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 24-29. These chapters will be covered in her February 2024 session.  Follow the Gaskell Society on Twitter and look out for the hashtag #sylviaslovers for daily tweets from late September. 

Chapter 24

Daniel’s way of announcing his intention of drinking more than ordinary was always the same… ‘Missus, I’ve a mind to get fuddled to-neet,’ and be off, disregarding her look of remonstrance, and little heeding the injunctions she would call after him

Sylvia sate gazing at the fire with abstracted eyes, thinking of the past year and of the anniversary which was approaching of the day when she had last seen the lover whom she believed to be dead, lying somewhere fathoms deep beneath the surface of that sunny sea

‘It’s cold for sartin,’ said Sylvia. ‘March weather come afore its time. But I’ll make him a treacle-posset, it’s a famous thing for keeping off hoasts.’

‘What’s this? posset? what creatures women is for slops,’ said Daniel. Sylvia fastened the door, and brought the flaring candle from the window-seat. The fresh arrangement of light displayed his face blackened with smoke, and his clothes disarranged and torn.

Daniel to Bell: ‘It’s a vast o’ comfort to think on yon poor lads as is sleepin’ i’ their own homes this neet,’ and then slumber fell upon him, and he was hardly roused by Bell’s softly kissing his weather-beaten cheek.

Her manner was listless and civil; she had lost all that active feeling towards him which made him positively distasteful…She now was rather glad to see him than otherwise. He brought some change into the heavy monotony of her life

Insensibly to herself she was becoming dependent on his timid devotion, his constant attention; and he, lover-like, once so attracted, in spite of his judgment, by her liveliness and piquancy, now doted on her languor, and thought her silence more sweet than words

About Philip: ‘My nephew looks as though he was a-thinking more on t’ little profit he has made on his pins an’ bobs, than as if he was heeding how honest men were saved from being haled out to yon tender, an’ carried out o’ sight o’ wives and little ‘uns for iver

The women looked at each other with blank eyes, as if they were as yet unable to take in the new idea that the conduct which had seemed to them a subject for such just pride could be regarded by any one as deserving of punishment or retribution. 

‘It’ll ha’ been a loss to John Hobbs—all his things burnt, or trampled on. Mebbe he desarved it all, but one’s a kind o’ tender feeling to one’s tables and chairs, special if one’s had t’ bees-waxing on ’em.’

Chapter 25

But among the uneducated—the partially educated—nay, even the weakly educated—the feeling exists which prompted the futile experiment of the well-known ostrich. They imagine that, by closing their own eyes to apprehended evil, they avert it.

 It was difficult to keep up this tone of bravado when he was led a prisoner through his own house-place, and saw his poor wife quivering and shaking all over with her efforts to keep back all signs of emotion until he was gone.

Although Daniel was unreasoning, hasty, impulsive, yet, either from some quality in his character, or from the loyalty of nature in those with whom he had to deal in his every-day life, he had made his position clear as the arbiter and lawgiver of his household.

Neither Bell nor Sylvia knew exactly what to do when their grief was spent, so much had every household action and plan been regulated by the thought of him. 

The feeling of the Monkshaven people was, therefore, in decided opposition to the vigorous steps taken by the county magistrates, who, in consequence of an appeal from the naval officers in charge of the impressment service, had called out the militia

Nearly everyone in Monkshaven knew each other; if not enough to speak to, at least enough to be acquainted with the personal appearance and reputation of most of those whom they met in the streets. 

‘The people is so mad with the press-gang, and Daniel has been at sea hisself; and took it so to heart when he heard of mariners and seafaring folk being carried off, and just cheated into doing what was kind and helpful—‘

Hester could see the misty light streaming out of the shop door, so long was Philip standing bareheaded in the rain looking after her. But she knew that it was not her own poor self that attracted Philip’s lingering gaze.

Bell to Hester: ‘It’s not a night to turn a dog fra’ t’ door; it’s ill letting our grief harden our hearts. But oh! missus (to Hester), yo’ mun forgive us, for a great sorrow has fallen upon us this day.

Sylvia to Hester: Mother is so patient, it puts me past mysel’, for I could fight wi’ t’ very walls, I’m so mad wi’ grieving. 

‘Philip will know,’ Hester said, using Philip’s name as a kind of spell—it would have been so to her. 

Wistfully Hester longed for one word of thanks or recognition from Philip, in whose service she had performed this hard task; but he was otherwise occupied…lifting Sylvia carefully down in his arms.

But Philip knew that it was possible that the separation impending might be that of the dark, mysterious grave—that the gulf between the father and child might indeed be that which no living, breathing, warm human creature can ever cross.

 What Philip did say was so much beyond her utmost apprehension, which had only reached to various terms of imprisonment, that she did not imagine the dark shadow lurking behind. 

Sylvia: ‘Cousin Philip.. ‘thou’s a comfort to me, I couldn’t bide my life without thee; but I cannot take in the thought o’ love…; I can think on nought but them that is quick and them that is dead.’

Chapter 27

‘Ay, courtin’! what other mak’ o’ thing is’t when thou’s gazin’ after yon meddlesome chap, as if thou’d send thy eyes after him, and he making marlocks back at thee? It’s what we ca’ed courtin’ i’ my young days anyhow. And it’s noane a time for a wench to go courtin’ when her feyther’s i’ prison,’ 

Chapter 28

The air was full of pleasant sounds prophesying of the coming summer. The rush, and murmur, and tinkle of the hidden watercourses; the song of the lark…; the bleat of the lambs calling to their mothers—everything inanimate was full of hope and gladness.

It is astonishing to look back and find how differently constituted were the minds of most people fifty or sixty years ago; they felt, they understood, without going through reasoning or analytic processes.

Them as was friends o’ father’s I’ll love for iver and iver; them as helped for t’ hang him’ (she shuddered from head to foot—a sharp irrepressible shudder!) ‘I’ll niver forgive—niver!’

It was a constant renewing of Sylvia’s grief; her mother could give her no sympathy, no help, or strength in any circumstances that arose out of this grief. She was driven more and more upon Philip; his advice and his affection became daily more necessary to her.

Kinraid went away…t’ join his ship. An’ he niver joined it no more; an’ t’ captain an’ all his friends at Newcassel as iver were, made search for him, on board t’ king’s ships. That’s more nor fifteen month ago, an’ nought has iver been heerd on him by any man.

Chapter 29

Philip and Sylvia were engaged. It was not so happy a state of things as Philip had imagined. He had already found that out, although it was not twenty-four hours since Sylvia had promised to be his.

Just as she was in this miserable state, wishing that the grave lay open before her…; wishing that her father was alive, that Charley was once more here; that she had not repeated the solemn words by which she had promised herself to Philip.

There was something so pleading and innocent in her pale, troubled face, so pathetic in her tone, that Philip’s anger, which had been excited against her, as well as against all the rest of the world, melted away into love; and once more he felt that have her for his own he must, at any cost.

Philip wanted the old Sylvia back again; captious, capricious, wilful, haughty, merry, charming. Alas! that Sylvia was gone for ever.

She thought of her father—his sharp passions, his frequent forgiveness, or rather his forgetfulness that he had even been injured. All Sylvia’s persistent or enduring qualities were derived from her mother, her impulses from her father.