The Difficulty in Portraying the Truly Good Hero and Heroine – Examples from Classic Novels

The literary critic Graham Handley writes of the difficulty of creating a character who is very good: ‘It is a strange but true fact that the truly good person is difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, and Hester Rose (a sort of secondary heroine in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’) may be compared with Diana Morris in ‘Adam Bede’ where there is a similar partial failure of imagination.’

Why this should be so is possibly a question of fashion. These days, we don’t want our protagonists to be too admirable, and the dread spectres of Mary Sue and Gary Stu hover near, whereas in the mid-eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson rose to fame (or infamy) through writing about two Mary Sues and one Gary Stu, namely, Pamela Andrews, Clarissa Harlow and Sir Charles Grandison.

These endless novels were best sellers in that era; people just couldn’t get enough of them. Of course, with ‘Pamela’ there is the issue of whether he drew in the reader with the lure of,  ‘Attempted Rape as Titillation Whilst Expressing Every Sort of Moral Abhorrence’ . I tend to agree with Coleridge that he did, possibly unconsciously.

The rape in Clarissa takes place offstage, and not until Volume Six, so a reader would have had to be as patient as s/he was purile to keep on reading that long just for that, even if people did have longer attention spans in previous centuries. Probably the fascination  of that saga was the villain Lovelace as much as the heroine, and the depiction of his evil if far fetched machinations.

Clarissa is of course, a far more sophisticated creation than Pamela, who to most modern readers comes across as a prize opportunist hypocrite. I can’t answer for Sir Charles Grandison. I have heard that the character is unbearable, and it is worth reading just for that. I have also heard that in it, a woman actually apologises for preferring God to Sir Charles.

Still, having in recent years ploughed my way through ‘Pamela’, ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exulted Condition’ (it seriously is called that!) I don’t think I can stand reading any more of Richardson’s self-serving Puritan morality for a long while.

Both the eponymous heroine of ‘Evelina’ and the hero Lord Orville are extremely virtuous and outstandingly dull. I felt like going to sleep whenever Lord Orville spoke.  Fortunately, he does that only occasionally, usually to show a high minded understanding of whatever situation it is in which he is involved.

By contrast, the villain Sir Clement Willoughby (did Jane Austen borrow his name?) provides a great deal of amusement. He spends much of his time, when not involved in rascally plots, in insisting on his deep love for the heroine. Still, never – the cad -does he  so much as hint at marriage. At the end he informs Lord Orville that she is not well born enough for him to consider for anything but as a mistress.  Lord Orville proposes believing her to be ‘low born’ – but then, he is a hero.

It was left to the genius of Jane Austen to create a hero who insults both the heroine’s face and her family origins.

Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are another virtuous and dull hero and heroine in a classic novel. Someone has commented somewhere (I have managed to lose the link) that Darnay is just like an android programmed to do good things – he seems to possess no mental life at all, and whenever he opens his mouth, virtuous platitudes come forth. Lucie Manette is an embodiment of a Domestic Angel.

I have to admit that I dislike that novel, because of the influence it has had in portraying the French Revolution in an entirely negative light, in particular shaping the popular misconception about the number of victims of the Terror.

As George Orwell says: ‘ Though he (Dickens) quotes no figures, he gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared with one of Napoleon’s battles. But the bloody knives and the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in (the reader’s) mind a special sinister vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers. To this day, to the average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of severed heads. ’

That however, is off topic…

Intriguingly, Charles Darnay does come to life – twice – when he is in danger of death. Both when he is being tried for treason in the UK, and later when he is tried for it in France, he is suddenly there, real and believable.

In fact, I found the scene where Lucie Manette (who doesn’t yet know him) sheds tears because she is forced to give evidence against him, and they gaze at each other through the courtroom and obviously start to fall in love, both evocative and gripping.

Generally, then, I find it hard to think of a truly noble hero or heroine in a classic novel who is both interesting and believable.  Readers may have been more fortunate; if so, I’d love to hear of it.

