AUTUMNAL THOUGHTS ABOUT ELIZABETH GASKELL
For only the second time since I joined the Gaskell Society in 1994, I missed a biennial Conference. This July, while members gathered near Stratford-on-Avon, I explored the hill towns of Tuscany. While members listened to an impressive array of scholarship, dramatic presentations and musical performances, I savored food prepared for the local Truffle Festival in Montisi and enjoyed an evening of exceptionally fine jazz while sipping on superior Tuscan wine. While members visited a range of sites associated with Gaskell and Shakespeare (Barford, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the Vale of Evesham/Dumbleton Church and Hall, and Clopton Hall), I planned how to spend my few days in Rome and ruminated on Gaskell’s times in Rome with her daughters and Charles Elliot Norton. My time in Italy was exceptional but I also am very aware of having missed a very special Conference experience.
After returning from Tuscany and dealing with the inevitable mail backlog, I focused on finalizing the updates for two bibliographic supplements: that for 2002-2011 and that for 2012-2013. As you might suspect, the number of new publications for the 2002-2011 decade are few in number. I identified only four new “lit crit” publications and five theses. In contrast, there are 55 additions to the 2012-2013 supplement, eight more than the 48 I located for the initial posting for this period in December. With only four newly identified 2002-2011 publications one can hardly talk meaningfully about “patterns”. Nonetheless, the four publications included only one standard journal article. The others are a conference proceeding, an article in a new online journal and a book chapter in a collection analyzing a broad range of fiction and historic topics related to revolutionary events of 1848. One analyzes Mary Barton and three explore various aspects of North and South. In contrast, the 55 newly located items of scholarship published during 2012-2013 document some interesting new patterns. There are several publishers (Rutledge, HardPress, and Cambridge) who are re-issuing books devoted either entirely to Gaskell or including ground-breaking chapters on Gaskell published in thematically focused studies first published 25-100 years ago. Libraries and Gaskell scholars not owning the original editions now have easy access to such classics as George Payne’s Mrs. Gaskell and Knutsford (first published in 1900) and Shirley Foster’s 1985 “Elizabeth Gaskell: The Wife’s View” included in Victorian Women’s Fiction: Marriage, Freedom and the Individual. While all of Gaskell’s novels are explored in newly published criticism, the two novels that attract the most attention continue to be North and South (22) and Mary Barton (16). However, there is a notable increase in the number of publications that have included an analysis of Ruth (9), matching the number of addressing Cranford. There is also an interesting range of short stories that have received focused critical attention: “Lizzie Leigh”, “The Last Generation in England”, “Moorland Cottage”, “Libbie Marsh”, and “The Poor Clare”. Recent critical interest in nineteenth-century gothic stories, especially by women authors, has also resulted in multiple articles on “The Nurse’s Story”. Similarly, A Dark’s Night Work and Lois the Witch have commanded new attention. New articles opening small windows on Gaskell’s life explore three spheres: family, finances, and food. As is often the case, articles exploring Gaskell’s writing bleeds into an exploration of her life. Such is the case in Patsy Stoneman’s article on Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë and The Life. What is noteworthy is how Gaskell scholars continue to slowly peel away the many layers of Elizabeth Gaskell’s multi-faceted life.
As a closing comment on recent Gaskell scholarship, I would like to note that one of the articles added to my 2012-2013 bibliographic supplement (Clare Pettitt’s) references Robert Gould Shaw, the American Civil War officer profiled in the film Glory and represented in the Augustus Saint Gaudens’s sculpture Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment Memorial that is installed on the Boston Common opposite the Massachusetts State House. I would like to note that one year ago, twenty Gaskell scholars from America, England, Japan, and Greece were in Boston, exploring evidence of Elizabeth Gaskell in America. That Memorial was the starting point for our guided tour of Boston’s Black Heritage Trail. Gaskell’s association with the Shaw family receives minimal attention in scholarly publications, the most extensive being Marianne McLeod Gilchrist’s “The Shaw Family of Staten Island: Elizabeth Gaskell’s American Friends” published in the 1995 volume of the Gaskell Society Journal. Having received an introduction to this sculpture and to Boston’s abolitionist initiatives, I was pleased to see Robert Shaw referenced in print once again. I also would like to report that after returning from Boston, I sent photocopies of Gilchrist’s article as well as Gaskell’s tribute to Robert Shaw published in Macmillan’s Magazine to the National Park Service ranger who led our tour of abolitionist Boston. I hope these articles served as small windows on life and writings of Elizabeth Gaskell and piqued his curiosity to find out more about her.