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 8-15. These chapters will be covered in her November 2023 session.  Follow the Gaskell Society on Twitter and look out for the hashtag #sylviaslovers for daily tweets from late September. 

Chapter 8

For up in the north there is an idea that the ice stored in the first frost will melt, and the meat cured then taint; the first frost is good for nothing but to be thrown away, as they express it.

‘I wonder if yon poor sick chap at Moss Brow would fancy some o’ my sausages. They’re something to crack on, for they are made fra’ an old Cumberland receipt, as is not known i’ Yorkshire yet.’

And Sylvia did not need another word. Down she came in a twinkling, dressed in her new red cloak and hood, her face peeping out of the folds of the latter, bright and blushing.

The sky above was bright and clear with the light of a thousand stars, the grass was crisping under their feet with the coming hoar frost; and as they mounted to the higher ground they could see the dark sea stretching away far below them. 

Her father had nothing to say, and did not care to make himself agreeable; but Sylvia enjoyed her own thoughts, and any conversation would have been a disturbance to her. 

Amongst uneducated people—whose range of subjects and interest do not extend beyond their daily life—it is natural that when the first blush and hurry of youth is over, there should be no great pleasure in the conversation of the other sex.

 Daniel could praise his wife’s powers in her absence, though he did not often express himself in an appreciative manner when she was by to hear.

Of Kinraid: what could be more natural than that Molly Corney should wish her friend to be acquainted with the man whom Sylvia believed to be all but Molly’s engaged lover?

if she [Sylvia] sate at the dresser at her lesson, and Kinraid at the table with her father, he might hear all, and find out what a dunce she was.

Sylvia and Philip: Sylvia caught her mother’s look of displeasure, and it made her docile for the evening, although she owed her cousin a grudge for her enforced good behaviour.

Sylvia took her book and glanced down the column Philip pointed out to her; but, as she justly considered, one man might point out the task, but twenty could not make her learn it, if she did not choose; and she sat herself down…and idly gazed into the fire.

Perhaps it was not very flattering to notice Sylvia’s great joy when her lessons were over, sadly shortened as they were by Philip’s desire not to be too hard upon her. 

though Daniel could read pretty well, yet the double effort of reading and understanding what he read was almost too much for him. He could read, or he could understand what was read aloud to him; reading was no pleasure, but listening was. 

Chapter 9

The consequences of darkness in the country even now are to gather the members of a family together into one room, and to make them settle to some sedentary employment; and it was much more the case at the period of my story

‘There’s three things to be afeared on,’ said Robson, authoritatively: ‘there’s t’ ice, that’s bad; there’s dirty weather, that’s worse; and there’s whales theirselves, as is t’ worst of all; leastways, they was i’ my days;

Chapter 10

She was much more inclined to try and elicit some sympathy in her interest in the perils and adventures of the northern seas, than to bend and control her mind to the right formation of letters.

All along he was not so much absorbed in his teaching as to be unconscious of her sweet proximity. She was in her best mood towards him; neither mutinous nor saucy; and he was striving with all his might to retain her interest

Mrs Robson on Kinraid: ‘I’m none fond on him; I think he tells us traveller’s tales, by way o’ seeing how much we can swallow. But the master and Sylvia think that there never was such a one.’

Sylvia on Kinraid: He had gone away out of her sight into the thick mist of unseen life from which he had emerged—gone away without a word, and she might never see him again. 

Sylvia shot up into a tall young woman; her eyes deepened in colour, her face increased in expression, and a sort of consciousness of unusual good looks gave her a slight tinge of coquettish shyness with the few strangers whom she ever saw. 

Hepburn came and went, and thought Sylvia wonderfully improved in docility and sobriety; and perhaps also he noticed the improvement in her appearance.

Chapter 11

Molly was so absorbed in her preparations, so elated by her good fortune in getting married, and married, too, before her elder sister, that all her faults blossomed out full and strong. 

