The next author to tour The Classics Circuit will be Elizabeth Gaskell.
The tour will run from 16 November until the middle or end of December (depending on interest), overlapping with the Wilkie Collins tour. Sign up for the tour using the form at the bottom of this post.
About Elizabeth Gaskell and Her Writing
Information compiled by Teresa.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) wrote novels, short stories, and a biography of Charlotte Bronte, with North and South as possibly her best known novel.
Born Elizabeth Stevenson, Gaskell spent most of her childhood living with her aunt in Knutsford, a town outside Manchester that later became the inspiration for Gaskell’s comic novel, Cranford, and for the town of Hollingford in Wives and Daughters. She married the Unitarian minister William Gaskell around 1832, and the couple resided in Manchester, where they distributed food and clothing to the poor. Through this work, Gaskell saw firsthand how industrialization was creating squalid conditions for the urban poor, and this became a prominent theme in Gaskell’s social-problem novels, particularly Mary Barton and North and South. Gaskell challenged social conventions by writing about prostitution and illegitimacy in Ruth and about feminism in her biography of her good friend Charlotte Bronte.
Charles Dickens was one of her great admirers, so much so that after reading Mary Barton, he invited her to write for his magazines Household Worlds and All the Year Round. It was here that Gaskell’s ghost stories and the stories that would become Cranford were first published. Although Gaskell’s social problem novels were often controversial for expressing progressive views, this short fiction was well received and very popular. Gaskell died in 1865, while still writing Wives and Daughters.
Information compiled by Eva. Note: A helpful website is The Gaskell Web. I provided the Gutenberg links to e-texts, but then I found this page of nicely organised into novels, novellas, and separate stories. I think it’s the better option.
Mary Barton (464 pgs in Penguin Classics edition) (Project Gutenberg)
Mary Barton is the pretty daughter of a factory worker who finds herself dreaming of a better life when the mill-owner’s charming son, Henry, starts to court her. She rejects her childhood friend Jem’s affections in the hope of marrying Henry and escaping from the hard and bitter life that is the fate of the workers, who are resentfully dependent on the callous mill-owners for their livelihoods. But when Henry is shot dead in the street Jem becomes the prime suspect and Mary finds her loyalties tested to the limit.
- Shannan Loves Books and Movies: “The last 200 pages were filled with excitement that kept you at the edge of your seat.”
- The Indextrious Reader: “I started Mary Barton last week, and found I could hardly put it down.”
- Books I Done Read: “Maybe not my favorite, but still kind of awesome. Seven caterpillars.”
- Dreams and musings from the dark side of the moon: “Gaskell accomplishes what the masters and men have failed to do—she recognizes the humanity in each of them and hints at its potential if only it is discovered and embraced.”
- World of imagination, magic, and excitement: “While the book has its faults (this was Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel), I enjoyed it very much, more than North and South. She painted clear, vivid pictures of Manchester’s filth and disease. Her characters were also well drawn human beings. Seeing Mary change as her world was crumbling around her, I came to like her very much.”
Cranford (257 pgs in Penguin Classics edition) (Project Gutenberg)
A gently comic picture of life in an English country town in the mid-nineteenth century, Cranford describes the small adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle- aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Rich with humor and filled with vividly memorable characters — including the dignified Lady Glenmire and the duplicitous showman Signor Brunoni — Cranford is a portrait of kindness, compassion, and hope.
- Books and Cooks: ” The characters are lovely and charming, very much involved in their community and each other’s lives. It’s a fascinating portrait of life at this time, certainly it gives a real impression of everyday happenings.”
- Becky’s Book Reviews: ” The book is many things. It can be funny. It can be witty. It can be heartbreaking. It can be sweet. “
- Booknotes by Lisa: “This is a delightful little book. The women are eccentric, kind, funny, strong and yet vulnerable. I highly recommend this one. “
- Books ‘N Border Collies: “If you’re looking for an extremely accessible classic to pass a lazy afternoon, I couldn’t recommend a better book than Cranford.”
- Tammy’s Book Nook: “An utterly charming book! I have a fondness for English novels from this period anyway, and I found this one delightful — light-hearted, often funny, with many wonderful characters and just enough story to keep it going but not bog you down. “
- A Striped Armchair: “I effortlessly fell in love with all of the women, and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. For those who want to read more classics, but have never really enjoyed them, I can’t imagine a more accessible one. I highly recommend this to everyone!”
