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Most important for Gaskell’s redemption plot, by her nursing Ruth is absolved of past sin in the eyes of the community, and the shame of Leonard’s illegitimacy is wiped away: “From that day forward Leonard walked erect in the streets of Eccleston, where ‘many arose and called her blessed’” (430). Just how embedded the purified Ruth is in a middle-class domestic ideology is revealed by Gaskell’s choice of Bible passage here. 29 In effect, the novel’s progressive social narrative is complete when Ruth is reintegrated into the Bensons’ domestic sphere after the epidemic is over: “Miss Benson would insist upon making Ruth lie down on the sofa.
H. Welch, Public Health in Theory and Practice, 27; Ackerknecht, “Anticontagionism,” 576; Rosenberg, “The Cause of Cholera: Aspects of Etiological Thought in Nineteenth-Century America,” 333–34. 22 Medical Women and Victorian Fiction Disease, and particularly fever, had long been associated with immorality. But anticontagionism asserted a direct causal link between the two: the “filth” of immorality not only generated fever, but “immoral” persons were predisposed to it; “moral” persons were largely immune to it and could treat it in others.
Rev. 23. Nightingale, “On Trained Nursing for the Sick Poor,” 312. 26 Medical Women and Victorian Fiction Benson is likewise “shocked” by the “want of moral courage” and the “overt act of guilt” of Bradshaw’s son Richard, who had forged Benson’s name on an insurance policy and embezzled its value (406, 411). Appropriately, though, Benson’s greatest wrath is reserved for Ruth’s seducer, Bellingham/Donne: “Men may call such actions as yours, youthful follies! There is another name for them with God,” he tells him, “I thank God, you have no right, legal or otherwise, over the child.