Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Chapter Five – Analysis

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Brief Summary

We rejoin Ruth and Mr. Bellingham in North Wales. Ruth is captivated by the beauty of scenery, he is irritated at the changeable weather and unable to amuse himself, becomes cross at Ruth’s inability to play cards.

Ruth goes out for a walk and comes to a stream. She longs to cross to the other side and starts stepping on the stones but some are submerged and she’s unsure how to get through. A kind man with a hunchback, who we later learn is named Thurstan Benson, helps her cross. They walk together a little and he tells her a charming bit of Welsh folklore about foxgloves.

Analysis

When they arrive at the Inn, it’s full but Henry knows the innkeeper, Mrs. Jenny Morgan, and persuades her to make room, unconcerned with anything but his own comfort. As two guests are shoved off to the poky place across the street, Ruth feels uncomfortable at the injustice.

Mrs. Morgan already realizes Ruth is not his wife, from her lack of a lady’s maid. It’s a small detail that singles her out and shows a lack of true concern for Ruth– like the guests he indifferently forced out, Ruth too could be made to fend for herself at his whim. Already we are beginning to see him tire of her ignorance.

If he really cared for her, surely, he would want to shield her reputation; he could have easily gone to Mrs. Mason and explained the innocence of their walk earlier— his mother’s custom is so important to her that she may have listened and welcomed Ruth back. Instead he exposes her reputation to censure.

The way he speaks with her is also belittling:

“You’re pale, love!” said he, half repenting of his anger at her blunders over the cards. “Go out before dinner; you know you don’t mind this cursed weather; and see that you come home full of adventures to relate. Come, little blockhead! give me a kiss, and begone.”

Mrs. Gaskell has used Ruth’s natural surroundings as a mirror to her emotions, we can only assume she will undergo a tumult of emotions as varied as the peaks and rugged beauty of Wales.

Reoccurring Symbol

Moonlight: Pure white light, mysterious, romantic

Up such a stair–past such a window (through which the moonlight fell on her with a glory of many colours)–Ruth Hilton passed wearily one January night, now many years ago. Ch. 1

She was almost overpowered by the vague and solemn delight; but by-and-by her love for them equaled her awe, and in the night-time she would softly rise, and steal to the window to see the white moon-light, which gave a new aspect to the everlasting hills that girdle the mountain village. Ch. 5

Characters

The different ways that Ruth and Mr. Bellingham perceives Thurstan Benson tells a lot of their characters:

“I’ve seen your little hunchback. He looks like Riquet-with-the-Tuft. He’s not a gentleman, though. If it had not been for his deformity, I should not have made him out from your description; you called him a gentleman.”

“And don’t you?” asked Ruth, surprised.

“Oh, no! he’s regularly shabby and seedy in his appearance; lodging, too, the ostler told me, over that horrible candle-and-cheese shop, the smell of which is insufferable twenty yards off–no gentleman could endure it; he must be a traveler or artist, or something of that kind.”

“Did you see his face?” asked Ruth.

“No; but a man’s back–his tout ensemble has character enough in it to decide his rank.”

“His face was very singular; quite beautiful!” said she softly; but the subject did not interest Mr. Bellingham, and he let it drop.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of the way Henry Bellingham’s attitude has changed towards Ruth?
  • What do you think moonlight evokes?
  • What other symbols have you seen reoccurring through these first few chapters?
  • What do you think the scene of Mr. Benson helping Ruth cross the stream might foreshadow?
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