Ruth (432 pgs in Penguin Classics edition) (Project Gutenberg)
Ruth Hilton, an orphan and dressmaker’s assistant, is seduced and then heartlessly deserted by the wealthy Henry Bellingham. A dissenting minister advises her to pass as a widow and be employed as a governess with the tyrannical Mr Bradshaw. However, the deceit brings grievous consequences.
- A Library is the Hospital of the Mind: “The story has a beautiful, but bittersweet ending and overall it is so well written.”
- Only a Novel: “I started writing this post immediately after I finished reading the book, and the tears have yet to dry from my eyes. It was a very strange, and seemingly unnatural, experience for me, for I was crying—at some parts uncontrollably—as I was reading the last few chapters of this book. I did not think that fiction could have this much of an effect on me. But by the last few chapters, it all seemed very real, and my emotions were deeply felt and real, and difficult to explain to myself. “
- Eclectic Reader: “I felt that her treatment of Ruth was very balanced.”
- The Chris Saliba Web Experience: “Ruth is elegantly written and carefully constructed. The author’s sincerity and absolute belief in her message comes through in every line of the text, without the book ending up mawkish or sentimental. …Despite the novel’s aim as propaganda, it succeeds as art also.”
- Ex Libris: “I found Mrs. Gaskell to be an exceptional storyteller. Yes, I did question her motives for presenting the subject the way she did, but one cannot deny that her writing is superb. What this book did for me is make me think – think about my beliefs, think about how far we as a society have or have not come in terms of male/female equality, and what really constitutes sin. Perhaps this was Mrs. Gaskell’s ultimate goal for her readers – to make them (and us) think.”
North and South (480 pgs in Penguin Classics edition) (Project Gutenberg)
Milton is a sooty, noisy northern town centred around the cotton mills that employ most of its inhabitants. Arriving from a rural idyll in the south, Margaret Hale is initially shocked by the social unrest and poverty she finds in her new hometown. However, as she begins to befriend her neighbors, and her stormy relationship with the mill-owner John Thornton develops, she starts to see Milton in a different light.
- ReadingAdventures: “What the book was better at portraying than the mini-series was the build up in the emotions between our two principle characters, mainly because in a book you can get to know the inner thoughts and feelings which is much harder to do on screen. It definitely still happened on screen, but it was much more identifiable and palpable in the book.”
- Once Upon a Bookshelf: “Something where the female characters are strong, none of that ditzy female garbage. Where she can do more than just survive through the toughest stuff the world can throw at her, where she doesn’t go and throw herself into situations where you’re embarrassed to even be reading about them. Ah! Now that is what I call a very good read!”
- A Comfy Chair and a Good Book: “I am trying desperately to to capture this novel in a few short paragraphs and do it some justice but really, you have to read this novel. There are so many layers to the story and I am not adequate enough in my writing to give them justice. Gaskell’s writing really does display a calm intelligence.”
- The Joy of Reading: “I really enjoyed this book.”
- A Book Sanctuary: “What a book. Margaret Hale – what a woman and Mr Thornton – what a man. “
- And so I read: “i loved this book. it’s nestled itself right at the top of my favorites list.”
Sylvia’s Lovers (528 pgs in Penguin Classics edition) (Project Gutenberg)
A moving tale of a young woman caught between the attractions of two very different men, set in the time of Napoleon, against the tensions of wartime. As the author depicts Sylvia’s fateful decision to marry one man while loving the other, she deftly interweaves the eternal themes of jealousy, unrequited love, and the consequences of individual choice.
- Yet Another Adornment: “I finished Sylvia’s Lovers yesterday. Interesting story!”
- Mandy’s Blog: “Even though this is easily one of the saddest books I ever read, it is one of the best. It is the story of Sylvia, who can choose either a dashing sailor or plain, but good and steady, shopkeeper. The twists and turns are heart-wrenching, but the final scene of forgiveness at the end made me cry. “
- Megan of Goodreads says: “A was powerfully moving novel of a young woman caught between the attractions of two very different men.”
- Paula of Goodreads says: “I love the way this author looks into the hearts of her characters. There are no villains, just people who struggle to find happiness. Sometimes in the process, they might injure others, but it is rarely malicious. Some of her characters are truely saintly in their efforts to do the right thing. You go away feeling as if you know every character better than you know yourself. Elizabeth Gaskell has amazing human insight.”
