Thursday, August 26, 2010

Elizabeth Gaskell wuz here...

Our first night in England was spent in Manchester and before I left the next day, I was determined to see the house where Elizabeth Gaskell had lived while she wrote many of her greatest works.  My husband and I got in a taxi and on the way to the train station, we took a little side trip to get some photographs of the exterior. I knew that the house wasn't open for tours (what a disappointment), but I had to at least see the outside, after coming all the way from Canada!

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, UK
2010 marks the bicentennial of the birth of this great author and as I stood outside her home I got quite choked up about it. I'm sure the taxi-driver was wondering why an old house was bringing tears to my eyes, and my husband probably thought I was just disappointed I couldn't go in for a tour, but really, just the thought that I was actually standing outside the house of Elizabeth Gaskell, one of my most favourite authors -- the more I learn about her and the more I read her works -- this was what was making me so overcome with emotion! (Okay, possibly the jet lag might also have had something to do with it!)

The sign on the fence says: Manchester's neglected treasure is being restored.  Well, it's about time, I say! Why is every other English author more revered than this one? Gaskell was an immensely talented author, so much so that Charles Dickens (who called his “dear Scheherazade) persuaded her to contribute stories to his literary magazine, "Household Words".  Her works are as lively and entertaining today as they were when they were written in the middle of the 19th century.
 Referred to as Mrs. Gaskell, and the wife of a Unitarian minister, some may have dismissed her writings as preachy Victorian chic lit.  But those people were so wrong!

Elizabeth Gaskell is difficult to categorize (especially so to Victorian society) because she had so many differing interests.  She was highly educated, she travelled, she was very social, with a wide group of friends, aquaintances and correspondents, she was a minister's wife (with all the duties both real and expected that that entails) as well as a mother of several children (some who died in childhood). Most famously she was an author -- a very successful one! It is a wonder that she found time to write the novels and short stories that told about the working class people and their terrible living conditions in northern industrial cities, or the idyllic village life before the coming of the industrial revolution, and all with an eye to a colourful realism, in that no one is all good or all bad and there is always a bit of amusement to be found in the simplest things.

Other Sources of information about Elizabeth Gaskell:
  • A paper written by Kay Saucier discusses Elizabeth Gaskell's religious beliefs and how they influenced her writing. Entitled Elizabeth Gaskell, British Unitarianism and Darwinism, it sheds light on how Gaskell's writings fit in with the time and the society within which she lived.
  • An article entitled Elizabeth Gaskell's Manchester by Alan Shelston for the Elizabeth Gaskell Society Journal, (Vol. 3, 1989) 
  • A great review of her novel North and South is on Gathering Books blog 
  • My blogger buddy Maria Grazia from FLY HIGH! has a fascinating post about Mrs. Gaskell's very romantic visit to Rome. 
  • An article from The Daily Mail  The Amazing Secret Life of Cranford creator Elizabeth Gaskell. by Tony Rennell.
  • A post at Lizr128's Blog compares the work of Elizabeth Gaskell to Jane Austen.
  • Here is a Youtube video interview by Penguin Classics on Air  with screenwriter Sue Birtwistle who makes a comparison between Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen

Books by Elizabeth Gaskell include:
These are the Penguin Classics versions, which I enjoy because of the extensive introductions and background notes. -- The covers are nice too!

Mary Barton (1848)
On my wishlist
Ruth (1853)
Also on my wishlist

Cranford (1853)
Reading it now.

Watch Cranford trailer here.
Cranford and its sequel stars Judy Dench (2nd from left).

North and South (1855)
My favourite!

BBC (2004)
 Well, what can I say about this adaptation? It is simply the best period drama miniseries I have ever seen! Seeing the miniseries inspired me to read the book, which did not disappoint. Although there were a couple of scenes changed from the book to the television production, on the whole it was a remarkably faithful reimagining of the story. 
To me, the story of North and South seems to be the closest to Mrs. Gaskell's real life experience with romance. She seems to have had a happy married life. One can only hope that Mr. Gaskell was as dreamy as is the character of John Thornton as played by Richard Armitage!

Here is a trailer for the miniseries North and South starring Richard Armitage 
and Danielle Denby-Ashe. HeathDances has kindly given me permission to show it here.

 Sylvia's Lovers (1863)
On my wishlist
 Cousin Phillis (1865)
(Short stories) Read and loved it!