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The Difficulty in Portraying the Truly Good Hero and Heroine – Examples from Classic Novels

The literary critic Graham Handley writes of the difficulty of creating a character who is very good: ‘It is a strange but true fact that the truly good person is difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, and Hester Rose (a sort of secondary heroine in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’) may be compared with Diana Morris in ‘Adam Bede’ where there is a similar partial failure of imagination.’

Why this should be so is possibly a question of fashion. These days, we don’t want our protagonists to be too admirable, and the dread spectres of Mary Sue and Gary Stu hover near, whereas in the mid-eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson rose to fame (or infamy) through writing about two Mary Sues and one Gary Stu, namely, Pamela Andrews, Clarissa Harlow and Sir Charles Grandison.

These endless novels were best sellers in that era; people just couldn’t get enough of them. Of course, with ‘Pamela’ there is the issue of whether he drew in the reader with the lure of,  ‘Attempted Rape as Titillation Whilst Expressing Every Sort of Moral Abhorrence’ . I tend to agree with Coleridge that he did, possibly unconsciously.

The rape in Clarissa takes place offstage, and not until Volume Six, so a reader would have had to be as patient as s/he was purile to keep on reading that long just for that, even if people did have longer attention spans in previous centuries. Probably the fascination  of that saga was the villain Lovelace as much as the heroine, and the depiction of his evil if far fetched machinations.

Clarissa is of course, a far more sophisticated creation than Pamela, who to most modern readers comes across as a prize opportunist hypocrite. I can’t answer for Sir Charles Grandison. I have heard that the character is unbearable, and it is worth reading just for that. I have also heard that in it, a woman actually apologises for preferring God to Sir Charles.

Still, having in recent years ploughed my way through ‘Pamela’, ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exulted Condition’ (it seriously is called that!) I don’t think I can stand reading any more of Richardson’s self-serving Puritan morality for a long while.

Both the eponymous heroine of ‘Evelina’ and the hero Lord Orville are extremely virtuous and outstandingly dull. I felt like going to sleep whenever Lord Orville spoke.  Fortunately, he does that only occasionally, usually to show a high minded understanding of whatever situation it is in which he is involved.

By contrast, the villain Sir Clement Willoughby (did Jane Austen borrow his name?) provides a great deal of amusement. He spends much of his time, when not involved in rascally plots, in insisting on his deep love for the heroine. Still, never – the cad -does he  so much as hint at marriage. At the end he informs Lord Orville that she is not well born enough for him to consider for anything but as a mistress.  Lord Orville proposes believing her to be ‘low born’ – but then, he is a hero.

It was left to the genius of Jane Austen to create a hero who insults both the heroine’s face and her family origins.

Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are another virtuous and dull hero and heroine in a classic novel. Someone has commented somewhere (I have managed to lose the link) that Darnay is just like an android programmed to do good things – he seems to possess no mental life at all, and whenever he opens his mouth, virtuous platitudes come forth. Lucie Manette is an embodiment of a Domestic Angel.

I have to admit that I dislike that novel, because of the influence it has had in portraying the French Revolution in an entirely negative light, in particular shaping the popular misconception about the number of victims of the Terror.

As George Orwell says: ‘ Though he (Dickens) quotes no figures, he gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared with one of Napoleon’s battles. But the bloody knives and the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in (the reader’s) mind a special sinister vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers. To this day, to the average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of severed heads. ’

That however, is off topic…

Intriguingly, Charles Darnay does come to life – twice – when he is in danger of death. Both when he is being tried for treason in the UK, and later when he is tried for it in France, he is suddenly there, real and believable.

In fact, I found the scene where Lucie Manette (who doesn’t yet know him) sheds tears because she is forced to give evidence against him, and they gaze at each other through the courtroom and obviously start to fall in love, both evocative and gripping.

Generally, then, I find it hard to think of a truly noble hero or heroine in a classic novel who is both interesting and believable.  Readers may have been more fortunate; if so, I’d love to hear of it.

Those Dreaded Discrepancies: A Writer’s Bane

1001004005712376Firstly, I want to apologise to Susan Hill by mentioning her work in the same post as that late Victorian and Edwardian writer of best selling twaddle, Charles Garvice…

Mari Biella’s recent intriguing recent post on anachronisms
https://maribiella.wordpress.com/
set me thinking recently about general discrepancies in stories. Then, in a fine piece of synchrnonicity, I came across at least two when reading George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’.