- Laura of Goodreads says: “Even though her characters lived long ago, I could still relate and participate in their joys, sorrows, and lessons about life.”
Wives and Daughters (720 pgs in Penguin Classics edition; unfinished due to Gaskell’s death) (Project Gutenberg)
The heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel passes from childhood to maturity in a process that, though often painful for her, is sharply and humorously observed. Set in the early 19th century, this novel is a subtle representation of historical change explored in human terms.
- The Joy of Reading: “Still it is nicely written with many varied, interesting characters.”
- Shelf Love: “The book is not quite finished — Gaskell died before the last couple of chapters could be written — but it is finished enough for satisfaction; it’s easy to imagine the quietly happy ending. …This was another rousing success. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a lovely long Victorian read.”
- Becky’s Book Reviews: “A real panoramic, sweeping view or portrait of life.”
- Once Upon a Bookshelf: “This is one of those books where, after finishing it, I did absolutely nothing but just SIT there with a warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach, a smile on my face and the occasional happy sigh escaping – which is entirely not good at 2 in the morning.”
- Musings: While reading Wives and Daughters requires a significant time commitment, Gaskell writes beautifully and often with great wit, and this story held my interest to the very end. “
“Mr. Harrison’s Confessions” (100 pgs in Dodo Press edition)
Mr. Harrison’s Confessions is about a doctor in provincial England. It is notable for being a ‘prequel’ to her novel Cranford.
- Judy of GoodReads says: “Funny in its situations and facinating because it was written in the 1800′s. I plan on reading many more of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books!”
- Heidi of GoodReads says: “I liked it very much – it’s a bit lighter and more comic than the version of this story in the TV film, and a very quick read.”
- Rose of GoodReads says: “Lovely little book”
“The Moorland Cottage” (116 pgs in Book Jungle edition)
- Vulpes Libris: “a fine example of Gaskell’s Gothic ‘method’.”
- Between the Covers: “I was impressed by the clarity with which Gaskell showed how the witch craze started and was accepted by otherwise rational people. “
- Verity of GoodReads says: “Well written short story that is among the best of Gaskell’s work, in my humble opinion.”
- Abby of GoodReads says: “This is a short little story–a little dark, but very good. I love how Gaskell writes so that you feel what the character is feeling. “
“My Lady Ludlow” (184 pgs in Dodo Press edition) (Project Gutenberg)
It recounts the daily lives of the widowed Lady Ludlow of Hanbury and the spinster Miss Galindo, and their caring for other single women and girls. It is also concerned with Lady Ludlow’s man of business, Mr Horner, and a poacher’s son named Harry Gregson whose education he provides for.
- Susan of GoodReads says: “Novel humanized Lady Ludlow and spent quite a bit of time explaining her distaste for public education. “
- Laura of GoodReads says: “Although Gaskell was a keen observer of traditional English society, I think she hit upon a passion within those too few pages.”
- Geoff Russ of GoodReads says: “One of Gaskell’s best.”
“Cousin Phillis” (96 pgs in Dodo Press edition) (Project Gutenberg)
The story is about Paul Manning, a youth of nineteen who moves to the country and befriends his mother’s family and his (second) cousin Phillis Holman, who is confused by her own placement at the edge of adolescence.
- Slywy.com: “Cousin Phillis is a tiny treasure—always evocative, never overwrought.”
- Lizzy’s Literary Life: “In many ways standard Gaskell fare.”
- Cindi of GoodReads says: “Cousin Phyllis was a story that drew me in and kept me wanting to read it. It was a laid back and slow-paced story set in the country.”
- K. of GoodReads says: “Sweet little book by Gaskell.”
“A Dark Night’s Work” (172 pgs in Dodo Press edition) (Project Gutenberg)
The plot of A Dark Night’s Work turns on concealed crime and a false accusation of murder.
- Heaven-Ali of Library Thing says: ” read twice many years ago, and I found absolutely enthralling, it remains my favourite by Elizabeth Gaskell .”
