Ever since the reading of North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell has never failed to disappoint me. Personally, I don’t know if any of her other works could top North and South but each one certainly reaches my “Top Books of the Year” annual reading list. Ruth is by far no exception.
Like Gaskell’s other heroines, Ruth is strong yet tender; but unlike those I’ve read before her, she is the most naive. Being orphaned at a young age, she has had no education or loving counsel on the rights and wrongs of conduct. Nor has she been taught to discern insincerity or malice in others. Therefore she sees no danger of allowing a man she’s barely met to whisk her away to a distant place alone and unaccompanied. She can only see kindness and compassion, ignoring his impatience and temper, which leads her to trust him completely.
It may come to no great surprise to find her later pregnant and destitute. No one but an old hunchbacked preacher and his sister have pity. From the age of 16 to maturity Ruth works under the guise of a widowed Mrs. Denbigh as governess for the children of the self-righteous politician, Mr. Bradshaw.
As I read, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how it could symbolize the Gospel of Salvation. Ruth tried her hardest to find redemption and make up for her sins but never feels as if she’s ever enough. Instead, she sees her sins as constantly before her.
But Mr. Benson, like Jesus, knows Ruth best (both the good and bad) and took her in when no one else would often sacrificing his own comfort and means in order to supply for her own necessities. He loved her, saw her potential, and supported her even in her darkest days. That sort of love and self-sacrifice reminded me much of the Lord in His care for us.
Mr. Bradshaw on the other hand, could symbolize any one of us. He excuses his own sins of bribing voters as a necessary but unsavory means to an end. Yet, when he discovers that his widowed Mrs. Denbigh is in reality tainted Ruth, he pops a gasket. It’s all right to lie in order to get his means to an end but anyone else is strictly the worst of sinners.
Though the story of Ruth might show more of a “salvation through works” theme instead of one of grace, one can still see the need for a Savior. We cannot redeem ourselves without working ourselves to the bone and feeling grossly inadequate in the process.