Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Chapter Twelve – Analysis

Gaskell Blog ©
Guest Contributor: Kim Egolf

Brief Summary

Miss Benson finally makes up her mind to care for Ruth. It is she who puts in Mr Benson’s head the idea about taking Ruth to live with them in their hometown of Eccleston. Though she presents all the counter-arguments in a lengthy discussion, he eventually talks her firmly around to the idea as being their correct moral duty. And once Miss Benson resolves on the idea, she throws herself into it, making all the needed preparations for their departure and travel. On Miss Benson’s advice, Ruth is rechristened Mrs Denbigh and disguised as a widow. The group then travels by coach to Eccleston.

Analysis

This is a chapter of resolutions made by the main characters which will set up the tenor of their existence hereafter. Miss Benson resolves on helping Ruth in both practical and spiritual ways, while Mr Benson is mostly concerned with the question of what it is morally right to do. Having realized at the end of last chapter that she must now care for a new life, Ruth resolves to do all the good she can for the little life she now harbors. These resolutions allow the characters to move forward decisively into the future.

Though Ruth is beginning to show some signs of awareness about the world and people around her, she is still in a very innocently selfish place. Evidence of this is her lack of understanding about the costs and inconveniences of traveling to Eccleston.

Characters

We learn more about Miss Faith Benson in this chapter. She seems drawn to people — like her brother — who need special attention and care. Though she is hesitant to help Ruth at first, due to Ruth’s morally degraded status, she quickly realizes that here is a creature who needs love. We also see how far her love for her brother will take her, helping her overcome her Christian scruples in order to truly give Ruth another chance at life. In fact, it is her scheme to set up Ruth as a widow in order to gain the trust of the townspeople.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you view Miss Benson’s decision to help Ruth? Do we like her for it or do we think she made the wrong decision?
  • Are Mr & Miss Benson and Ruth naive about the potential consequences of their actions?
  • What do you think those consequences might be?
  • What do you think of the relationship between Mr and Miss Benson?
  • Will Ruth grow into her “widowhood”? Will she fit in in this new town?
Painting: Young Girl in the Garden, by Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1880).
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