Category Archives: Elizabeth Gaskell

Secondary Character Saturday: Roger Hamley (Wives and Daughters)

Anthony Howell as Roger Hamley [Image Courtesy: BBC Video]

Anthony Howell as Roger Hamley [Image Courtesy: BBC Video]

WHO: Roger Hamley

FROM: Wives & Daughters

BY: Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by Geor...

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by George Richmond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


PROS: Earnest, hardworking, intelligent, honorable, ruggedly romantic, humble and handsome, he’s quite the Victorian hero.

CONS: Unfortunately for Roger he is the second son. His older brother Osborne outshines him in pretty much everything (especially expectations) at the beginning of the novel. Osborne  is “…full of tastes” [Chapter 4 of Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell]  has talent, and has grace and refinement in his appearance. He is sweet-tempered and affectionate and does well at school. While Roger was …

clumsy and heavily built, like his father; his face was square, and the expression grave, and rather immobile. He was good, but dull, his schoolmasters said. He won no prizes, but brought home a favourable report of his conduct. When he caressed his mother, she used laughingly to allude to the fable of the lap-dog and the donkey; so thereafter he left off all personal demonstration of affection. [Ibid]

He can’t help being a second son, but there you have it. In a society where the first son will inherit everything, there’s not much our boy Roger can do.  Another CON for Roger (this one he can do something about) is the way he swiftly falls for Cynthia. He’s gobsmacked, head-over-heals in love with this humming-bird of a woman, when we all know he should be falling for Molly!

One of the final pages from the manuscript for...

One of the final pages from the manuscript for Wives and Daughters (The Works of Mrs. Gaskell, Knutsford Edition) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BEST SHINING MOMENT: His kindness to Molly on her first visit to the Squire’s. Gaskell died before she finished the novel, so we never get to read her intended ending (having Roger return a dried flower to Molly when he proclaims his love just before leaving for a second scientific expedition to Africa.  But if one were to go by The lovely 1999 BBC miniseries of the novel (with Anthony Howell as Roger) I’d say the the best shining moment was the ending…

LEAST SHINING MOMENT: Choosing Cynthia over Molly. D’oh!

WHY I CHOSE ROGER: I’m a sucker for the underdog.

Charlotte Bronte 4.21.13 ritaLOVEStoWRITE

Dear reader: Cut another piece of birthday cake for Charlotte Bronte. It seems I was a month early in celebrating (oops, sorry Char!) Today, April 21st is really her big day. Happy Birthday, girl! Cheers, Rita


“Better to be without logic than without feeling.” — Charlotte Bronte

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charlotte Bronte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England in 1816. Today is the 197th anniversary of her birth. Charlotte Bronte was the third child born to Maria and Rev. Patrick Bronte. Brother Branwell joined his older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth and baby Charlotte in 1817. Emily came along the next year and Anne was born in 1820. The Brontes moved to Haworth parsonage in 1820.

The parsonage where they lived stood midway between natural beauty and human squalor. To the rear stretched clear, broad moorland. On the other side, the township sprawled up the hill like an ugly sore. Most families shared an outhouse with their neighbors, and the main street was awash with sewage. Disease lurked in every filthy corner. The average age of death was twenty-five. [Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, by Stewart Ross, Viking Press, 1997]

It wasn’t long after the family settled at Haworth that Mrs. Bronte was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. After her mother’s death in 1821 Charlotte, her brother and sisters were raised by their father and her Aunt Elizabeth Branwell.  The family was squarely middle class (although Rev. Bronte insisted on referring to himself as a gentleman), so they neither fit in with their working class neighbors in town, nor did they mix with the local gentry. The children grew up isolated from everyone but their immediate family.

They loved to explore the wilds of moors. They made up stories and games and performed plays they had penned themselves.

In 1824 Rev. Bronte felt the older children needed to be formally educated. He chose for the girls a school called “Cowan Bridge, a boarding school for the daughters of clergymen… it was cheap and respectable and promised a good education.” [Ibid]  The brochure skipped the part about the cruel teachers and the Tuberculosis and Typhus.

Charlotte found the school to be a prison.

She had to wear a “charity girl” uniform and was allowed to write home only once every three months. The cook ruined the food. The dormitory was cold, the rules strict, the education narrow. [Ibid]

Her older sisters took ill. First Maria came down with TB and had to go home (she died in May of 1825) Then the school was hit with a typhus epidemic. 10-year-old Elizabeth was returned home “to Haworth where, on June 15, she, too died of tuberculosis. ” [Ibid]

That was enough, Charlotte and Emily were called home in the summer of 1825. Rev. Bronte and Aunt Branwell once again took over the children’s education. “They read widely and freely,” had private music and art lessons and some Latin and Greek , but no science and limited math, history and geography.


Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was plenty of time to play and explore as well. When Rev. Bronte gave Branwell a set of toy soldiers as a gift the four remaining children created a whole fantasy world called“ Glasstown.” Charlotte and Branwell  created “Angria” for the 12 wooden soldiers. (Emily and Anne made up “Gondal.”)

Unmarried middle class women of limited income in Victorian England had two choices in employment. They could become a teacher or a governess. But either profession would require more formal training. Charlotte was sent to Roe Head school in 1831. It was a much nicer institution than the dreaded Cowan Bridge, and Charlotte enjoyed her year and a half there. She returned home to help teach her brother and sister.  She went back to the school a few years later as a teacher, this time with Emily in tow.  (Emily didn’t take to the school. Anne replaced her after a few months.) After that, “She made two attempts at being a governess, first with a local family, then with a merchant in Bradford. Neither was a success. She found the children hard to control and her work humiliating and boring.” [Ibid]

In 1841, backed by Aunt Branwell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne decided to start their own school. But first the girls needed to be educated abroad. Charlotte went to Brussels to stay with her friend Mary Taylor.  Overseas travel changed her. The food, freedom and culture excited her. And in her teacher, Monsieur Heger, she had found her intellectual equal.  When their term ended Charlotte suggested she Emily stay on and pay their way by teaching. Slowly she fell in love with her  older, married teacher. But eventually she was forced to face reality and leave for home.

In 1845 Charlotte needed to regroup and focus on something positive.  She was  determined to get published. She convinced her sisters to publish some of their poems. They used the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (their initials) because they would be taken more seriously if readers thought they were men. Aylott and Jones published 62 of the sister’s poems in “Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.”  Although the collection received favorable reviews, it sold only 2 copies.

Their next literary projects, this time in prose, would fare much better. Emily penned Wuthering Heights, Anne, Agnes Gray and Charlotte wrote The Professor about her time with Monsieur Heger. Although the first two novels were published (after Emily and Anne put up 50 pounds to help with the printing costs) The Professor was not picked up.

Undaunted, Charlotte wrote her second novel, Jane Eyre while nursing her father after an operation to restore his eye sight. Smith, Elder & Co. published Jane Eyre for 100 pounds  in 1847. They optioned her next two novels for the same amount.  Charlotte began work on Shirley.

Emily and Anne were busy on new novels too. Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published, but Emily was ill, TB again, and, although she may have finished the novel it never saw publication. Branwell was sick too, both physically and mentally.  He died in September of 1848, Emily passed away in December of the same year.  By spring of the  1849 Anne was showing “the familiar symptoms of tuberculosis.”  She died on May 23.

Charlotte Brontë Photography from 1854, free l...

Charlotte Brontë Photography from 1854, free licence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charlotte continued to write. The mysterious Currier Bell was by now revealed to be the shy, plain Charlotte Bronte to her publisher George Smith. Smith and his mother did what they could to bring her out into society. Charlotte met fellow writers Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell both of whom she remained friends with for the rest of her life.

She wrote her fourth novel Villette.

Rev. Bronte’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls fell in love with Charlotte and he proposed to her. At first Charlotte didn’t take to the idea. She found him both dull-looking and narrow-minded. Her father objected to the union as well. Nicholls was socially (and financial) inferior to the Brontes. She turned him down. But Gaskell encouraged her in the match, and as Charlotte watched the younger man’s devotion to her father she reconsidered. (Gaskell also used her influence to improve Nicholl’s financial standing.) Rev. Bronte continued to object, but he finally gave in, and the couple were married in June of that year of 1854.

Charlotte was soon with child, suffered from constant morning sickness.

The strain of pregnancy at the age of thrity-nine taxed her strength to its limits. By February she had grown alarmingly thin and was vomiting blood… The wasting sickness dragged painfully on until, by mid-March , all hope was gone. [Ibid]

Bronte died on March 31, 1855. Her novel, The Professor was published two years later, the same year as Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë.


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Happy World Book Day! (What’s on your Night Stand?)

Super quick post to wish you all a Happy World Book Day!

So here’s my quick reader’s quiz for you…

  • What YOU are reading today (What’s on your night stand)?
  • Who is  your favorite author?
  • What is your favorite book of all time?
  • What’s your favorite series?
  • What was / is your favorite book as a child?
  • What genre of literature do you gravitate you?
  • Bound / paper or e-book? And why?
  • Where is your favorite place to read?
  • What’s the one thing that keeps you from reading?
  • AND… what / who do you wish some one would write a book about?