Wives and Daughters (1866)
Enjoyed it very much.

Sadly, Wives and Daughters was Elizabeth's last book, as she died at the age of 55 just before its completion. Many critics consider this her finest work, and I know one blogger who likes this adaptation even better than North and South! Too bad Richard Armitage isn't in it!

Wives and Daughters 1999
Save the Best for Last (Roger & Molly) / by KDRainstorm

If you are lucky enough to live in Great Britain or will be travelling there soon, and you are a Gaskell fan, here is a website with information about touring the area and a schedule of events for Gaskell's bi-centenary.


Starheart said...

Very interesting post!

If I were making a plaque to Elizabeth Gaskell I'd put N&S first on the line up. Something like misplaced runner-up disappointment wells up in me when I look at at that blue sign.

Phylly3 said...

I know!! But what can I do? That is what they had on her house. (Maybe we should all complain to the Elizabeth Gaskell Society!)

Starheart said...

Exactly, let's start a petition. Something should get bumped!
Do we really need both "Novelist" AND 'Authoress'? Come on! There's another Something and Something Else that should be up there.
Do we need both 1810-1865 AND 1850-1865 on there? Hmm, better keep it for the historians.
There's room for 1 more line of text down the bottom where that gaping blue space is.

JaneGS said...

I'm with you on the frustrations associated with being a Gaskell fan. In fact, I started my blog so that I could write about her works as I read them in order a year or so ago. I joined the Gaskell Society and have enjoyed getting their publications and invitations to events I can never attend, and I'm thrilled that they are restoring Gaskell's house in Manchester--you're right, it's about time!

Great post--thanks for letting us tag along on your pilgrimage.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this fascinating and informative post! When I discovered Gaskell's work I was shocked that she was so "unknown" here and ignored in British Lit classes. It's definitely a crime!

RAFrenzy said...

I also was shocked I didn't know much about her and had never heard of North and South. Thank heaven for YouTube.

@Phylly, Loving your posts about your trip!

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

Great post! Sadly, I haven't read one EG book, but LOVE all of her book-turned-movies, such as N&S, Wives & Daughters and Cranford. I bought them together in a Elizabeth Gaskell collection from amazon at the beginning of the year and they're like comfort food for my brain. I have also wondered why her work isn't more well-known in our part of the world!?

Phylly3 said...

My discovery of Elizabeth Gaskell is another reason I have for appreciating Richard Armitage. Had I never seen the BBC's production of North and South or even -- had they not had the great foresight to cast him in the role of John Thornton, I would still be ignorant of Elizabeth Gaskell's wonderful writing talent!

tyme_4_t said...

Great post - I spent my stay-cation reading N&S for the first time! What a wonderful book and now I have Gaskell's other novels & short stories on my must read list.
It's funny because usually I read the book first and then watch any tv/movies adaptations. But with Gaskell, I've seen the tv versions first which means that while reading N&S I pictured RA and heard his voice whenever Mr. Thornton appeared...ahhh nice way to spend an afternoon ;)

Avalon said...

I sympathize with you as I have done this many of times in front of historical places (like native massacres, infamous warrior graves, and Civil War sites). I am sentimental like this.

Charleybrown said...

Lovely that you got to visit Phylly! And I could see myself getting emotional if I was there as well! I'm so pleased that you're a Gaskell fan - sometimes I think she doesn't get enough notice beneath Austen's shadow.

mulubinba said...

Thankyou for this lovely post Phylly. I have only read N&S. Cranford is airing out here at the moment but I agree, I'm surprised N&S is not as well recognised as some of her other works.

Traxy said...

Great post! :) Would love to read and see more of EG's works. Have only read N&S (surprise, surprise) and seen N&S (again, surprise) and bits of Cranford. Really a shame she's not as well-known as some of her contemporaries. She's a brilliant author! :) Shame that her house isn't some kind of museum. Would've been interesting to visit.

DEZMOND said...

oh, I just adore CRANFORD, that's the best acted series ever!

JaneGS said...

I so regret that I didn't go to Manchester when I was in the UK last year. I wanted to, but just couldn't fit it in.

I have a theory why Gaskell has been overlooked. I think it's that blasted "Mrs." that people still insist on putting in front of Gaskell instead of "Elizabeth." I think it trivializes her as an author and makes people think she was less important than she was. Once the patronizing started (with Dickens, et al), it was impossible to get it to stop.

And that's my soapbox rant...