Sylvia's Lovers is set during the French Revolutionary Wars in the remote whaling-port of Monkshaven in Yorkshire where the sea dominates the lives of the inhabitants. The people of Monkshaven hate the French, but they live in greater and more immediate fear of the callous press-gang, who snatch sailors returning from a whaling trip before they have even spoken to their friends or families.
In Elizabeth Gaskell's provincial England war mirrors a private violence which has already disrupted the lives of her fictional characters. Sylvia is a heroine loved by two very different men - the bold sailor Charley Kinraid and the cautious and conventional Philip Hepburn, who idolizes her. The novel follows her development from a wilful, imaginative, but not especially clever girl, to an alert woman whose suffering changes her.
I had a hard time getting into the story. It may have been of its setting, in a whaling town, it seemed dark and depressing. And there was the language, it took while to get used to the way person spoke, with the thee and thous. But I took it in stride and managed to read the whole book.
I have read Gaskell before and I've loved all of her books, some a little bit more than others, but for this story is so sad and it felt hopeless, it just didn't do it for me. I enjoyed the characters, Philip and his bad judgement, Sylvia with her simplicity, Hester was incredible and even Kinraid had a moment or two that made an impression on me. It was hard to see that Sylvia and Philip finally realized what they had at the end, and without a happy ending.
Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell (4/5) Classic Literature: Historical Fiction; Published: Smith & Elder (1863); 18th & 19th Women Writers Reading Challenge (1); Books 2010 (42);