Here, in no particular order, are some of the books we’ve looked at over the last 9 months on ritaLOVEStoWRITE…

tolkien books

Tolkien’s perfect trilogy.

2006 edition of Brave New World published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics

2006 edition of Brave New World published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics

James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fourth edition of The American Language is still available on

The fourth edition of The American Language is still available on

The Shel Silverstein collection "borrowed" from the shelves of an obliging independent brick and mortar bookstore, Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

The Shel Silverstein collection “borrowed” from the shelves of an obliging independent brick and mortar bookstore, Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Cover of Wives and Daughters. [ Image courtesy:]

Cover of Wives and Daughters. [ Image courtesy:]

Anne Tyler 3 books

The Anne Tyler trifecta

Milne House at Pooh Corner1000

Classic Winnie the Pooh

Anansi Boys

I’m reading Gaiman’s Neverwhere now, but I blogged about Anansi Boys a little while ago.


Tweedeedle by Johnny Gruelle (of Raggedy Anne fame)

Dune cover art [Image courtesy: Book Wit]

Dune cover art [Image courtesy: Book Wit]

Complete set of the seven books of the Harry P...

Complete set of the seven books of the Harry Potter series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Image courtesy: Goucher Library. Photo by: ritaLOVEStoWRITE]

[Image courtesy: Goucher Library. Photo by: ritaLOVEStoWRITE]


Clearly I’ve got a thing for the classics and children literature. [Interesting I have no problem airing my eclectic musical taste for all the blogosphere to see, but when it comes to books I hide my paperbacks in the closest… what’s up with that? The fact is I don’t read ENOUGH, or at least — I don’t read as much as I’d like. Maybe I should take a pledge on this World Book Day to READ MORE! But would that mean I’d have to blog less? Hmmmm.]


Keeley Hawes 2.10.13 Thought of the Day

“I’ve been really lucky with my career so far. I haven’t been pigeon-holed, which sometimes happens to actors. … I’m even lucky enough to have done my pocket version of Lady Macbeth!”– Keeley Hawes

Zoe Reynolds

Zoe Reynolds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clare Julia “Keeley”  Hawes was born on this day in  Marylebone, London, UK in 1976. She is 37 years old.

The youngest of four siblings she grew up in a working class family. Her father drives a taxi, and her brothers followed suit. Keeley is the only one in the family who was bit by the acting bug. They lived near the Sylvia Young Theatre School and she attended on a grant. There she took ten years of elocution lessons to lose her cockney accent. She also took acting lessons.  At 16 she began modelling for a year and half before making the switch to working as a fashion assistant for Cosmopolitan magazine.

In 1996 she landed a role in Dennis Potter’s Karaoke with Albert Finney and her acting career started in earnest. She had a starring role in the BBC’s 1998 adaptation of Dicken’s Our Mutual Friend. Her Lizzie Hexam is shy, humble, poor, innocent.

Her next major mini series role, Cynthia Kirkpatrick, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters is none of those things. The only thing Lizzie and Cynthia have in common is that  they both wear a corset… and Hawes is wonderful in both parts.

In 2002 she took on a much more modern role as Zoe Reynolds in the BBC One spy series Spo0ks (MI-5 in the US). She met her husband, Matthew MacFayden, while working on the series.

Keeley Hawes and Matthew MacFayden from Spooks (Image courtesy

Keeley Hawes and Matthew MacFayden from Spooks (Image courtesy]

Speaking of modern, Hawes starred in two modernized Shakespeare plays; an Andrew Davies penned retelling of Othello for Masterpiece Theatre, and as Ella MacBeth in BBC’s  Shakespeare Retold  with James MacAvoy.

Hawes has been busy (I’m only mentioning the performances I’ve seen == all of which have been excellent).

Her latest “Masterpiece” was last year’s Lady Agnes Holland on the reboot of Upstairs Downstairs.

Secondary Character Saturday — John Thornton (North and South)

First, let me be clear, the North and South of which I speak is the wonderful Victorian novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, not the 1980’s mini series about the Civil War. If you haven’t read it do yourself a favor and put it on your reading list… Click HERE for the free Guttenberg file to read on-line or HERE for the Kindle file


Richard Armitage played John Thornton in the 2008 BBC miniseries North and South.

Richard Armitage played John Thornton in the 2005 BBC miniseries North and South.

