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19th century,  Feminist Sundays,  General Fiction

Feminist Sundays: Elizabeth Gaskell

Happy 1st of December! I’m back with yet another Feminist Sunday 🙂

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

Today I’ll be presenting you a personal favourite of mine and my readers: 19th century English writer Elizabeth Gaskell. You can read a more extensive biography and study of her main works here. But today I will give you a quick profile on her:

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Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

  • Name: Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Dates and place: Born in London in 1810. Died in Holybourne while visiting her daughters from a heart attack in 1865.
  • Historical period: Victorian literature.
  • Famous for: Being a woman who lived by the pen and enjoyed Charles Dickens’ admiration and friendship. Her novels center around a female character (or a group of them) in order to build a strong social criticism or prove that women are far more than society thought. Her most well-known novels are Cranford, Ruth, North and South and Wives and Daughters. She also penned Charlotte Brontë’s biography whom she deeply admired.
  • Cranford (1851): Elizabeth Gaskell’s most famous novel tells the story of an English town populated only by women. A forgotten classic in most academic programmes, the work creates a powerful discourse highlighting women’s ability to live on their own, either as single women or as a widows, and breaks away with the idea of women competing against one another. The ladies of Cranford, all connected and friends with each other, created a community for women to live comfortably and trusting one another. Some critics suggest that Cranford revolutionised women’s space by extending their domestic influence into a whole town and experimenting with social rules, conventions and women’s roles. The novel is divided into short chapters relating to the different women and their different life experiences as well as their connection to the Amazonian group that Cranford is.
  • My favourite quote from Cranford (1851):

An old lady had an Alderney cow, which she looked upon as a daughter. ….The whole town knew and kindly regarded Miss Betsy Barker’s Alderney, therefore great was the sympathy and regret when, in an unguarded moment, the poor cow fell into a lime-pit. She moaned so loudly that she was soon heard and rescued; but meanwhile the poor beast had lost most of her hair and came out looking naked, cold and miserable, in a bare skin. Everybody pitied the animal, though a few could not restrain their smiles at her droll appearance. Miss Betsy Barker absolutely cried with sorrow and dismay; and it was said she thought of trying a bath of oil. This remedy, perhaps, was recommended by some one of the number whose advice she asked; but the proposal, if ever it was made, was knocked on the head by Captain Brown’s decided “Get her a flannel waistcoat and flannel drawers, ma’am, if you wish to keep her alive, But my advice is, kill the poor creature at once.”

Miss Betsy Barker dried her eyes, and thanked the Captain heartily; she set to work, and by-and-by all the town turned out to see the Alderney meekly going to her pasture, clad in dark grey flannel. I have watched her myself many a time. Do you ever see cows dressed in grey flannel in London?

You can download all her works for free here.

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8 Comments

  • madamebibilophile

    I really like Elizabeth Gaskell & she’s not as well-known as other Victorian writers – really great to see her profiled. One of my favourite novels is Wives and Daughters, even though its unfinished its just brilliant.

    • Elena

      I know! Isn’t it sad that she was so well-known and praised when she was alive and she has been forgotten ever since? I have only read Cranford and the first half of Ruth, but I loved both. Should try W&D.

  • Sam (@tinylibraryblog)

    I’ve never actually read any Gaskell and Cranford is a book that’s on my classics club list, but not one I’ve been keen to read until I saw this post. I thought it sounded stuffy and boring from the bad synopsis on the back of my copy, but you make it sound anything but!

  • Helen

    I love Elizabeth Gaskell too. I’ve read two of her books (North and South and Sylvia’s Lovers) and really liked them both. I can’t wait to read Cranford – I love the quote you’ve posted!

    • Elena

      Oohh I read Sylvia’s Lover first chapter. Don’t you think it is a very modern theme? I can’t understand how it is not compared to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

  • amanda

    That is a great passage. Again, you tempt me with Gaskell! If only I had more time (err…careful what I wish for, I’d like very much to keep my job…maybe I just need to make more time). Perhaps when I tire of my Ohio project, I’ll find time to revisit Gaskell.

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