Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Ch. 2 Annotation – Will-O’-Wisps

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

High above sounded the musicians, fitfully trying some strain of which they were not certain. Then they stopped playing, and talked, and their voices sounded goblin-like in their dark recess, where candles were carried about in an uncertain wavering manner, reminding Ruth of the flickering zig-zag motion of the will-o’-the-wisp.

Will-o’-the-wisps come from various British and Welsh folk lore. They’re usually malicious fairies, described as lights, that lure travelers into dangerous situations.  The music plays a very obscure role in Ruth’s own lure to danger.

At the ball Henry Bellingham is dancing with Miss Duncombe, one of the rosettes of her gown falls off, causing some of the material to trail, Ruth stitches it back in place and it’s then that Mr. Bellingham first sees her.

He is the malevolent fairy in this tale. His character is not wholly bad but he’s been indulged and used to getting what he wants as we’ll learn more in chapter three.


“Will o’ the Wisp | Mysterious Britain & Ireland.” Mysterious Britain & Ireland | Mysteries, Legends & The Paranormal. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/will-o-the-wisp.html&gt;.

“Will-o’-the-wisp – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will-o%27-the-wisp&gt;.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    Somehow I never thought of a will-o’-the-wisp as a malevolent being. But now I’m kind of creeped out lol

    1. Neither did I, I imagined them as being baby fairies or something very sweet.

  2. Diane says:

    I didn’t even think twice about this sentence until I read this post – eeeek!

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