Set in nineteenth-century England, Wives and Daughters centers on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new stepsister enters Molly's quiet life, the loveable but worldly and troubling Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford. Wives and Daughters, generally thought to be Elizabeth Gaskell's finest achievement, is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life. It offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society through the themes of Darwinism, the role of women, and the concept of Englishness.