Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Moorland Cottage: Summary and Thoughts on Chapter 4

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Edward finishes school and decides he doesn’t want to be a curate. The work is slow and time-consuming while an attorney –he could make hundreds or thousands for ‘very little trouble’. Mrs. Browne is sorry that he won’t be following in his father’s footsteps and tries to convert him.  A clergyman is invited everywhere, while an attorney even if he has a higher income is not. And he would stand a good chance of receiving the curacy of Combehurst!

She did not consider whether his character was fitted for so sacred an office; she rather thought that the profession itself, when once assumed, would purify the character; but, in fact, his fitness or unfitness for holy orders entered little into her mind.

But no, Edward is firmly set against it, especially because he doesn’t want to bury himself at Moorland Cottage and Combehurst, respectable and dull, suited to his mother and Maggie, perhaps, but not him. Maggie understands that he would never be a true minister of Christ so her sorrow is mixed with gladness and thanks.

…But a deep sorrow is coming. Mrs. Buxton is dies. Over the years the bond between her and Maggie has strengthened and it’s very hard on her and the Buxton’s. Frank can’t speak to his father who,

Was as one distracted. He could not speak of the lost angel without sudden bursts of tears, and oftentimes of self-upbraiding, which disturbed the calm, still, holy ideas, which Frank liked to associate with her. He ceased speaking to him, therefore, about their mutual loss; and it was a certain kind of relief to both when he did so; but he longed for some one to whom he might talk of his mother, with the quiet reverence of intense and trustful affection.

Shelling Peas, by Alfred Carlton Smith

He remembers how often his mother’s thoughts turned to Maggie. It’d been a long while since he’d seen her. When he came for a visit, Maggie stayed at Moorland Cottage, not wanting to intrude, but she was with his mother often and clearly fond of her; she could tell him of what he missed without the bitter, passionate sorrow Mr. Buxton spoke with. When he see’s her is struck by her resemblance to a painting and the image of her stays with him. Her just and true appreciation of his mother is a balm to his sore heart.

Erminia has been studying somewhere in France becoming daintier and more elegant. The steady care her Aunt took during her youth was showing in her young adulthood; her nature was less volatile. After her Aunt’s death she comes home to stay. Mr. Buxton asks Frank what he thinks of her,

“She is a dazzling little creature. Her complexion looks as if it were made of cherries and milk; and, it must be owned, the little lady has studied the art of dress to some purpose in Paris.”

He is delighted at his son’s answer; he’s long wished that the two would form an attachment, but why is Frank so determined not to speak about Maggie or the Browne’s? When Erminia remarks her surprise at how pretty she’s become Frank answers with lazy indifference and quickly changes the subject with his father asks if he’d mind the Browne’s coming for Christmas,

“None at all, sir,” answered he. “I intend to go up to town soon after Christmas, for a week or ten days, on my way to Cambridge. Can I do anything for you?”

The astute Mrs. Buxton sensed they might form an attachment

She, far-looking, as one who was near death, foresaw that, probably, if Maggie and her son met often in her sick-room, feelings might arise which would militate against her husband’s hopes and plans, and which, therefore, she ought not to allow to spring up.

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11 Comments Add yours

    1. Diane says:

      Not quite sure how to read tweets will have to try to figure it out.

      Chapter 4 – is it me or do the painting selected for chapter 4 seem to show some very world-weary women. THis time period certainly was a hard time to be a woman – when a son’s word is “acknowledged as law”

      Ned (Edward) is growing into his own opinion of his worth – too good for the clergy (certainly a blessing for the church) and looking for a get rich quick scheme – he reminds me a little oc Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice except Mr W knew how to pour on the charm to the people around him.

      Mrs Buxton’s death leaves a hole in the Buxton family and it seems like Mr Buxton is out to do a little matchmaking but I don’t think Frank or Erminia will dtand for it – they both are strong enough to stand up against Mr Buxton.

      Maggie is a small but important part of this chapter – she is the gentle comfort that Frank needs in his time of grief – she is able to share her memories of his mother in a way that no one else could.

      1. Tweets are read as little snippets of information or thoughts sometimes with a link. For example on my twitter I tweet about Elizabeth Gaskell or new posts on my blog. Sometimes people use what’s called a hashtag (#) to group information. I love twitter because I’ve found some wonderful blogs and links through it. 🙂

        He is like Mr. Wickham in the sense of wanting quick money, like General Tilney in the way he is selfish and tyrannical, and like Mr. Elliot in the way he’d stop at nothing to get what he wants.

        1. Diane says:

          How do we know where on Twitter to find your remarks – do we have to follow you? Do you have a Twitter user name?
          PS: I agree with the General TIlney and Mr Elliot comparisons – I hadn’t thought about them – good call.

          1. I do have a twitter account it’s http://twitter.com/gaskellblog Whenever I post something it will show up on your ‘timeline’

  1. Summer says:

    A very enjoyable chapter. Keep disliking Edward and the mother; not surprised by Edward decision, of course he would prefer easy money and to leave behind Moorland Cottage.
    Maggie is such a sweet girl, I hope Frank and Maggie end up falling in love.

    1. Diane says:

      Summer I think the readers (and maybe Mrs Browne but for a different reason)would like to see Frank and Maggie together butI’m sure Mr Buxton isn’t thinking that way.

      Maggie is the kind of character that deserves some happiness in life but that never seems to get it in books like these without much pain inbetween. Maybe that’s why she resonated with the stories of the saints that Mrs Buxton used to tell her.

  2. bccmee says:

    I’m left wondering who Maggie will marry if not Frank. He is the only man with whom she has contact, except for Mr. Buxton. She needs to get out and see the world! I wonder what her future brings.

    It surprised me that Mr. Buxton has plans for his niece and son since they were raised as brother and sister. It’s not unheard of in novels set in that period. Again the Austen book Mansfield Park comes to mind although I realize that was written in an earlier period.

    Ned definitely does not belong in the clergy. That would be a big mistake. Frank sees through Ned but apparently Mr. Buxton does not. Although he has a kind heart, Mr. Buxton does seem to lack sense in many ways, including judgment of character.

    1. Diane says:

      Mr Buxton’s kind character doesn’t allow him to see less than pure motives in others. He’s naive to the fact that not everyone is a good person and Ned is a particularly bad piece of work. Of course it seems that the worse you are the better you are at hiding it – Frank was able to recognize this faulty character but he seems to be one of the few (Nancy also seems to know what Ned is).

      I don’t think it’s so surprising about Mr Buxton planning for
      Frank and Erminia to marry – it’s a way to keep the money in the family (even though Erminia isn’t the one with the money). Besides Mansfield Park there is also the case of Colonel Brandon and his love Eliza in Sense and Sensibility – the father insisted that she marry his older brother.

      If Ned went into the clergy there’s probably be some scandal down the line with missing offering money…

      I don’t even think anyone has given any consideration to Maggie marrying. Mrs Brwone was probably hoping she could get a good job as a ladies maid anything that would bring in money to support the mother and brother.

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