Victorian Short Stories of Successful Marriages

I got Victorian Short Stories: Stories of Successful Marriages both because the Kindle version was free and because I thought all the stories were by Elizabeth Gaskell (author of favorites North and South and Wives and Daughters).

As it turned out, each of the five stories in the book was written by a different author: only the first was from Gaskell. But I generally like stories from this era, and it was an opportunity to read some new-to-me authors.

The first story, “The Manchester Marriage,” is by Gaskell. It opens with a Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw moving from Manchester to London. Mrs. Openshaw had formerly been married to a cousin who was lost at sea. She was known as Mrs. Frank then, and she and her ill daughter and mother-in-law took a small house and took in lodgers, one of whom was Mr. Openshaw. Mr. O., over time, took a particular interest in Mrs. Frank’s ailing daughter, devising ways to amuse her and procuring things to help her. He was not a sentimental man, but he liked how Mrs. Frank did things. He offered an unromantic proposal, but Mrs. Frank accepted. They got along well, had a good life, and the little daughter thrived.

Then Mrs. Openshaw’s first husband showed up.

The second story is “A Mere Interlude” by Thomas Hardy. Baptista Trewthen was thought to be “a young woman with scarcely emotions or character.” “No crisis had come in the years of her early maidenhood to demonstrate what lay hidden within her, like metal in a mine.” She trained to become a teacher, but with her first job discovered she hated teaching. An old bachelor proposed. She didn’t love him, but thought life with him would be better than teaching. So she accepted.

After her term was over, she was going to head to her parents house to prepare for the wedding. But she missed her boat, and the next one wasn’t due for a couple of days. She took a room and then went for a walk—and ran into her former boyfriend from college.

This one had a couple of unexpected twists after this point.

In “A Faithful Heart” by George Moore, a Major Shepherd is secretly married because he doesn’t think his sisters will approve of his wife. He has only a small house and allowance for his wife because “He had so many expenses: his club, his clothes, and all the incidental expenses he was put to in the grand houses where he went to stay.” But she managed. She didn’t care about Appleton Place, her husband’s estate home. Her only wish was to take her daughter to see it one day.

The fourth story is “The Solid Gold Reef Company, Limited” by Walter Besant. Reg loves Rosie, but he has no money, and she has no intention of marrying anyone without money. He leaves, she gets engaged a couple of times without ever marrying, he makes his fortune. Her father gives permission for Reg to call upon Rosie again. But though they both get what they want, it’s not exactly happily ever after.

The final story, “The Tree of Knowledge,” is by Henry James. Honestly, I had a hard time with this one. The author had a penchant for very long sentences made up of three or more clauses. I had sort of followed the thread, but I had to look up some other sources to understand the story.

Peter Brent is a writer who is close friends with a sculptor, Morgan Mallow. He doesn’t think Morgan is talented, however. He loves Mrs. Mallow from afar, but he has never acted on his feelings or indicated them to her in any way. He’s also godfather to the Mallows’ son, Lance.

When Lance wants to go to Paris to become a painter, Peter tries to discourage him. Peter is afraid either Lance will have the same level of talent as his father, or his eyes will be opened to good art and then he’ll know his father is a fraud. They both end up being surprised.

There is nothing at the beginning or end of the book to say when these stories were compiled together. Since most of them originally appeared in other publications, I am assuming that this compilation is recent. The publication date for this edition is 2012.

I don’t know what the compiler thought a successful Victorian marriage was. Not all of these marriages were what I would call happy. But if “successful” meant they made a go of it and stayed married, they were all successful.

I thought Gaskell’s story was very sweet. I didn’t like Major Shepherd in the third story or Rosie in the fourth. But each story had something to offer and enjoy and think about. It’s surprising how many twists and surprises came up in such short works. Short stories are not normally my favorite reading material, but I did enjoy these.

I originally chose this book because a book of short stories was one category in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge. However, when I was nearly finished, I looked again at the rules, and there had to be six short stories in the book to count for the challenge. This one had only five. So I can’t count it for the challenge, but I am still glad I read it.

As I said above, I was familiar with Gaskell. I’d heard of Hardy and James but never read them. I had not heard of Moore or Besant. Have you read any of these stories or authors?

6 thoughts on “Victorian Short Stories of Successful Marriages

  1. When I first saw the title, I thought that this would be like one of those 1950s books/articles about how to be a successful housewife 🙂 This does sound enjoyable though. I like that era too; makes me feel more “at home” than the present day. Good review and thank you for putting this collection on my radar!

  2. I am going to check this out because I enjoy stories of this era and I do happen to like short stories. You have told us just enough about each one to whet our appetite without giving away the story. The only author listed here that I have read is Thomas Hardy. I don’t even remember the name of the book I attempted to read by him, but I do remember that for some reason I didn’t finish it. Thank you for the review, Barbara!

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