The ideas presented in Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s “Ruth” are claimed as shocking for her time, but what is the reasoning behind this? The idea of a woman either having an affair or sex before marriage was not taken lightly in Gaskell’s time. In the 18th century women were intended to align with a particular mold of what could be considered a conservative woman. Also social class standing was a supreme ruler of the time period, reigning power over jobs, love, marriage, and child birth. These were some of the barriers that Ruth was set to face throughout her life. The connection shared between Ruth and Mr. Bellingham was considered far from acceptable due to her class standing. Unlike the idealized version of that Disney movies and romantic comedies of the past centuries have taught my generation, love was not the foundation of marriage, although this didn’t prevent Ruth from loving Mr. Bellingham. The struggles that Ruth was forced to face after her relationship with Mr. Bellingham may have been directly related to the social constraints put in place by society during her time, but they were not faced by Ruth alone. I believe this is why Gaskell chose such a character as Ruth, who with guilt and remorse for her actions, can still appear as a simple victim or potentially a heroin to society today.
Ruth’s so claimed indiscretion was so preposterous to those of her time, yet its commonality among society is what could truly be claimed appalling. The secrecy behind sex before marriage, adultery, and illegitimate children was profound in the 18th century not only among the lower classes but also among the royals. Many members of the royal families including Kings were known to have several illegitimate children of which they kept terrifyingly secret to society. In fact it was so common that to this day there is a known society of individuals that call themselves, The Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons & Daughters of the Kings of Britain also known as The Royal Bastards. These members are required to present formal documentation to prove their ancestry of these illegitimate children spawning from royalty. Although their ancestors were probably mocked and shunned simply for where they came from, they are still the decedents of royalty. The list of royal family members is so long that it insinuates all royal families of the 18th century more than likely produced at least on illegitimate child that was most likely hidden from society.
One of the most famous kings of England was “Henry VIII, who beheaded two of his six wives left four legitimate children and possibly four, but positively two, illegitimate children,” (Ryan). Another was King Henry’s predecessor “King Charles II who was known to have 13 known mistresses and between 14 and 17 illegitimate children,” (Ryan). “George III, whose long reign from 1760 to 1820 included 15 children by his German wife but also four illegitimate ones by a mistress, Hannah Lightfoot,” (Ryan). Then number of cases containing royal families with illegitimate children is truly alarming. In today’s society that would mean a larger royal family then any one truly knows, and possibly more heirs to the throne than imagined. Through truly none of the members of The Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons & Daughters of the Kings of Britain intend to declare in formal rights, I find it interesting that such shame can be placed on women like Ruth when its true commonality among royal familie
s is more apparent.
Ryan, Bill. “The Royal Family Tree Sprouts Unofficial Limbs.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Jan. 1993. Web. 21 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/03/nyregion/the-royal-family-tree-sprouts-unofficial-limbs.html?pagewanted=all>.