If you have read Michael Armstrong, what are some ways in which Ruth resembles or contrasts with Trollope’s narrative? (both present virtuous poor protagonists, and describe their backgrounds and parents)
Are some of the differences in the portrayal due to the fact that the protagonist of Ruth is female? Why do you think Trollope chose a ten year old boy and Gaskell a fifteen-year old female as a focus of interest?
Is “Ruth” a good choice of name for Gaskell’s heroine? What biblical or etymological connotations does it carry?
Where does this work fit in the sequence of Elizabeth Gaskell’s narratives? Do you see resemblances between this novel and Mary Barton? (descriptions of life of seamstress and the privations of work and sleep; emphasis on theme of forgiveness; concern for fallen woman and upper class seducer or would-be seducer) Which book seems to offer more details on the working conditions for seamstresses?
What is the importance of the opening scene and descriptions of the old building in which the sewing establishment is housed? Is there anything symbolic about the fact that the building’s old elegance has faded from disrepair?
What do we first learn of Ruth? What seem traits of her character? (loves nature in all its forms; tends to have symbolic dreams) Does she manifest habits associated with female gentility? (often abstains from food)
Where and under what circumstances does Ruth encounter Mr. Bellingham? Does she have cause to think well of him? (speaks politely to her, rescues child, takes care for its comfort)
What motivates him to seek her out at church? How would you describe his pursuit of her?
Does Mr. Bellingham seem like a potential seducer? Are there aspects of his conduct which should make one suspicious?
What are some ways in which Ruth manifests her vulnerable innocence?
What are some features of Gaskell’s style? (highly metaphorical, even poetic) Does she employ narrative intrusions, and if so, at what points? Are these useful?
What role is played by religion in this narrative? What forms of religion are presented, and how are these characterized?
What variety of faith does the narrator espouse? (forgiveness and lack of judgment) Are these views consistent with Gaskell’s role as the wife of a Unitarian minister?
What do we learn about Ruth’s background from her visit to the farm? Would this background have been a common one for seamstresses of the period?
What aspects of Ruth’s behavior when visiting her old home displease Mr. Bellingham?
How does old Thomas react to her friendship with Mr. Bellingham? Why doesn’t he warn Ruth of the danger he sees in this relationship?
What are Mrs. Mason’s traits of behavior and character? On what grounds does she dismiss Ruth, and with what result?
After being dismissed, where could or should Ruth have gone? Why does she instead accept Mr. Bellingham’s insistence that she should join him in his carriage? In what emotional state does she accept his offer?
Where does Mr. Bellingham take Ruth in his carriage? (London) Is there a gap in the narrative between this scene and their later visit to Wales? What does the reader infer has happened in the interim?
What do we learn about the relationship of Mr. Bellingham and Ruth from the description of their life together in Wales? What traits of character does Mr. Bellingham exhibit? (impatience, snobbishness, restlessness, rudeness)
Why do you think Gaskell emphasized his attractive or reasonable traits earlier in the narrative, whereas now his other characteristics are displayed?
What assumptions may motivate Mr. Bellingham’s irritation that Ruth can’t play complicated card games with him?
Under what circumstances does Ruth encounter Mr. Benson? How is he described? Will it be important to the narrative that he is seen as disabled?
What prompts Mr. Bellingham to desert Ruth? Can you see any symbolic meaning in his sudden illness? Who prompts him to leave Ruth, and why do you think the author included this plot detail? Is it important that he doesn’t give her warning?
How does Ruth respond to this desertion? What rash act does she contemplate, and who and what prompts her to desist? What effect does her near-attempt at suicide have upon the reader?
What essential services does Mr. Benson provide to her in this time of crisis, and who aids him in this task?
How do Mr. Benson and his sister differ in viewing Ruth’s situation? What purposes does this divergence serve in the plot? In particular, what course of action does Faith suggest, and with what results?
How might Ruth’s fate have been different had Mr. and Miss Benson not concealed Ruth’s status as an unwed mother?
What roles are served by Sally? What type of public opinion does she represent, and what does her gradually softened attitude toward Ruth and Leonard suggest?
What economic consequences do the Bensons suffer from their kindness to Ruth?
What purpose is served by presenting the birth of Leonard?
What prompts Ruth’s engagement with the Bradshaws? Is this a satisfactory one? What relationship does she form with Jemima, and how will this be important to the plot?
What parallel plot elements do you find between Ruth and other novels or narrative poems of the period—for example, Aurora Leigh, Oliver Twist, Adam Bede, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre, or Villette?
Why do you think Gaskell chose for her heroine a woman of such saintly sweetness and forbearance? Why do you think she is frequently described as weeping?
What is the importance of Ruth’s rejection of Mr. Bellingham’s proposal, and what grounds does she give for this? What are some unexpected or unconventional aspects of her response?
During his campaign, how has he responded to the issue of bribery?
What do we learn of Mr. Bellingham/Mr. Donne’s character from his future behavior? (he attempts to marry an heiress directly after leaving Ruth, her father involved in scandal)
On what grounds does Ruth reject his offer to support Leonard? What are her motives in depriving her son of the advantages which presumably his father could bestow?
What do you make of Sally’s offer of her life savings to her employers?
Why do you think Gaskell creates as the novel’s basic unit a family which consists of a brother, sister, servant, and outsider whom they support from compassion?
What purpose is served by the inclusion of Jemima in the novel? Of Mr. Farquhar? What attitude toward a “fallen woman” does each represent? How do their responses affect the fates of the Bensons and Ruth? (Jemima reaches out to the Bensons and encourages Mr. Farquhar to help Leonard.)
Two cholera epidemics had broken out in England in the period directly before the composition of Ruth. How do you think this may have influenced Gaskell’s representation of Ruth’s vocation as a nurse, and also her audience’s response to the novel’s conclusion?
How does Gaskell negotiate the issue of the private schooling for boys to prepare them for middle-class occupations? (wants Leonard to remain home as long as possible, but formal schooling will be inevitable)
What tenet of Mr. Benson seems borne out by the conclusion to Gaskell’s novel? (redemption is possible, even after the lapses which society judges most harshly)
Why do you think the novel focuses at such length on the responses to Ruth’s death?
What events cause Mr. Bradshaw to temper his overbearing pride? (son’s misbehavior and near-fatal accident) Are there parallels between this plot element and Mr. Carson’s softened heart at the conclusion of Mary Barton?
Why do you think Gaskell returns to the theme of the proud man who is forced to accept the death and/or acknowledged imperfections of his son?
Why do you think Gaskell chooses to end her novel with Mr. Bradshaw’s final change of heart?
Does Ruth contain more directly religious references and biblical quotations than either Mary Barton or North and South? If so, to what do you attribute this slightly altered tone?
What effect do Ruth’s ministrations have on the outbreak of cholera in her community? What benefit is gained for Leonard through her efforts?
What motivates her to return to nurse Mr. Bellingham in particular? Do you think she is attached to him?
What fate does Ruth suffer in return for her nursing of Bellingham? Does this seem symbolic?
Do you feel the ending resolves satisfactorily the issues and tensions evoked in Gaskell’s novel?
What are some contrasts and resemblances between the endings of Ruth and of Mary Barton?
What are some of Gaskell’s merits as a writer? (able to build drama from small, domestic, morally significant scenes)