Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth – Chapter Two: Notes on the Characters

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Mrs. Mason’s character continues to prove hypocritical and materialistic:

Dress, young ladies, you know, is a very secondary consideration. Conduct is everything.

A very rich statement for her to deliver when she just choose the young seamstresses to attend at the Hunt ball based on their beauty and not their hard work. After the hunt ball she is hard on Ruth, constantly chastising her the following day:

She [Mrs. Mason] had her ideas of justice, too; but they were not divinely beautiful and true ideas; they were something more resembling a grocer’s or tea-dealer’s ideas of equal right. A little over-indulgence last night was to be balanced by a good deal of over-severity to-day; and this manner of rectifying previous errors fully satisfied her conscience.

Ruth follows her impulses, not thinking them through.

For example when young Tom gets pulled in by the current, instead of finding a way to truly help him she rushing in, realizing as she nears, that she has no strength to be of use to him. Her instincts towards nursing, tending, and caring for people are also revealed in the way she tends young Tom after Mr. Bellingham rescues the boy.

But the old woman was helpless and hopeless, and insisted on believing that her grandson was dead; and dead he would have been if it had not been for Ruth, and one or two of the more sensible neighbours, who, under Mr. Bellingham’s directions, bustled about, and did all that was necessary until animation was restored.

Mr. Bellingham, it’s interesting that Gaskell properly introduces him as he rescues someone; a very unselfish act, which shows that perhaps deep in his core he is good but she also shows that he is impatient and thinks greatly of his comfort and own pleasure.

But at this moment the strong perception of Ruth’s exceeding beauty came again upon him. He almost lost the sense of what he was saying, he was so startled with admiration… He held out his hand to shake hers; and, just as she gave it to him, the old grandmother came tottering up to ask some question. The interruption jarred upon him, and made him once more keenly alive to the closeness of the air, and the squalor and dirt by which he was surrounded.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some other traits that you’ve observed of the characters?
  • Which character do you find the most intriguing?

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