When Paul Manning begins working as an engineer clerk for the railroad, he decides to move in with his mother's family on their farm. There, he is able to be closer to his job as the railroad paves the way for further industrialization of rural areas. While Paul is advancing in his career and settling in his new home, his attention is held by his cousin, Phillis. Paul and Phillis become quick friends and confidants. Worried for her, Paul keeps a close eye on Phillis as she comes of age. Because of Phillis' beauty and high intelligence, she does not seem to fit into any social circles. Many other women feel that she is not lady-like enough, and men are threatened by her superior intellect. However, as Paul and Phillis grow closer, Phillis meets his boss, and quickly falls in love with him. Edward Holdsworth, Paul's boss, is a very intelligent man, and is not intimidated by Phillis' equal intellect. Though, as their relationship continues, Paul becomes uneasy about the match, feeling uncomfortable about the age gap between his cousin and Holdsworth. Despite his objections and guidance, Phillis ultimately must decide her place in the world by herself. As she grows older, this only becomes more confusing as the Industrial Revolution rises alongside her, changing a world that she never yet had the chance to gain footing in.
Separated into four parts, Cousin Phillis contains a narrative the spans throughout both Paul and Phillis' coming of age as they grow, find occupations, love, and navigate the rigid social expectations of the Victorian era. Considered by literary critics and professionals to be one of Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's crowning achievements, Cousin Phillis is a moving narrative filled with drama, sentiment, and humor. While Cousin Phillis reveals thoughtful perspectives on Victorian life, especially regarding gender dynamics and social changes amid the Industrial Revolution, it also portrays the universally relatable experience of coming-of-age, creating a narrative with both historical significance and timeless relatability.
This edition of Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell features a striking new cover design and is printed in an easy-to-read font, making it both readable and modern.