This in turn brought to mind several I’ve come across in recent years, from a whole spectrum of writers, from the brilliant Susan Hill to that churner out of Victorian best selling romantic melodrama Charles Garvice.

That so polished a writer as Susan Hill could make a mistake of this type is guaranteed to make any writer wonder, with a shudder, if there is something she has overlooked in turn in her own stories; some howler, which makes the plot impossible, or at least, in need of revision.

Or –nearly as bad – but, our egotism being what it is, not quite so bad – have we let down the friends for whom we have done Beta reads, and left one in? Maybe an anachronism of the sort mentioned by Mari Biella, for instance, potato stew served in the UK of the Middle Ages.

On anachronisms –  in true geek fashion – I want to say something irrelevant here.  I was dismayed to learn that people who write children’s novels set in the Middle Ages are often advised to fudge the issue that for approximately three hundred years after the Norman Conquest, the upper class spoke Norman French, while the ordinary people spoke Anglo Saxon. Talk about re-writing history!

All writers surely go in dread of such mishaps as publishing a book with discrepancies. They are so easy to do, particularly in historical novels. It is so easy to get those wretched travelling times wrong, through a lack of information about which roads there were; so easy to make the post more efficient than it was, so that a letter arrives too early.

The Susan Hill discrepancy – and I hasten to add, this is the only one I have ever come across in all her books, all of which I greatly admire – is to do with the decade in which the otherwise brilliant (and terrifying) story ‘The Man in the Picture’ is set.

It seems to originate in a few sentences overlooked in the editing, which possibly relate to an earlier version (and don’t we all have so many earlier versions of our stories, where we hadn’t developed this or that theme).

The story begins with a man visiting his old friend, an academic at  Cambridge, where ‘there were still real fires in those days, the coals brought up by the servant in huge brass scuttles.’ Some years later, again in Cambridge, the porter has ‘a fire in the grate’ and there is ‘a solitary policeman on his beat’. This policeman is seen ‘trying the doors of the shops to see that they were secure’.

All this seems redolent of the 1930’s. Yet, only a few months pass, and suddenly, we are in the age of mobile phones, the narrator marries a female barrister and they fly to Venice for their honeymoon.

This inconsistency, by the way, didn’t at all detract from my pleasure in the story, and so far as I know, only a couple of reviewers have picked up on it; so good is the tale, with the  atmosphere so wonderfully done, that it’s hard to put down, and is nearly as good a sinister read as ‘The Woman in Black’.

The discrepancies in George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’ come much later in the story, and revolve around the fact that while the fact that while Adam guesses who fathered Hetty Sorrel’s poor baby, and confides in the vicar Mr Irwine, these two, who wish to talk of the matter as little as possible, are the only ones who do know the details. Despite this, shortly afterwards, by some strange process of clairvoyance, all the servants in the hall know that it is Arthur , and this detracts from their enthusiasm when they welcome him home as the new master.

A smaller error concerns a minor character, Bessy, who is described as married to Wiry Ben in the beginning, with two children. At the fete where he dances, they suddenly both become single again, the children disappear, and he hints that he wants to marry her. A time warp has clearly been in operation…

Thackeray went one better. Dobbin, his dull hero in that ‘novel without a hero’ ‘Vanity Fair’, appears in England when the reader has been told that he is serving in the army in India; a clear case of teleportation, and typically, his astral self does nothing but the sort of dull but worthy stuff he always does. Apart from Amelia’s mother changing her name from Betsy to Mary, though, mistakes in a very long novel which I believe was first published in serial format are very few.

Elizabeth Gaskell rarely edited her works, so that the standard of writing is all the more impressive; still, in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’, as Graham Handley has pointed out, the timing doesn’t make sense if the reader accepts the action as starting in 1795, the date she gives; the timetable is out of kilter unless the action starts in 1793.

There are other discrepancies; Philip Hepburn’s age, and Charley Kinraid’s financial position are but two, but overall, the degree of consistency in the plot in a writer who rarely re-read her work is quite astonishing.

