Although I love reading older novels, it can sometimes be really hard to relate to them. We no longer live in a world where we need chaperones to wander around, or where you can only travel by foot, horse or train, or where you have to send letters to contact people. But the issues involved in this book are things that I still come into contact with all the time. It was startling, but nice to finally be able to properly connect with a female protagonist of the 1800s.
The novel opens just before Ruth Ellet marries Harry Hall. She's lucky: they genuinely love each other, and the match is a good one. Her family have money, but are only too glad to get the only girl of the family off of their hands. The Halls are not as wealthy. After their marriage, Ruth and Harry make do with the little money they have and are happy. They have their first child, and she is a wonderful creature, but dies young. Ruth is devastated, and struggles to recover from her grief.
Behind the backdrop of this family unit, is a pair of overbreaing in-laws. Harry's mother criticises everything Ruth does; she insults her housekeeping, spies on her, critiques the way she brings up her children, and has no sympathy for the mother who has lost a child.
Soon Ruth and Harry have another two girls, and the family is becoming more financially stable. Ruth is happy. Suddenly Harry is struck with an illness. His parents won't take it seriously, and by time the doctor is permitted to be called it is too late. Harry passes away and Ruth is left alone to look after their young girls. But what about the Halls who always wanted more involvement in the pairs' marriage? They don't think they ought to support the young widow - she's not their child after all. Despite being very well off, Ruth's father and brother considered her done with: they felt that as she had married into the Hall's family, she was not their concern anymore. The village that her and Harry lived in loved the little family so much that they raised money for the poor widow, but her brother took it, vowing he would give it to her himself, yet he never did.
Ruth is forced to live on a pittance that her father guilt trips her about endlessly. It's hard for a woman to find work and she goes into poverty stricken lodgings. Ruth tries a variety of forms of work, but she is too physically weak for manual labour: grief has hit her hard.
Soon, Ruth struggles to raise enough income to support both children, and reluctantly agrees to allow her eldest to live with the Halls. She is determined to improve her monetary situation and get her daughter back asap. Ruth finally turns to writing, and after a long and strenuous toil begins to achieve some success from it. Writing saves both her mind and body.
I loved this book so much. Overbearing in-laws are the bane of my life, and I felt like I knew exactly how frustrated Ruth felt. It was also fab to see a girl win her own place in the world, and prove everybody that tore her down wrong. If you want a feel-good classic that's not as long as a Dicensian novel, or as wordy as a Hardy, then I would 100% recommend giving this a go.
Have you read it? What did you think?