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Synopsis

Ruth is a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth is a young orphan girl working in a respectable sweatshop for the overworked Mrs Mason. She is selected to go to a ball to repair torn dresses. At the ball she meets the aristocratic Henry Bellingham, a rake figure who is instantly attracted to her. They meet again by chance and form a secret friendship; on an outing together they are spotted by Mrs Mason who, fearing for her shop's reputation, dismisses Ruth. The book is a social novel, dealing with Victorian views about sin and illegitimacy. It is a surprisingly compassionate portrayal of a 'fallen woman', a type of person normally outcast from respectable society. Ruth goes on to gain a respectable position in society as a governess. Ruth may be compared to Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter and it anticipates Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Ruth, like Tess, is a working-class girl who is distinguished from her peers by both unusual sensitivity and sexual ignorance.

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