27 January 2015

Elizabeth Gaskell's Home

Title page of Gaskell's Cranford from my library
designed by Reginald Knowles in the style of William Morris.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1820 - 1865)became one of my favorite writers a decade or so ago after I read this charming little edition of Cranford A Tale. I had bought it as a decorative item for its gold embossed
"maroon leatherette cover" with gilded pages and the phrase hidden in the gold on the cover and repeated on the lovely end papers of this volume: "Everyman: I will go with thee and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side."  

Everyman's Library maroon leatherette cover.
It is an early volume of Everyman's Library edited by Ernest Rhys #318 with  "Forewords" by May Sinclair.
Here is a link to Rhys's obituary by Robert Lynd.
"This binding has a spine that is identical to the standard flat spine, with an additional floral gilt design on the cover. The corners of the binding are rounded, and the top edge of the pages is gilt. A silk book marker is also bound in. It originally sold for two shillings--twice the price of the standard cloth. This binding was phased out near the time that the quarter pigskin binding was discontinued." So my volume was published between 1906 and 1918. Here is a link to collecting Everyman's Library where I found the binding information and other delightful meanders: http://www.everymanslibrarycollecting.com/site_index.html

I started  meandering because one of my favorite bloggers, Catherine Pope - Victorian Geek, noted that Elizabeth Gaskell's house in Manchester has been extensively renovated and is now open to the public. "Oh, to be in England..." but I'm not.  I am instead enjoying a warm and sunny winter's day in Houston--screen door open to the fresh air and a happy dog napping on the patio, quite lovely--and I can make do with a virtual tour.
Oh, my! Who wouldn't want to visit a house where Charlotte Bronte once hid "behind the curtains to avoid making small talk with other guests." Gaskell wrote an 1857 biography of Bronte just two years after her death. Gaskell's only published non-fiction, I think, created so much controversy that she vowed that no biography of herself should ever be written.

In Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign, A book of appreciations 1897, Edna Lyall wrote the chapter about Gaskell, available on the Victorian Web, and credited her with "a mind as delicately pure as a child's, wedded to that true mother's heart which is wide enough to take in all the needy." A phrase that caused me to laugh aloud since "delicate purity" is not necessarily an attribute of childhood and, even it were, could not long survive within "a true mother's heart" encountering "all the needy" while visiting prison and writing about social ills and issues, in particular those of fallen womanhood.
Sometime ago I stumbled upon this delightful reference: Revoking Victorian Silences: Redemption of fallen women through speech in Elizabeth Gaskell's fiction  by Comanchette Rene McBee, 2012, Iowa State University, and revisited it today.

Another favorite blogger, Catherine Hawley at Juxtabook contributes a few details to my virtual tour as she describes her October visit to 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, to hear Carolyn Lambert discuss her book, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Meaning of Home, published by Victorian Secrets. Here is a link to their catalogue entry: http://www.victoriansecrets.co.uk/catalogue/the-meanings-of-home-in-elizabeth-gaskells-fiction/

I have downloaded a sample of Lambert's book and am seriously considering buying it. Here is the Amazon link:
Download a sample. Lambert's Meaning of Home... Gaskell's fiction.

 Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte is in the public domain and widely available as a digital book free. I purchased  this two volume Kindle edition from Amazon for $0.99 each because I thought the illustrations were worth a couple of bucks. Volume one (Illustrated) and Volume two (illustrated)

I  highly recommend reading Cranford or enjoying the excellent BBC production.
If you enjoy it, you'll probably also like Lark Rise to Candleford based on the semi-autobiographical novels of Flora Thompson.

Gaskell is a great favorite and I have twice her been mentioned in my blog. These postings date to a time when I was doing a much better job of maintaining my reading list than I have done of late.
Quoting those blogs:

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn:  Mary Barton. 1848. Kindle. Project Gutenberg.   This book is essentially a love story with characters about whom it is easy to care.  That empathy is the snare to engage the reader in a discussion of capitalism and the conflict between mill owners and workers and in an investigation of power, money, and faith.

Gaskell, Elizabeth:  North and South.  1854.  Kindle.  Project Gutenberg.  First published in serial form in Household Words 1854-1855 and in volume form in 1855.  The story concerns a dissenting Anglican minister and his family (wife and daughter) who move from their parish in the South to the cotton textile manufacturing city in the North and interact with both the owner of a mill and the men and women who work in the mills.  Well-crafted characters and social interaction, especially between classes, are Gaskell's strong points.   A compelling read. Highly recommended.

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