Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Moorland Cottage: Summary and Thoughts on Chapter 3

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Edward goes off to school, content with his gingerbread and cake (which has citron in it, right Nancy?). His unemotional departure shows that even though his mother dotes on him, he doesn’t have any particular attachment to his home or her and would be just as well somewhere else. Despite Edward’s treatment towards her, Maggie cries and wishes to see him off to the coach. Mrs. Browne won’t let her go with them and she sits watching as they make the journey to Combehurst; once again excluding her.

Girl Outside a Cottage Door, by Myles Birket Foster

Frank Buxton comes upon her, he’s brought the Herlad for their family but noticing her sad face realizes her brother must have gone off to school. He’s surprised at her tender sorrow, especially since he’s seen how rudely he treats her. Trying to cheer her up he says,

You liked riding the other day. Would you like a ride now? Rhoda is very gentle, if you can sit on my saddle. Look! I’ll shorten the stirrup. There now; there’s a brave little girl! I’ll lead her very carefully… I’ll tell you what; I’ll bring the newspaper every Wednesday till I go to school, and you shall have a ride.

Having no good reason to deny her Mrs. Browne spitefully tries to. It’s as though any pleasure that was perhaps denied her when she was Maggie’s age she’s too jealous to allow Maggie to have; very strange behavior for a mother. Knowing Mrs. Browne cares a great deal what others think, Nancy uses this to Maggie’s advantage and diplomatically makes her change her mind.

The Village Oak, by Myles Birket Foster

Frank and Maggie become great friends,

Her fearlessness delighted and surprised him, she had seemed so cowed and timid at first. But she was only so with people, as he found out before holidays ended.

He learns to recognize the looks and voice inflections of Mrs. Browne that make Maggie cower; he sees how her mother oppresses her and his dislike of the lady grows even though she’s nothing but sweetness to him.; he see’s through her deceit. He tells his mother what he observes and Mrs. Buxton sends Mrs. Browne a civil message asking if Maggie could be allowed to ride down with the groom occasionally on Wednesday’s to spend the afternoon with Erminia and her. Mrs. Browne accepts, saying she’s proud of the honor but really very irritated at no mention of her. She tells Maggie she’ll have to work extra hard on Thursdays to make up for playing on Wednesday.

Maggie is delighted, she has a great admiration for Mrs. Buxton and loves her like a second mother.

On these visits, she received no regular instruction; and yet all the knowledge, and most of the strength of her character, was derived from these occasional hours… Pure, simple, and truthful to the heart’s core, her [Mrs. Buxton’s] life, in its uneventful hours and days, spoke many homilies.

Tea Time, by Myles Birket Foster

Mrs. Buxton sees Maggie’s solitary life and imaginative nature makes it dangerous for her to become dreamy and live in reverie instead of action. She’s very focused and earnestly contemplates things, such as nature. She tries to guide her energy towards helping others, telling stories of saints and martyrs and how they obtained their strength with many small and simple deeds. She also tells her of the unsung heroines, governesses, maid-servants, and artisans, who quietly did much good in the world. Maggie already has great strength of character and patience, Mrs. Buxton’s teachings, I think, will help her as she grows up and understands more to endure her trials with the same fortitude.

Erminia on the other hand is less earnest in all things,

Her life was a shattered mirror; every part dazzling and brilliant, but wanting the coherency and perfection of a whole… She [Mrs. Buxton] had no wish to make the two little girls into the same kind of pattern character. They were diverse as the lily and the rose. But she tried to give stability and earnestness to Erminia; while she aimed to direct Maggie’s imagination, so as to make it a great minister to high ends, instead of simply contributing to the vividness and duration of a reverie.

Mrs. Buxton reminds me a little of Mrs. Hamley from Wives and Daughters, which Gaskell would write fifteen years later and tragically leave unfinished. Both ladies come from families more genteel than their husband’s, are of fragile health, and take on a motherly role to the heroine’s.

Edward comes home on holiday and shows off the great things he’s learned, pyramids of figures, flourishing writing, and latin; Mrs. Browne is very proud of her son, and miffed that Maggie hasn’t been taught the useful accomplishment of piano playing on her visits. Mr. Buxton is impressed by the lad as well and tells him someday he’ll make him his agent. But Edward’s moral education has been completely neglected and Maggie perceives it:

He was more tyrannical than ever, both to his mother and Maggie …[she] fell into her old humble way of submitting to his will, as long as it did not go against her conscience; but that, being daily enlightened by her habits of pious aspiring thought, would not allow her to be so utterly obedient as formerly. In addition to his imperiousness, he had learned to affix the idea of cleverness to various artifices and subterfuges which utterly revolted her by their meanness.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. bccmee says:

    This chapter definitely furthers our understanding of the main characters. Although Mrs. Buxton is weak in body, she is strong of mind and she cares deeply about the two girls. My only problem is the dreaminess of Maggie. It wasn’t apparent to me that she is a dreamer except for being told…there’s not a lot of evidence of it prior to the exposition. The description of Erminia’s life as “a shattered mirror” is vivid and I can overlook the lack of evidence because she is more minor character. I only wish we could see more of the behaviors so we come to the same conclusions about the girls as Mrs. Buxton.

    It seems the Mr. Buxton does not see things as clearly as the other members of his family. At this point, he is quite taken with Ned’s accomplishments and does not notice the boy’s moral code.

  2. Diane says:

    Another chapter showing us the true nature of Ned and his mother in comparison the the Buxtons and Nancy in their treatment of Maggie. I love the word pictures of Erminia’s life as “a shattered mirror, every part dazzling and brilliant”. Mrs. Buxton recognizes the beauty in each girl and but understands they are “diverse as the lily and the rose”- not because of social standing or family but different in temperment.

    Mrs Browne reminds me of Mrs Norris in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Rather than being overjoyed in the notice of her daughter – she’s jealous of the treatment that Maggie receives. Frank has caught on to this he learnt to “dislike Mrs Browne, accordingly, notwithstanding all her sugary manners toward himself.”
    Ned went away to school to learn but rather than learning the importance of morals and manners he only has his cruelty and selfishness reinformced. He comes home to find that things have changed and Maggie has developed some scruples over what she does and doesn’t mindlessly obey his every whim.

  3. Alison says:

    Has anyone noticed how Elizabeth Gaskell stops reffering to Edward as Ned (childhood nick name) once he goes of to school. From then on she seems to just uses his full name of Edward (adult name). Just wondered if anyone else had notice this or if it was just me:-)

    1. Diane says:

      I hadn’t noticed it but I suppose evey young person comes to a time when they want to be more grown up and imposing and Ned isn’t a good name for a “powerful” person.

      1. Alison says:

        very true:-)

      2. I’m surprised he went by Ned for as long as he did, I imagine he always secretly disliked it.

  4. Summer says:

    Will be interesting to see in future chapters how Mrs Buxton influence and teaching will shape Maggie’s character.

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