“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”

is a line from the Elizabeth Gaskell book ‘Ruth’. I finished it yesterday and this is the line that sticks with me.

The novel is about a young orphan girl, Ruth (working as a dressmaker’s apprentice).

ballroom photo
Photo by State Library of Queensland, Australia

 

She meets a wealthy aristocratic young man, Mr Bellingham, at a ball where she must mend rips and tears in the dresses of the the young ladies who attend. Her employer, Mrs Mason, is a tough, strict lady, and when Mrs Mason sees Ruth walking with Mr Bellingham she tells the young girl never to return. Cast-off like a cast-off, Ruth allows herself to be persuaded to go away with Mr Bellingham and is, consequently, ruined.

When Bellingham falls ill in a Welsh Inn and his mother arrives to take him home, Ruth is once more cast-off – and pregnant, but this time a Dissident Minister and his sister, Mr and Miss Benson, take pity on her and persuade her to return with them, under the guise of new widow.

Mr Benson is concerned not just with the law of the land, but also with what Jesus would do, and is persuaded by his sister to let the townsfolk believe Ruth is a widowed relation of theirs and thus the deception begins. Once the truth is out, the effects are, at first, devastating for Ruth and her son, Leonard, and the Minister wonders if they should have spoken the truth from the outset.

When politics comes to the town, and one man suggests using the weaknesses of other men to forward their own purposes, Benson says: “We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

This stuck with me, and reminded me of that saying “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” I’ve never liked this saying and believe there is always a way of doing things that does not have to be cruel.

When we shrug and tell ourselves, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind”, we are justifying the means.

Yet there is the question of the greater good. Should we agree to the bombing of a city to kill lots of militants when we know innocents will be killed?

Can cruel means ever be justified?

“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

Can good results ever come from evil deeds?

It’s all to easy to think the end justifies the means sometimes, but does it?

Certainly got me thinking.

Louise

Book Musings: The Girl In The Photograph, by Kate Riordan.

I’ve been on holiday! And while on holiday without wifi I managed to catch up on some reading – and found a new author in the process. Kate Riordan.

Kate Riordan Girl in the Photograph

I must mention that the book is published in the UK under ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ and in the US and Canada as ‘Fiercombe Manor’.

I’m not usually a fan of books that flip between two different time periods, even though these two were only 1932 and 1898, but when I ‘looked inside’ on Amazon I was immediately hooked by the first couple of lines – in a Prologue no less. So much for those who declare prologues to be essentially evil. Beautifully written prose:

“Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two.”

I adore writing like this, always have. Some might say, ” How can secrets fret?”, but I’m not one of those, and anyway, by the end of the novel you understand. So I downloaded and settled in to enjoy, and was not disappointed.

I’m not going to write a summary of the novel, you can read that on Amazon, but I will say that I think the way the lives of Alice and Elizabeth are told and interwoven is beautiful. I loved the parallels drawn between the two women and found I identified a great deal with Elizabeth, who Alice gets to know through a diary and smidgens of information dropped by the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. I understood Elizabeth, and why she did what she did at the end.

And, another thing – I never felt annoyed when the author switched to the other woman. There are times when, in some books I have read, that the switch between pov’s or time periods has irritated me. Yes, there is such a thing as tension and keeping the reader guessing, but there’s also telling a story and using the natural curiosity of the reader to lead them into the next point of view. I thought Ms Riordan did that wonderfully.

The only thing I wanted to understand better was why Tom Stanton was attracted to Alice, but it’s quite possible I missed something in my haste to find out what happened.

This is the kind of novel I will read again, not just because I know I must have missed things, but also because this the kind of novel that leaves something with me. I’ve already downloaded Birdcage Walk. Can’t wait.