Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, adapted by Theresa Heskins

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 29 November - 10 December 2010
In Peter Leslie Wild's production, Wives and Daughters came across as a tale growing up, love and secrets, set in provincial England during the mid-nineteenth century. It had its Austenian echoes in the way the young women were identified as objects who either have to get married or pursue respectable lives as nurdes and governesses. However the tone of the production was very different: Mrs. Gaskell (Deborah McAndrew) appeared as a character in the drama, not only telling the story but interacting with her characters in a manner not unlike that of Henry Fielding's narrator in Tom Jones. Whereas in Fielding the narrator underlines the story's ironic tone, in Wives and Daughters Mrs. Gaskell acted as our guide, revealing hitherto undiscovered facets of her characters. She did not tell them what to do, nor was she over-censorious in her comments. Rather she emphasizes the pitfalls experienced by the two young women Molly Gibson (Emerald O'Hanrahan) and Cynthia (Maya Barcot) in a society where neither of them are permitted an opinion, for fear of damaging their 'reputations.' Their lives depend on secrets, both about themselves and their close friends, which they had to sustain in order to guarantee social advancement.
Wild's production gained dramatic impetus from this theme of secrets - for example, the information entrusted to Molly about Cynthia's past, or the secrets imparted to her by Roger Hamley (Gunnar Cauthery) about his brother, a would-be poet whp spends the family money and marries a French servant-girl. Molly cannot impart any of thse details to anyone, even to her benevolent father Dr. Gıbson (Jamıe Newall), for fear of endangering Cynthia's social position. She had to suppress her feelings, even ıf it meant putting herself under suspicion of having an affair with Mr. Preston (Timothy Watson). She was a prisoner of her society, their only outlet for voicing their opinions was through the narrator.
Although Wives and Daughters has a happy ending, I felt in Wild's production that it was contrived through luck rather than human agency: Cynthia renounced her engagement to Roger, understandşng in the nick of time that she did not really love him. She chose to observe social convention instead and marry a rich man from London. Molly looked as if she would remain the perpetual ugly duckling in the marriage stakes, left on the shelf with a tarnished reputation due to her being seen with Preston. However Roger admitted that he had always harboured romantic feleings for her, even though he had never admitted them before, the two of them get marries, and not before time, at least in Molly's stepmother Hyacinth's (Julia Hills') opinion. However the narrator admitted that the alliance was cemented by chance; neither Roger nor Molly had been able to predict their futures. Perhaps the only way to survive in this kind of social milieu was to try and behave well, which in the narrator's view was something very different from being a good person (ıf anyone like that actually exists).
This Woman's Hour drama comprised ten fifteen-minute epısodes; as the narrative unfolded, I found myself becoming more and more hooked by it. Perhaps this was due to McAndrew's performance as the narrator, with a genuine interest in her characters' welfare without claiming superiority over thm.