Molly Gibson is a kind-hearted, intelligent, sensitive girl who is thrown into society when her father, the equally sensible but far more sarcastic Mr.Gibson, marries. His new wife is flighty, hypocritical, and manipulative, but all in such a soft, pliant way that it is difficult to oppose her. With her comes her daughter Cynthia Fitzpatrick, who is Molly's own age but beautiful where Molly is pretty, and socially brilliant where Molly is genuine. Cynthia and Molly immediately become best friends, but Cynthia is so constantly charming young men that (by trying to help her get out of scrapes) Molly's own reputation suffers.
Easily one of the most charming, romantic Victorian novels I've ever read. Victorian novels generally put so much emphasis on morals or virtues that I find alien and silly, or are so long-winded in their explanations, descriptions, and dialog, that I grow quite out of patience with them. Instead, Gaskell seems to have a good deal of sympathy for characters like Cynthia, who would have been treated very severely by authors like Trollop or Bradden, and quietly pokes fun at the sexist, classist, xenophobic notions of her main characters. She seems to like her characters, and want to explain them to her readers, instead of trying to use them as puppets to force her readers into higher morals. Gaskell is nearly as witty as Dickens, but turns her attention in much the same direction as Austen, with that same satirical edge to her domestic descriptions. Gaskell is particularly adept at portraying characters' personalities and interests through dialog alone. I quite loved this, and was horrified to learn, when I was 75% done and utterly wrapt up in the story, that it was never finished. It ends on a satisfying note, however, so though one does not get to actually read the resolution, one is not left without hope that it did take place. In a way, by ending this novel before the hero and heroine confess their love for each other, one is left to resolve it in the manner most satisfactory to oneself, and not bound to the author's choices.