A year before she would have been far more missed and regretted by Sylvia; now it was almost a relief to the latter to be freed from the perpetual calls upon her sympathy, from the constant demands upon her congratulations

Every time during that summer that Philip saw his cousin, he thought her prettier than she had ever been before; some new touch of colour, some fresh sweet charm, seemed to have been added, just as every summer day calls out new beauty in the flowers. 

Hester, half-ashamed, stole into this corner, and looked at herself in the glass. What did she see? a colourless face, dark soft hair with no light gleams in it, eyes that were melancholy instead of smiling, a mouth compressed with a sense of dissatisfaction.

Sylvia about Philip: must he make a sight of himself, coming among the market folk in that-a-way’; and when he took to admiring her hat, she pulled out the flowers in a pet, and threw them down, and trampled them under foot. 26

It just shows what different views different men and women take of their fellow-creatures, when I say that Hester looked upon Philip as the best and most agreeable man she had ever known. 

Hester about Philip: Once or twice before the Robsons came into the neighbourhood, an idea had crossed her mind that possibly the quiet, habitual way in which she and Philip lived together, might drift them into matrimony at some distant period.

Bell Robson had her own anxieties on the subject of her daughter’s increasing attractions… She was uncomfortable, even while her motherly vanity was flattered, at the admiration Sylvia received from the other sex.

 was ‘a vixen, with a tongue sharp enough to make yer very heart bleed;’ she was ‘just a bit o’ sunshine wheriver she went;’ she was sulky, lively, witty, silent, affectionate, or cold-hearted, according to the person who spoke about her. 

Bell’s opinion was, that it was creditable to a woman to go through life in the shadow of obscurity,—never named except in connexion with good housewifery, husband, or children.

Bell Robson:  really believed her husband to have the serious and important occupation for his mind that she had been taught to consider befitting the superior intellect of the masculine gender

Philip had been brought up among the Quakers, and shared in their austere distrust of a self-seeking spirit; yet what else but self-seeking was his passionate prayer, ‘Give me Sylvia, or else, I die?’

Philip’s visions of future prosperity, it was Sylvia who was to be aggrandized by them; his own life was to be spent as it was now, pretty much between the four shop walls.

Chapter 12

Daniel Robson contented himself with sharing his wife’stea, though he kept abusing the beverage as ‘washing the heart out of a man,’ and attributing all the degeneracy of the world, growing up about him in his old age, to the drinking of such slop.

Sylvia was in a new strange state of happiness not to be reasoned about, or accounted for, but in a state of more exquisite feeling than she had ever experienced before; when, suddenly lifting her eyes, she caught Philip’s face of extreme displeasure.

Chapter 13

whether some true instinct had told him that a woman’s love may be gained in many ways sooner than by mere learning, he was only angry with himself for his past folly in making himself her school—nay, her taskmaster.

Chapter 14

it was not until after supper—until a good quantity of Yorkshire pie had been swallowed, and washed down, too, with the best and most generous wine in Jeremiah’s cellar—that there was the least geniality among them

Politics in those days were tickle subjects to meddle with, even in the most private company. The nation was in a state of terror against France, and against any at home who might be supposed to sympathise with the enormities she had just been committing.

The talk dropped down to the high price of provisions. Bread at 1s. 3d. the quartern loaf, according to the London test. Wheat at 120s. per quarter, as the home-baking northerners viewed the matter; and then the conversation died away to an ominous silence.

Chapter 15

Philip was almost convinced that he was mistaken in thinking that Kinraid had had anything more than a sailor’s admiration for a pretty girl with regard to Sylvia; at any rate

‘Why, Kester,’ laughed Sylvia, ‘thou’rt asking her for her milk wi’ as many pretty speeches as if thou wert wooing a wife!’

it had seemed to the canny farm-servant that Philip Hepburn was ‘after her’; and to Philip, Kester had an instinctive objection, a natural antipathy such as existed in all ages between the dwellers in a town and those in the country, between agriculture and trade.