Elizabeth Gaskell's only historical novel, Sylvia's Lovers, is set in 1790 in the seaside town of Monkshaven (Whitby) where press-gangs wreak havoc by seizing young men for service in the Napoleonic wars. One of their victims is whaling harpooner, Charley Kinraid, whose charm and vivacity have captured the heart of Sylvia Robson. But Sylvia's devoted cousin, Philip Hepburn, hopes to marry her himself and, in order to win her, deliberately withholds crucial information - with devastating consequences. With its themes of suffering, unrequited love, and the clash between desire and duty, Sylvia's Lovers is one of the most powerfully moving of all Gaskell's novels, reputedly described by its author as 'the saddest story I ever wrote'.
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