wives and mothers.

On land there are deaths among two or three hundred men to be mourned over in every half-year’s space of time. Whose bones had been left to blacken on the gray and terrible icebergs? Who lay still until the sea should give up its dead?

Lasses as has sweethearts a-coming home don’t care much what price they get for butter and eggs! I dare say, now, there’s some un in yon ship that ‘ud give as much as a shilling a pound for this butter if he only knowed who churned it!’

[Molly] rather liked the unfounded idea of her having a sweetheart, and was rather surprised to think how devoid of foundation the notion was.

Chapter 3

Everybody in Monkshaven smuggled who could, and every one wore smuggled goods who could, and great reliance was placed on the excise officer’s neighbourly feelings.

All this time Hester is patiently waiting to serve Sylvia, who is standing before her a little shy, a little perplexed and distracted, by the sight of so many pretty things.

Hester about Sylvia:  this, then, was the beautiful little cousin about whom Philip had talked to her mother, as sadly spoilt, and shamefully ignorant; a lovely little dunce, and so forth. 

Philip Hepburn was vexed at his advice being slighted; and yet he urged it afresh.’This is a respectable, quiet-looking article that will go well with any colour; you niver will be so foolish as to take what will mark with every drop of rain.’

But, indeed, she would not have yielded to Philip in anything that she could help.

‘I can’t help it,’ said Sylvia, half inclined to cry at his manner even more than his words. ‘When folk are glad I can’t help being glad too.

What business had she [Sylvia] to be so ungrateful and to try and thwart Philip in his thoughtful wish of escorting them through the streets of the rough, riotous town?

Chapter 4

Sylvia’s father:- was a man who had roamed about a good deal—been sailor, smuggler, horse-dealer, and farmer in turns; a sort of fellow possessed by a spirit of adventure and love of change, which did him and his own family more harm than anybody else.

Sylvia’s father:- was just the kind of man that all his neighbours found fault with, and all his neighbours liked.

Coal was extremely cheap; otherwise a southerner might have imagined that they could never have survived the cutting of the bitter gales that piped all round, and seemed to seek out every crevice for admission into the house.

On Sylvia’s mother:- The great rack of clap-bread hung overhead, and Bell Robson’s preference of this kind of oat-cake over the leavened and partly sour kind used in Yorkshire was another source of her unpopularity.

Daniel Robson:- had persuaded himself now, as he had done often before, that what he had in reality done for his own pleasure or satisfaction, he had done in order to gratify someone else.

When I gived my vote to Measter Cholmley to go up to t’ Parliament House, I as good as said, ‘Now yo’ go up theer, sir, and tell ’em what I, Dannel Robson, think right, and what I wish to have done.’ Else I’d be darned if I’d ha’ gi my vote to him or any other man

Philp Hepburn:- ‘But, asking pardon, laws is made for the good of the nation, not for your good or mine.’  24

Chapter 5

Bell sighed, for in these four days she had experienced somewhat of Madame de Maintenon’s difficulty (and with fewer resources to meet it) of trying to amuse a man who was not amusable.

Women’s well enough i’ their way,’ said Daniel…’but a man may have too much on ‘em… a’d rather a deal ha’ been loading dung i’ t’ wettest weather; an’ a reckon it’s th’ being wi’ nought but women as tires me so: they talk so foolish it gets int’ t’ bones like.

Chapter 6

‘Hannot yo’ heard all about t’ press-gang and t’ whaler, and t’ great fight, and Kinraid, as is your cousin, acting so brave and grand, and lying on his death-bed now?’

There’s a deal o’ work to be done yet, for t’ hours slip through one’s fingers so as there’s no knowing. 

Bell Robson:- was not a woman of many words, or of much demonstration; few observers would have guessed how much she loved her child; but Sylvia, without any reasoning or observation, instinctively knew that her mother’s heart was bound up in her.

The silvery grays and browns of the inland scenery conduce to the tranquillity of the time,—the time of peace and rest before the fierce and stormy winter comes on. It seems a time for gathering up human forces to encounter the coming severity.

How came God to permit such cruel injustice of man? Permitting it, He could not be good. Then what was life, and what was death, but woe and despair? 

Chapter 7

‘Deary me! What a wonder yo’ can speak to such sinners as Sylvia and me, after keepin’ company with so much goodness,’ said Molly, who had not yet forgiven Philip…

Sylvia had gone to church with the thought of the cloak-that-was-to-be uppermost in her mind, and she had come down the long church stair with life and death suddenly become real to her mind.

Philip:- My aunt said I were to give you lessons this winter i’ writing and ciphering. …Sylvia did not like learning, and did not want him for her teacher; so she answered in a dry little tone,— ‘It’ll use a deal o’ candle-light; mother ‘ll not like that.