They say correlation does not prove causation, but neither can we rule out a relationship between an event and the existential state progressing chronologically in proximity to it. So if Mrs. Gaskell’s father sent her to her aunt’s female-only household after her mother died closely following her birth, and he remarried and had another family with whom she had little to do, can we not see how that could influence her telling of Ruth, where there is not a really strong male character, and maybe why she did not believe that Jesus was equal with God?
Mr. Benson, Ruth’s rescuer, has been described by readers as a nincompoop. I think this characterization only applies when comparing him to a romantic leading man. That he is not. He never shows any romantic interest in Ruth at all. He is much more of a father figure to her and to her son. His strength to me, though his body is weak, is in that he does not view Ruth as an object of desire. His love for her is not patronizing either. He has heartfelt compassion for her and a desire for her success. I do not detect any selfish designs on her at all. One could say, however, that he was weak for giving in to his sister’s resolution to lie about Ruth’s marital status. I thought Mrs. Gaskell did a very good job of presenting a determinist vs. sin is never God’s plan case in that after-the-fact, hindsight conversation. Faith, his sister, believed that the 12 years that they lived the lie was for the good, in that Ruth and the child were able to live among polite society, giving them enough time to be strengthened in a Christian community before they were ousted. Mr. Benson said it was detrimental to him personally as his conscience made him lose his confidence and made him continually doubt himself. When the deception is first hatched, the narrator laments the missed opportunity Ruth and her child had of gaining strength of character in living the truth.
This is an early work of Mrs. Gaskell’s, and in the above characterization of men, I think it is similar to Jane Austen’s early work that I read not too long ago, Lady Susan, where the men are not very strong either. I wonder if the readers’ dissatisfaction with these portrayals made them write men much more chivalrously in their later works. My first exposure to Mrs. Gaskell was watching the BBC version of Wives and Daughters and being very dissatisfied with the ending, which did not include a passionate kiss. I think I was not the only one, because the BBC remedied that omission quite swooningly in North and South. Are we better off for it?
If we are intent on realistically portraying men’s weaknesses, could this lead to a belief that Christ is not equal with the Father? Are stronger portrayals acts of faith in his divinity and realized human nature?
*nod to Murder by Death