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_MarquisFinally, to Charles Garvice. I am sure the modern readers of ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ can be counted on one hand, so almost certainly nobody will have any idea what I am talking about here. But what I have to say is instructive, because it shows, if nothing else, how sloppily his editor performed.

Because this novel is so bad, I have remained fascinated with it (perhaps I would have been equally fascinated by whichever Charles Garvice novel I first  read, as Laura Sewell Mater was intrigued by ‘Verdict of the Heart’ , the first Garvice novel she sampled, for more or less the same reasons). Therefore, I’ll give some background to it.

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_Lord_of_HimselfThe hero of that melodrama, Lord Fayne, is a bad man who turns into a good man because an innocent young girl tells him he should (he also goes busking in the country among the ‘simple country folk’, and that finished the process). He’s a viscount, but goes round dressed as a coster monger, and getting into fights in music halls. He does this primarily to annoy his relatives, as his politics are anything but radical.

During one such fight in a music hall, he is hit on the head by a decanter and only comes to himself with a bleeding head some time towards dawn. No mention is made of a headache or such sissy symptoms of concussion as nausea.

Charles_Garvice_-_She_Loved_HimHe goes on to run into a homeless girl who just happens to have been seduced by the villain of the story, gives her his golden cuff links and buys her some food at a stall, giving over his watch as security. His friends are still drinking in his house when he arrives home at some time in the morning. Having shown some anti Semitism by threatening to throw a Jewish moneylender out of the window for requesting his bill, gives his friends a brilliant performance by singing and playing the piano and violin, and then kicks the lot of them out with his ‘air of indefinable command’ and falls asleep with his head among the dirty glasses.

When next we see him, he is asleep outside the gates of his parents mansion. The heroine mistakes him for a tramp and adjusts his cap over his injured head (this isn’t portrayed humorously, unfortunately). He tells her he has walked from London and goes on to sleep some more a bit further off, where he sees her pony bolting and through a desperate sprint, saves her from a terrible death in a disused copper mine.

He remains incognito throughout, but her father has read of the brawl in the music hall in his paper, and mentions that Lord Fayne appeared ‘in a police court’ and was fined £5.00 (a hefty fine in 1894).

There appear to be all sorts of weird discrepancies in the time frame here. When did Lord Fayne appear in court? How long did it take the papers to report it, and how come it only seems to take even the athletic Lord Fayne a day or so to walk from London to what appears, from the topography, to be Devonshire, particularly if he is suffering from concussion? Perhaps he (horrors!) lies to the heroine, and he took a train. Certainly, though, when she demands to see how much money he has in his pockets, he only has some silver.

But from someone who is concussed, he gives a sprint worthy of a gold medal. Presumably he has come to apologise to his parents, but after being conveniently by to save the heroine’s life, he seemingly wanders off again to menace the locals in a local tavern (the fresh country air doesn’t have a reforming affect on his character in this bit). When next we see him, it is in London, where he seems once more to be in funds…

Garvice’s novels are no doubt peppered with such contradictions, and it is only because of my interest in the history of the development of the romantic novel that I have have read this twice. I am sure almost nobody else could endure such entertainment twice over, and most people would say, and rightly, that such twaddle is unworthy of any analysis whatsoever, and Garvice only made the roughest attempts to provide some sort of basic coherence to his plots.

Still, he had, supposedly, an excellent secretary, and I am surprised she didn’t pick up on these contradictions; maybe it was more than her job was worth to pick holes in the novels her pipe puffing, complacent employer dictated. Perhaps his editor could not bear to read his stories through…

However that may be, such discrepancies as the ones above are one of the banes of a writer’s life.

Writers’ Terror of Writing a Derivative Novel: Comparing George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’

220px-John_Collier_-_Hetty_SorrelI’ve always meant to read ‘Adam Bede’; I don’t know why really, except that I’ve seen it described in various places as one of George Eliot’s best novels, and while I was a little disappointed in ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘The Mill on the Floss’, I’ve always admired her as a woman who defied conventional morality in mid Victorian times. That took some courage indeed.

