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Sylvia's Lovers

LucindaE rereads Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers not as a sentimental love story, but rather, a merciless tale of flawed love and thwarted ambition

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers begins in a lively, upbeat tone; its first volume is undoubtedly delightful and might, in the first instance, lead a reader to assume that the novel is meant to be primarily a romantic story. However, as you read on through the “gathering shadows” of the second volume, and the unrestrained melodrama and improbable coincidences of the third, the novel concludes as something along the lines of a love story gone wrong.

It’s Monkshaven during the French Revolutionary Wars; press gangs are seizing the crews of returning whalers to force into the Navy. Sylvia’s imagination has been fired by Kinraid’s heroics in trying to protect his shipmates by having a shoot out with one of these gangs, during which he’s killed two of its members, only escaping trial through being “kicked aside and left for dead” himself.

During his recovery, Kinraid stays with his relatives, the Corneys, and takes to coming round to talk with Sylvia’s father, the foolish Daniel Robson, an ex-whaler himself. Kinraid impresses Sylvia with his tales of adventure on the Greenland Seas, and she is struck by his handsomeness: “His eyes and hair were dark, the former quick, deep set, and penetrating; the latter curly, and almost in ringlets. His teeth gleamed white as he smiled at her.”

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