Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Chapter Three – Analysis

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Brief Summary

Ruth and Mr. Bellingham meet on Sundays, he becomes more enchanted by her innocence. They plan a six mile walk to Ruth’s old home, Millham Grange, for the following week. We also learn more about the background of both characters.

Analysis

Sundays are dreary for Ruth, Mrs. Mason expects that all her seamstresses have friends that will feed and keep them company, but Ruth has no one. She sits alone in a room still chilly, even with her walking dress and bonnet on, hungry, and depressed. Until the church bells call her. This passive, lonely, and emotional image of Ruth reminds us she’s still very young and has lost her family.

In the evening when the girls and Mrs. Mason returns the lady reads a passage from the Bible, feeling it to be her duty, but her idea of being religious is superficial. She turns a blind eye towards the less fortunate of her seamstresses and in her need for money lets Ruth (and perhaps more of her apprentices) starve. She keeps up the appearance of Christianity but once again is a hypocrite. Throughout Ruth this idea seems to be a second undercurrent of the novel: Appearances vs. Reality or as Jenny Uglow phrases it in her wonderful Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories “Form vs. Reality.”

Bellingham’s appearance gives Ruth something to look forward to and their planned outing to Millham Grange is something she fatefully keeps to herself, the idea being so dear to her:

To see her home again, and to see it with him; to show him (secure of his interest) the haunts of former times, each with its little tale of the past–of dead-and-gone events!–No coming shadow threw its gloom over this week’s dream of happiness–a dream which was too bright to be spoken about to common and indifferent ears.

She senses that it’s not wise, but having no one to guide her but Mr. Bellingham and her mother having died when she was young she had no one to caution her about romance:

Ruth was innocent and snow-pure. She had heard of falling in love, but did not know the signs and symptoms thereof; nor, indeed, had she troubled her head much about them.

Sorrow had filled up her days, to the exclusion of all lighter thoughts than the consideration of present duties, and the remembrance of the happy time which had been. But the interval of blank, after the loss of her mother and during her father’s life-in-death, had made her all the more ready to value and cling to sympathy–first from Jenny, and now from Mr. Bellingham.

To see her home again, and to see it with him; to show him (secure of his interest) the haunts of former times, each with its little tale of the past–of dead-and-gone events!–No coming shadow threw its gloom over this week’s dream of happiness–a dream which was too bright to be spoken about to common and indifferent ears.

Rather than choosing someone who knows and would care for Ruth, Mr. Hilton thinks of the most important man he knows, who, unfortunately, didn’t even know of Ruth as the executor of his will. The banker carries out the duties charged him and arranges Ruth’s apprenticeship with Mrs. Mason. But seems to truly want nothing more to do with her. Ruth mentions he was angry when she wanted a shawl once the cold weather had set in. Her lack of a true guardian makes her susceptible and kept in ignorance of certain things in the world

Characters

Mr. Bellingham is an over-indulged only child, at twenty three he is seven years older than Ruth. His mother’s income gives her control over him and he’s learnt from her to be careless towards the feelings of others.

Gaskellian Phrases

This quote reminds me very much of the voice Gaskell uses in Cranford:

Her [Mrs. Hilton’s] husband had a series of misfortunes–of a more important kind than the death of a whole brood of turkeys from getting among the nettles, or the year of bad cheeses spoilt by a careless dairymaid–which were the consequences (so the neighbours said) of Mr. Hilton’s mistake in marrying a delicate fine lady. His crops failed; his horses died; his barn took fire: in short, if he had been in any way a remarkable character, one might have supposed him to be the object of an avenging fate, so successive were the evils which pursued him; but, as he was only a somewhat commonplace farmer, I believe we must attribute his calamities to some want in his character of the one quality required to act as keystone to many excellences.

From Cranford’s first chapter:

If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there? The surgeon has his round of thirty miles, and sleeps at Cranford; but every man cannot be a surgeon.

Discussion Questions

  • How does learning Ruth’s history change your perception of her?
  • What was your favorite quote?
  • How much of Ruth’s sorrow do you think is increased by her passive nature?
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