I’m about three quarters of the way through reading it now. It’s a very interesting book, and the historical detail is intriguing; but I can’t take to the rather shadowy heroine, Dinah Shore, at all. She is intended to be the next thing to a saint; I know it is notoriously hard to write about an interesting thoroughly good and unselfish person, and George Eliot deserves credit for trying; this particularly as she is depicting a devoutly religious person, while she herself was agnostic. But I have to say this conventional spirituality is another sticking point for me; oblique references are made to damnation, and the idea of a Creator who is capable of meting out that fate raises my hackles.

Unfortunately, too, the same is true of the eponymous hero; I find his Protestant Ethic type of morality unappealing, even rebarbative; I daresay he is the sole of virtue and totally admirable, but if I find anyone sympathetic in the story, it is the pretty, silly Hetty Sorrel, so tragically deceived by her own hopes regarding the enduring nature of the charming but vain and selfish Arthur Donnithorne’s love for her.

I suspect that this reaction may be fairly typical; I haven’t read any literary criticism of the book yet. Still, it isn’t of this that I wanted to write, but about the influence that this novel so obviously had on Elizabeth Gaskell, and in her writing of a novel about which I have so often bored the reader – that’s right, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ again!

I was startled when I came across some of the similarities in the character types and also, in incident in the two novels. This in turn led me to think about the modern obsession with avoiding at all costs, writing something ‘derivative’, the dread that so many writers have of being accused of copying some theme or idea.

Elizabeth Gaskell, according to the biography of her by Winifred Gerin, read ‘Adam Bede’ sometime in 1857, and her admiration was complete. She wrote of it: ‘I think I have a feeling that it is not worth while trying to write, while there are such books as Adam Bede’ (I had the same sort of feeling myself after rereading ‘Bodily Harm’ by Margaret Attwood).300px-Whaling-dangers_of_the_whale_fishery

Eighteen-fifty-seven was the year in which Elizabeth Gaskell visited Whitby (Yorkshire, UK, for non UK readers of this blog) and decided to write a story about the whaling community there during the French Revolutionary Wars, and the activities of the press gang on a whaling community at that time. ‘Adam Bede’ is also set during the French Revolutionary Wars, and in partly in Yorkshire, but it is focused on in an inland farming community. However, in other ways the influence of George Elliot’s novel on Elizabeth Gaskell is very obvious, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel is also partly about the local farming community.

Both novels deal with a rather foolish, very pretty, poorly educated young girl from a farming background who often works as dairymaid and who is loved by a steady admirer whose love she spurs in favour of the love of an unreliable, charming, dashing but superficial one with military connections.

In ‘Adam Bede’ these characters are respectively Hetty Sorrel, Adam Bede and Arthur Donnithorne, and in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ they are Sylvia Robson, Philip Hepburn and Charley Kinraid.

It is true that ‘Adam Bede’ deals with the then highly popular theme of the innocent girl seduced by the ‘gentleman’ and left pregnant, while ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ deals with the then equally popular story of the ‘returned sailor’ who comes back from years at sea to find he has seemingly been betrayed, his sweetheart having married someone else.

However, in both, besides the threesome of flighty, heedless girl and her two contrasting rival lovers, there is another main female character, a spiritual and deeply religious young woman who comes to love the steady, hard working man.

In ‘Adam Bede’ this is the lay preacher Dinah Shore (who is also very good looking, but indifferent to this and its affect on men) and in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ this role is fulfilled by plain Hester Rose, a Quaker who routinely does good works, and Hepburn’s fellow worker in the haberdashery shop.

I haven’t read to the end of ‘Adam Bede’ yet, but I know that Dinah Shore and Adam Bede finally come together in marital happiness, whereas Hester Rose’s love for Hepburn remains unrequited. Both novels contain comedic elements but an underlying tragic theme.

Both also focus much attention on the views of dissenters and various religious debates in the late eighteenth century; both have human and ineffective vicars.

All sorts of incidental details in Elizabeth Gaskell’s story illustrate the continuing influence of ‘Adam Bede’. For instance, Hetty Sorrel comes from a farming family; so does Sylvia Robson; Hetty often works as dairymaid, and is courted by Arthur Donnithorne in the dairy; the same is true of Sylvia Robson, courted by Charley Kinraid in hers. The intensity of the relationship between Hetty and Arthur is increased when they come together at a party celebrating his twenty-first birthday; Sylvia and Kinraid’s relationship takes a serious turn when they meet again at the Corney’s New Year’s party.