“The Doom of the Griffiths” (48 pgs in Dodo Press edition) (Project Gutenberg)
“The Half a Life-Time Ago” (48 pgs in Dodo Press edition) (Project Gutenberg)
“Lois the Witch” (88 pgs in Dodo Press edition; found in collection Curious, If True)
Short Story Collections
Curious, If True: Strange Tales (includes “The Old Nurse’s Story” 26 pgs, “The Poor Clare” 43 pgs, “Lois the Witch” 100 pgs, “The Grey Woman” 63 pgs, and “Curious, If True” 24 pgs) (Project Gutenberg)
The Grey Woman and Other Tales (includes “The Grey Woman” 78 pgs, “Curious if True” 24 pgs, “Six Weeks at Heppenheim” 54 pgs, “Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras” 40 pgs, “Christmas Storms and Sunshine” 17 pgs, “Hand and Heart” 28 pgs, “Bessy’s Troubles at Home” 28 pgs and “Disappearances) (Project Gutenberg)
Round the Sofa (includes “My Lady Ludlow”, “An Accursed Race”, “The Doom of the Griffiths”, “Half a Life-Time Ago”, “The Poor Clare”, and “The Half-Brothers”)
Individual Short Stories
“The Half Brothers” (Project Gutenberg)
“Lizzie Leigh” (Project Gutenberg)
“The Moorland Cottage” (Project Gutenberg)
“The Poor Clare” (Project Gutenberg)
- Jason of 5-Squared: “The difference really was that Ms Gaskell never excused herself from the book – throughout the reading, you have the continuous knowledge (and by design, I think) that this is not the authoritative life of Charlotte Bronte, but rather Charlotte Brontes life as told by Elizabeth Gaskell. In other places, this renders a particular power to the book – because you know the author loved her subject, quite literally and honestly and directly, there is more power when you hear her tell about Charlotte’s (frankly really miserable) life, you can feel her pathos, rather than a generic, academically dispassionate description of events that may invoke pathos in the reader.”
“An Accursed Race” (essay) (Project Gutenberg)
A House to Let (97 pgs in Dodo Press edition; interconnected short stories by Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Adelaide Procter) (Project Gutenberg)
Compiled by Charles Dickens, and including chapters by Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, A House to Let is a composite tale of mystery and intrigue set amid the dark streets of Victorian London. Advised by her doctor to have a change of scenery, the elderly Sophonisba takes up lodgings in London. Immediately intrigued by a nearby “house to let,” she charges her two warring attendants, Trottle and Jarber, to unearth the secret behind its seeming desertedness. Rivals to the end, they each seek to outdo the other to satisfy their mistress’ curiosity; however, it is only after repeated false starts—and by way of elaborate tales of men lost at sea, circus performers, and forged death certificates—that they happen upon the truth.
- A Library is the Hospital of the Mind: “I really enjoyed the story. I think it was a fun read, especially considering the number of celebrated authors involved in its creation. “
- Porua of LibraryThing says: “But what I really enjoyed was the atmosphere of the story. In the end, A House to Let did bring a smile to my face. On the whole, an enjoyable book.”
- Heather of GoodReads says: “I would recommend it when you have a couple of hours and are perhaps in a melancholy mood – the tales in the book aren’t too sad so as to make you sink deeper, but will charmingly fit your feelings and give you just enough boost at the end to lift your spirits, but not so much as to goad a sarcastic response that life really isn’t like that.”
- Judith of GoodReads says: “you will embrace this book if you like dark Victorian suspense.”
For this tour, you could read and review any of Elizabeth Gaskell’s writings. Or, if you’d prefer, you could write a general post about the author and her style. Finally, if you’d like to read about the author herself, you could read and review a biography of Elizabeth Gaskell and/or write up a creative “Author Interview” post. Although we know certain works will be most popular (and that is fine), we are hoping for some variety among the various tour stops.
After sign up closes, we will email you an “assigned” day that Elizabeth Gaskell will visit your blog. Of course, if that day doesn’t work for you, we can find something that does, and if something does come up, you can always let us know and we can take you off the schedule. That said, we are hoping for a list of participants who are able to commit to posting about Elizabeth Gaskell.
If you decide to sign up, we’d like you to be pretty sure you’ll be able to participate.
Read the information about Gaskell above, see what works your library has available, and think about how you might want to host Elizabeth Gaskell on your blog.
Once you’ve decided, come back here and sign up to join the tour. Tour sign up closes Saturday, 10 October, 7:00 a.m. CST.