Who: John Thornton

From: North and South

Written by: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Date of Publication: 1855

Why: John Thornton is a self-made man whose stoic exterior conceals a heart waiting for the love of the right woman. He has spent his life building a business and taking care of his mother and sister. He’s the owner of a mill in the fictional city of Milton in northern England. He has “never loved any woman before.” His “life has been to busy,” his “thoughts too much absorbed with other things.” But, when a beautiful young woman, Margaret Hale, comes to the city from the rural, gentrified, south  the walls of indifference he has built up around his heart begin to tumble.  …Are the two of them so different in manners and customs…(and is their timing too flawed) for love to bloom?

Pros: Strong, loyal, generous, disciplined, intense, genuinely concerned with both his worker’s health and the mill’s financial viability.

Cons: Hot tempered and initially inflexible with his workers. Bad timing.

Shining Moment: During a strike against the mill (it’s a town-wide strike) he has brought in Irish workers to run the mill. When the town’s workers hear about the scabs they storm the mill. Thornton protects the Irish workers, and, at Margaret’s urging, attempts to talk to the rioters and calm them.  (ALSO: the ending, but I wont give that away.)

Least Shining Moment: When Margaret first see’s Thornton. He’s in the mill and has caught a worker smoking. The slightest flame can set the entire works ablaze and he beats the worker for his carelessness.



Click here to read my Elizabeth Gaskell Thought of the Day.


And you should really watch the 2005 BBC mini series of North and South. (Which has the added bonus of co-starring Brendan Coyle — Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates — as mill worker Nicholas Higgins.)

Thought of the Day 9.29.12 Elizabeth Gaskell

“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.”
Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by Geor...

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by George Richmond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born on this day in London, England in 1810. Today is the 202nd anniversary of her birth.

The youngest of eight children, she was just a little over a year old when her mother died. Her father, William Stevenson, a Scottish Unitarian minister, was not up to taking care of the baby  and Elizabeth (Lily) went to live with her maternal aunt Hannah Lumb, whom she affectionately referred to as her “more than mother,” at Heathwaite House  in  the small town of Knutsford, Cheshire. There she enjoyed the affections of several aunts and other single ladies (either widows or spinsters) in the town. Her aunt taught her read. She went to Miss Byerlys school at Barford House and later to Avonbank in Stratford-on-Avon. Her education was traditional for a well-bred Victorian girl. She learned the classics, art, music and social graces at finishing school, while her father encouraged her writing and her brother John (John and Elizabeth were the only siblings to survive past infancy), who was in the Merchant Navy, sent her books and wrote her letters from his posts around the world .

When Elizabeth was nine she visited her father in London. He had remarried, and, unfortunately, Elizabeth did not get along with her new stepmother, Catherine Thomson. To complicate matters William and Catherine preferred their own children, and Elizabeth often felt like the odd man out. Eventually she was sent to live with a distant relative, another William, William Turner. Turner was a

A staunch proponent of reform and the abolition of oppressive and inhumane practices such as slavery, his outspoken criticisms profoundly affected Elizabeth’s values and her perspective on life. [The Literature Network]

Elizabeth Gaskell around the time of her marriage, 1832 (Image courtesy: Jane Austen’s World)

She married William Gaskell, a minister in Knutsford in 1832. The Gaskells lived in Manchester. They had six children; a stillborn daughter, a son, who died in infancy from scarlet fever, and four girls.  “As the wife of a minister and mother to four growing girls, Gaskell’s life was hectic: they both taught Sunday school and volunteered for much-needed charitable causes in Manchester.” [The Literature Network] — Manchester, a mill town, had a lot of poor and working poor and Gaskell witnessed it first hand as she worked among them lending charity where she could.

Still, Elizabeth found time to write, keeping a diary about her growing daughters and the job she and her husband were doing as parents. William and Elizabeth collaborated  on some poems, Sketches among the Poor which were published in 1837.

In 1840 Clopton Hall, Elizabeth’s first solo work to be published, appeared in William Howitt’s  Visits to Remarkable Places. It was attributed to “a lady.” Later that year Howitt included her Notes on Cheshire Customs in his The Rural Life of England.

She used the pseudonym Cotton Mather Mills to write short story fiction until she published her first novel, Mary Barton in 1948.

In Mary Barton Gaskell drew on the devastation she felt after loosing her son. She also wrote about the hardships of the poor she saw all around her. The novel was published anonymously but it garnered praise from admirers like Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin. Other critics, however, were not so kind. They didn’t appreciate her scathing portrait of conditions in the mills or her calls for social reforms.

