The disconnect between how Miss Mathilda actually lived, and how she could have lived, is well symbolized in a story she tells about her childhood:
"My father once made us," she began, "keep a diary, in two columns; on one side we were to put down in the morning what we thought would be the course and events of the coming day, and at night we were to put down on the other side what really had happened. It would be to some people rather a sad way of telling their lives," (a tear dropped upon my hand at these words)--"I don't mean that mine has been sad, only so very different to what I expected. ... "
Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford [Ch. XI]