Adam Bede comes to suspect that Hetty has an unknown lover when he sees that she has a locket with someone’s hair in it; Philip Hepburn sees that Sylvia comes out of the room where she has been kissing Kinraid wearing a new ribbon he has given her.12618f13

Both women are confronted by their steady and jealous admirers about the unreliability of their preferred lovers; Hetty says to Adam Bede, ‘How durst you say so?’ and Sylvia says to Philip Hepburn, ‘How dare you come here wi’ yo’r backbiting tales?’

In ‘Adam Bede’ a culminating moment of the general merrymaking at Arthur’s coming of age party is the absurd hornpipe danced by Wiry Ben. In ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ the New Year’s party is concluded by Charley Kinraid dancing a hornpipe amongst the platters on the floor.

And so on, even down to the similar use of unusual phrases; for instance, in ‘Adam Bede’ the author writes of Adam’s love for Hetty ‘Tender and deep as his love for Hetty had been, so deep that the roots of it would never be torn away…’ and then we have in ‘Sylvia’s Loves’ of Sylvia’s love for Kinraid, ‘She had torn up her love for him by the roots, but she felt she could never forget that it had been…’

Of course, there are even more dissimilarities between the two novels besides the obvious one of the one being set inland, the other being set in a whaling community; Sylvia Robson may be initially vain and headstrong, but she is not a superficial character, while Hetty Sorrel is; Philip Hepburn gives in to his jealousy and overprotective feelings for Sylvia and acts against his sense of honour, while Adam Bede resists the temptation and so on.

There are, however, numerous other similarities of phrase, incident and character in the novels, and I think I have made the point that two novels can have certain strong similarities without this necessarily being a disgrace. It has often been pointed out that there are only so many plots (in an earlier post, I listed these) and so many types of character (it would be interesting to try and break these down into basic types, and list those).

Just as I said then, I think that modern authors should not allow themselves to become too paranoid about writing something that has certain similarities to something already written, or even to be afraid to explore a different treatment of an idea they come across in any already published book; still, I must admit I have fallen into that error myself.

A couple of years ago, I was fascinated by the idea of writing a dystopia which involved a bad fair warrior, a good dark warrior, a female Amazon type, a society shattered by a series of earthquakes, and various other features. When I came to read Rebecca Lochlann’s brilliant ‘Child of the Erinyes’ series, I found all these features there; in dismay, I broke off from writing any more of the said dystopia (fortunately I had only written about 10,000 words), imagining my cringing embarrassment if readers assumed I had copied the ideas.13076894

I now think that was a mistaken decision, and one of these days I ought to return to the idea (though I make no claims that my series would be as good as ‘Child of the Erinyes); different treatments using partly similar elements in a plot make for vastly different novels; the classics George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ are encouraging evidence of that.

It is certainly true that some of the contemporary critics did see a similarity between some of the themes in ‘Adam Bede’ and those in ‘Sylvia’s Loves’ ; though I haven’t read any literary criticism of Adam Bede, I have read a fair amount for Gaskell’s novel, and came across some comparisons there.

For instance, a review in ‘the Reader’ of 1863 states of Gaskell’s character Philip Hepburn: ‘the conception is feeble, and the execution indistinct. Philip Hepburn is Sylvia’s lover and nothing more…we cannot help comparing him with Adam Bede, and the difference between the two impressions of character is the difference between one character written in loose sand, and one engraved on a gem…there is a superficial resemblance to George Elliot’s Hetty in the heroine, which is quite lost sight of as we advance.’

Perhaps, in light of such reviews, Elizabeth Gaskell was wise never to read them. Probably, comparisons are inevitable for writers; it is a part of the way the human mind works, even if comparisons are notoriously invidious; but I think it would be unfortunate if writers were put off writing a book because they have come on one with a similar theme, or even, to hesitate in writing a book using a theme they have come across which they would like to treat with a different approach.