Ruth drove me crazy; women who are vulnerable and have such terrible obstacles thrown at them should gain
empathy. Gaskell seemed to go to the extreme with Ruth: tragedy, poverty, isolation and no fight. Her character felt one-dimensional.
Ruth starts alone in the world working as a dressmaker, at the beginning she shows empathy towards a fellow dressmaker and some spunk which does make her likable. She meets a Mr. Bellingham, who is completely narcissistic and infatuated with her innocence/beauty/sex appeal, and they end up in a compromising situation which changes her life forever. Eventually alone and abandoned by Bellingham she meets a Mr. Benson who takes her under her wing. He lives with his sister and they both protect and care for Ruth.
Many things happen to eventually bring Ruth into a position of respectableness and she finally finds her way in the world. Unfortunately, her past is rekindled and she is exposed as a corrupt and fallen woman. Some of the wonderful things that I found in Mary Barton were not to be found with Ruth. This novel was a story that was too extreme in its tragedy, Ruth had no fight and by the end I couldn't sympathize with her situation any longer.
On the other hand, I thought Mr. Benson's character was incredibly interesting. He had a physical challenge with his health but I thought he was strong and a plausible potential love interest. Gaskell did a nice job in showing us the depth of his character and his struggles between his religious beliefs and Ruth's past. He is so much more than a black and white character and he sees the shades of gray that make it so difficult to judge others.
If Gaskell wanted to impress upon the reader the double standard and incredible unfairness to women at that time, she could have been a little less heavy-handed. For me, giving Ruth a bit more strength and depth would have drawn me to her more.