I’d never heard of The Moorland Cottage by Mrs Gaskell until heavenali wrote about it. As I’d finished all my library books and found this one was free for the Kindle, I swiftly downloaded it. Warning: the free version is poorly formatted, but isn’t so bad as to be unreadable.
This is a short, moral tale about Maggie, a sweet and good girl (not sickening, I promise) who lives with her brother and their widowed mother in an isolated cottage. The boy Edward is very selfish: "You see, Maggie, a man must be educated to be a gentleman. Now, if a woman knows how to keep a house, that's all that is wanted from her. So my time is of more consequence than yours.” His mother spoils him, while Maggie does all the work. This immediately made me think of The Mill on the Floss, a book so sad I don’t think I can ever read it again. George Eliot’s book about Maggie and Tom was published ten years after Mrs Gaskell’s, in 1860.
The Browne family members, with their loving old servant, Nancy, have very little social life until a wealthy local man, Mr Buxton, invites them to visit. The children play with his son, Frank and niece, Erminia and Maggie becomes a favourite of Mrs Buxton. She is an invalid, spending her days on a sofa, suffering from one of those mysterious Victorian declining illnesses; she’s very good and a great influence on Maggie. Mrs Gaskell writes with such a lightness of touch that the frequently delivered little homilies are not at all tedious. As the children grow up, Edward and Frank are away at school and Erminia in France, so Maggie is often alone. Then she and Frank fall in love. Edward turns out clever but crooked and gets into serious trouble. Maggie faces a terrible moral decision, as Mr Buxton tries to force her to choose between her lover and her brother. I’m pleased to report that she turns out to be tougher than might have been expected. Shades of Fanny Price! How it all ends, you will have to read for yourselves; the conclusion is very dramatic and unexpected. I’m glad I’ve read this overlooked little story.
While we’re on the subject of free books for the Kindle, do look at the latest addition to my blogroll, ‘Free (and semi-free) Literary Books for the Kindle (US & UK)’. I’ve been following this excellent blog for a while and have at last added the link. Today’s pick is A Little Princess (click!) but the author often mentions quite new-to-me books which are well worth reading.