Real life Knutsford circa 1860, was the model for fictional Cranford. [Image courtesy Jane Austen World]

Dickens was so enamored with her writing that he published her next work Cranford in serial installments in his journal Household Words. Gaskell drew on her life with her Aunt Lumb and the kind (if opinionated) women of Knutsford for the characters and setting of her fictionalized Cranford.

In this witty and poignant comedy of early Victorian life in a country town, Elizabeth Gaskell describes the uneventful lives of the lady-like inhabitants so as to offer an ironic commentary on the diverse experiences of men and women. [The Literature Network]

Cranford was published in book form in 1853. As was Gaskell’s novel Ruth.

Like Mary Barton, Ruth raised a lot of eyebrows in Victorian England as its title character is a “fallen woman.” But Gaskell’s point is not the seduction or Ruth’s “loose morals” but the circumstances that led to the affair, and the web of lies and deception that cover up her “fall”. The novel is a little uneven with some of the characters merely looking down their Victorian noses disapprovingly  in a 2 demensional cartoon manner — Mrs. Benson–  or accepting their fate with angelic grace — Ruth– while, fortunately others are more fleshed out and interesting — the kind Thurstons totally won my heart. [Can some one please make this novel into a movie so Peter Dinklage can play Rev. Thurston?]

North and South is the second of Gaskell’s “industrial novels.” It was better received than Mary Barton because it gave  a more even-handed description of life in a mill town. In North and South Gaskell has the working poor (and — when a strike devastates the town — the sometimes NOT working poor) but she also gets into the head of the Mill Owner, Mr. Thornton. Between both camps is Margaret Hale who happens to be the daughter of a minister. North and South was serialized in Household Words before it was published as book.

DVD box art from the mini series of North and South. [Image courtesy: Amazon]

Her next book was far more personal. Elizabeth Gaskell met Charlotte Bronte in 1850 while in the Lake District.  The two became close friends, writing frequently. They visited each other several times. After Charlotte’s death in 1855.

the Reverend Patrick Bronte, for himself and on behalf of Brontes’s husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, asked Gaskell to write her biography in response to gossip and speculation. The Life of Charlotte Bronte was published in 1857. Gaskell spent much time researching, gathering material, and reading the letters of the eldest Bronte sister, and while she had set out to write a biography, the first edition was seen as an artful weaving of fact and fiction.  [The Literarure Network]

It was  “a pioneering biography of one great Victorian woman novelist by another.” [Google Books]

In 1863 she was paid 1,000 pounds for her novel Sylvia’s Lovers. (Mary Barton had brought her only 100 pounds.) A tragic love story set against the Napoleonic Wars Sylvia’s Lovers is one of her least well known novels.

England is at war with France, and press-gangs wreak havoc by seizing young men for service. One of their victims is a whaling harpooner named Charley Kinraid, whose charm and vivacity have captured the heart of Sylvia Robson. But Sylvia’s devoted cousin, Philip Hepburn, hopes to marry her himself and, in order to win her, deliberately withholds crucial information—with devastating consequences. [Good Reads]

Cover of Wives and Daughters. [ Image courtesy:]

Wives and Daughters was also serialized (this time in Cornhill Magazine) before it came out as a novel.  It was the last book Gaskell wrote before she died (She didn’t quite finish it, and it was left to Frederick Greenwood to finish it off.)  Molly Gibson’s mother died when she was very young

Wives and Daughters centers on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford. [Good Reads]

Gaskell also wrote dozens of short stories, especially ghost stories that she published both in magazines and in collections.

English: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

English: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Gaskell died unexpectantly of a heart attack on November 12, 1865.


Published works by Elizabeth Gaskell  [Courtesy: The Titi Tudorancea Learning Center]


Mary Barton (1848)
Cranford (1851–3)
Ruth (1853)
North and South (1854–5)
Sylvia’s Lovers (1863)
Wives and Daughters: An Everyday Story (1865)

Novellas and collections

”The Moorland Cottage” (1850)
”Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (1851)
”The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852)
”Lizzie Leigh” (1855)
”My Lady Ludlow” (1859)
”Round the Sofa” (1859)
”Lois the Witch” (1861)
”A Dark Night’s Work” (1863)
”Cousin Phillis” (1864)

Short stories (partial)

Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras (1847)
Christmas Storms and Sunshine (1848)
The Squire’s Story (1853)
Half a Life-time Ago (1855)
An Accursed Race (1855)
The Poor Clare (1856)
“The Manchester Marriage” (1858), a chapter of A House to Let, co-written with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Adelaide Anne Procter
The Haunted House (1859), co-written with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Adelaide Proctor, George Sala and Hesba Stretton.
The Half-brothers (1859)
The Grey Woman (1861)


The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857)

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