Monday, May 28, 2012

Elizabeth Gaskell's England

In a previous post, @IdleHistorian confessed to never having read Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. Now, I (@SloaneScholar1) must also come clean and reveal that I have never read the works of Elizabeth Gaskell. Shock. Horror. Bewilderment. Yes, it's true. I was weaned on Jane Austen. I have tackled the George Elliot. I laboured over Charlotte Brontë. But, in recent years I have neglected the prim and proper 18th/19th centuries for the bold, dystopian, and very "modern" 20th century. My shelves are filled with Sarah Waters, Virgina Woolfe, Graeme Green, and Andrea Levy. I still seek out delicate portraits of social manners and, as @IdleHistorian described to me in an email, novels that show a more "subtle touch in delineating social problems, change and human character." And so, I have made an effort to squeeze in Winifred Holtby's South Riding, Rosamund Lehman, and, of course, Nancy Mitford. You might (rightly) wonder, how one even has time to write a dissertation with all of this fiction reading!

This summer, I will endeavour to correct this oversight by reading Cranford. I understand there's an accompanying BBC series, which will be my reward for getting through the tome. I will be posting on my progress and, perhaps, I can encourage a colleague (who wrote a master's cognate on Gaskell's representations of the working classes) to guest-post her thoughts and my fellow Anglophiles on LIACC to chime in!

Wish me luck.


I wholeheartedly endorse @SloaneScholar1's foray into reading the works of Elizabeth Gaskell! I do think she is one of those underappreciated novelists of the nineteenth century. Like Anthony Trollope, her novels are often too narrowly typecast. Trollope is seen as a somewhat fusty writer who is too preoccupied with nineteenth-century mores or religion to appeal to the modern reader (I disagree), and Gaskell is viewed as domestic, even a bit "twee." (Indeed one of the criticisms of the miniseries of Cranford was that it was "sentimental" - as a sort of code for "too female.") While the minseries necessarily took great liberties with the stricter narrative of the book, I don't believe that either are at all "twee." Gaskell (as demonstrated in North and South) was at home describing a variety of disparate settings, class structures, and views of the world in an age of great flux.

I have Wives and Daughters presently on my bookshelf for summer reading. I await further discussion!


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