I finished chapter fifteen (the end of the first reading segment) on Monday evening-- a task which should have been accomplished on Saturday, but one cannot do everything. I'd forgotten just how much I love this book. I maintain that a book is almost always better the second time around--the first time, you're getting familiar with the characters and learning the story. But the second time, it's like coming back to an old friend. The stiffness and lack of acquaintance is gone, and you can thoroughly enjoy yourself without having to bother about wondering what's going to happen next. That is the way I'm enjoying W&D this time around.
This time, one character in particular stood out to me in the first chapters. Molly is, of course, the heroine, and Cynthia and Mrs. Gibson will play a major role as the story goes on (it's called WIVES and DAUGHTERS for a reason...) but Mr. Gibson, Molly's father, caught my attention and held it tight from the very beginning. I first read W&D in November of 2010, and it was Mr. Gibson's character that hooked me, reeled me in and made me anxious to read more of the story. Of course as Molly got older and the story began focusing exclusively on her, I began to appreciate her as the heroine, but it was her father who first appealed to me.
And yet Mr. Gibson gets a bad rap. At least, he does where my two youngest sisters are concerned. "He's mean," Laura always says, wrinkling her nose. "You know the part where he yelled at Cynthia? Yeah. He's mean." In her defense, she's only seen the 1999 miniseries--and though I think the miniseries does an excellent job of portraying each character, the book is always better. (Can I get an amen.) My sister Molly, who is reading the book, doesn't think much of him either. "It's not that I don't like him... it's just that I don't like him, if you know what I mean. He's just so... strict."
Is he really? I say... no.
Whatever they may be in the movie, in the book Mr. Gibson's thought processes are vivid, apparent and sensible. His reaction to Mr. Coxe's underhanded attempt at wooing Molly seems a bit harsh in the movie, maybe, but in the book it gives you a nice triumphant oh-yes-go-get-him-Mr.-Gibson! sort of feeling. And though he's firm in squelching the first flame in Mr. Coxe's
...and then [Mr.Gibson] paused over the address. "He'll not like Master Coxe outside; no need to put him to unnecessary shame." So the direction on the envelope was Edward Coxe, Esq.Oh, and did anyone notice that Mr. Coxe is a red-headed young man, which can easily be abbreviated as r.h.y.m.? He's almost a rhyme--but never a poem. (Identify that quote and you will receive a pretend hug.)
~chapter five, Calf-Love
Mr. Gibson could be (and has been...) criticized for his lack of feeling toward Molly. I disagree. Sure, he calls her a goose and tells her he's sending her off to Hamley Hall to get rid of her. It's called affectionate sarcasm, peoples. Mr. Gibson isn't mean-- he's a first-class tease. The names he calls Molly are terms of endearment, not means of ridicule. My dad has a special pet name he's called me since I was a baby--I love it when he calls me by it, but if anyone else tried to use it, I'd probably be insanely annoyed. Name-calling is a dad's prerogative. It's not a bad thing. Trust me.
Okay, so now you're probably wondering when I'm going to get to the real question. The one about... you know... Her. Hyacinth Clare Kirkpatrick. The Self-Centered One. The Evil Stepmother. The Scourge of Hollingford. (okay, maybe the last one's a little strong...)
Why on earth would a man as sensible, level-headed and good-hearted as Mr. Gibson marry a woman as frivolous, narcissistic and butterfly-brained as Mrs. Kirkpatrick?
I asked this of several friends a while ago in a list of tag questions-- the answers were manifold and varied, but they almost all came back to the same points in the end. He was lonely. He needed a wife. He thought she was nicer than she really was. He wanted Molly to have a mother.
And though none of these answers fully satisfied me at the time (sorry, mes amis...) I've come to accept them after reading this first section of W&D. Because I think that's really all the explanation we have. There's one other reason, one that no one stated in the tag (to the best of my knowledge), one that's far more dull and prosy than any of the others. It is this: Mrs. Gaskell needed a source of conflict for Molly to make the story flow properly.
See, I told you it was dull and prosy. We'll forget it as soon as we can.
At any rate, I will never pretend to completely understand Mr. Gibson's reasoning in marrying Mrs. Kirkpatrick (very little is told us about his thoughts in this area... sad, that), I'm not going to puzzle over it any longer. Was Hyacinth Kirkpatrick the best choice for him? Probably not. Was he aware of what he was getting himself into? Perhaps not. Did he make the best of a less-than-ideal situation? Yes. And that's a really big part of the reason I like and admire Mr. Gibson so much. Some men might have taken out their annoyance at having procured such a wife on the wife and the daughters, yet Mr. Gibson doesn't. Oh, sure, he drops a few rude remarks here and there, and when Cynthia gets herself (and Molly) into trouble later on he doesn't waste words in telling her what he thinks. Yet, to quote Edmund Sparkler, I still say he isn't a bad old stick. He acted in his daughter's best interests (or what he thought were Molly's best interests) and when it turned out rather worse than he'd hoped, he went on philosophically and didn't let Her bother him.
So yes, I like Mr. Gibson.
What do you think?
There! he had done it--whether it was wise or foolish--he had done it; but he was aware that the question as to its wisdom came into his mind the instant that the words were said past recall.
~chapter ten, A Crisis
(Don't forget, chapters 16-30 this week!)