The trauma of condemnation and the embellishment of an illegitimate child as a source of regeneration in Lizzie Leigh and Ruth

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Abstract

This paper focuses on Mrs Gaskell’s treatment of the erring girl in Lizzie Leigh (1850) and Ruth (1853) and the new elements that she introduces which brand the treatment as different. Contrary to her Victorian contemporaries, Mrs Gaskell stresses the role of religion, the use of biblical quotations on the treatment of the sinner, and the role of motherhood. The paper also shows how Mrs Gaskell makes the illegitimate child an incentive towards repentance and hope of reclamation. Through her motherly love and devotion to her child, a mother rises and grows in character and faith. Moreover, the paper demonstrates Mrs Gaskell’s condemnation of the falsity of the traditional taxonomy of “illegitimate” or “fallen”, and her assertion that social value lies in the inherent properties within the individual. It also highlights how she makes forgiveness for the sinner a duty which society has to fulfil, and maintains that if the charitable and the kind are forced “to lie” because of the existing social and moral attitudes, then it is imperative that they should be changed so that “lies” are unnecessary. It concludes by investigating the stormy reception and the controversy it created among readers.

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Ars Aeterna

Literary Studies and Humanity

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