Mrs Kirkpatrick, step-mother to the heroine Molly, is a wonderful character in one of Elizabeth Gaskell’s finest novels. Published in 1860 soon after her sudden death, it has the human warmth and playfulness of English novels half a century before such as Jane Austen, including lightweights and air-heads such as Mrs. K.  I loved this metaphor for a mind so mirror-smooth that nothing sticks.

‘Mirror-like’ also takes me back to a historical character, the ancient Chinese court fool, Mirror-like Lu. In his case, it was the jester acting as a mirror to power, allowing the Emperor to reflect on his behaviour.

‘… while it had slipped of the smooth surface of Mrs Kirkpatrick’s mirror-like mind without leaving any impression.’

Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (London: Penguin Classics, 1986 (1866)), p. 168


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