|Title of host publication||The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women's Writing|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Sep 2019|
Elizabeth Gaskell’s realist novel Ruth (1853) troubles the fallen woman narrative. Ruth Hilton, poor, friendless, and beautiful, is deceived and seduced by a wealthy young man; when he abandons her, she contemplates suicide. But Gaskell did not regard Ruth as a “tale of seduction.” The novel’s subject is not the sexual transgression of Ruth Hilton, which narrative ellipsis leaves unrepresented; rather, it is the un-Christian rejection of Ruth and her son by their community and the Christian alternative to the casting out of the repentant sinner. Ruth and her child are protected by a dissenting minister and his sister and earn the respect and love of the local community. Ruth lives a useful, Christian life for her child’s sake; she educates herself, becomes a professional nurse, and, in the novel’s final act, sacrifices herself to save the town and the man who betrayed her. Although Gaskell felt she had not said all that she might have in Ruth, she professed herself satisfied that the novel provoked discussion on hitherto taboo subjects.
- fallen women
- social problem novel
- Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell