Great word ‘termagant’, sadly underused and, referring as it does to bad-tempered women, no doubt politically unacceptable. Here it describes Betty, the servant of the Gibson household.  I like the juxtaposition of ‘termagant’, with all the sour-temper that implies, and her undoubted kind-heartedness.  However, the little girl Molly, while recognising the rough warmth, still prefers to share her ‘griefs and pleasures’ with her father.

‘Though her papa laughed at her, quizzed her, joked at her, in a way which the Miss Brownings called ‘really cruel’ to each other when they were quite alone, Molly took all her little griefs and pleasures and poured them into her papa’s ears sooner even than into Betty’s, that kind-hearted termagant.’

Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (London: Penguin Classics, 1986 (1866)), p. 63

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