Category Archives: Victorian

John Phillip 4.19.13 Thought of the Day

John Phillip was born on this day in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1817. Today is the 196th anniversary of his birth.

Self Portrait Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections []

Self Portrait Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections []

His father was a former soldier and a shoe maker. The Phillip family was very poor. But John’s talents emerged when he was young and a patron made it possible for the boy to be educated at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Piccadilly area of London.

He was a member of The Clique, a group of artist started by Richard Dadd. The Clique eschewed high art in favor of genre painting (paintings of every day life).  The group, who were followers of Hogarth and Wilkie,  sketched a common subject and then critiqued each other’s work.

The Artist and His Wife (Maria Elizabeth Dadd) Aberdeen Art Gallery []

The Artist and His Wife (Maria Elizabeth Dadd) Aberdeen Art Gallery [] He married Richard Dadd’s sister Maria Eliabeth Dadd.

In 1857 he was made an associate of the Royal Academy, he earned full membership in 1859.

Disgorging the Fly (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []

Disgorging the Fly (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []

At first Phillip focused on scenes that idealized his Scottish past — simple, traditional, pious. In 1851 he took a trip to Spain for health reasons and shifted to painting shifted Spanish every day life. He made a total of three trips to Spain.

The Marriage of the Princess Royal (sketch) a painting commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate the marriage of her daughter. (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []

The Marriage of the Princess Royal (sketch) a painting commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate the marriage of her daughter. (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []

Queen Victoria, a fan of Phillip’s work –“who considered him to be Britain’s greatest portrait painter and entrusted him to paint the Royal Family portraits.  [About]– dubbed him “Spanish Phillip.”

The Spanish Flower Seller (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []
The Spanish Flower Seller (Aberdeen Art Gallery) []

Phillip was an immensely competent artist, his work distinguished by a boldness of handling and a strong sense of colour and chiaroscuro which seem typically Scottish. Spain bought out these characteristics, and the resulting paintings are dazzling evocations of Spanish life at its most picturesque and exotic, delighting in dramatic contrasts of light and shade and brilliant local colour illuminated by strong sunlight. [Golden Age Paintings.blogspot]

The Evil Eye (The Stirling Smith Art Gallery) []
The Evil Eye (The Stirling Smith Art Gallery) []

He died on February 27,  1867 in London.

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.


Related articles

Ernest Shackleton 2.15.13 Thought of the Day



“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” — Ernest Shackleton






Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton (Photo credit: Marxchivist)

Gentleman and adventurer…


Captain, March 1917, Cover of the popular Engl...

Captain, March 1917, Cover of the popular English magazine with Ernest Shackleton back from his epic expedition South This picture is the copyright of the Lordprice Collection and is reproduced on Wikipedia with their permission Source URL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on this day in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland in 1874. Today is the 139th anniversary of his birth.






Ernest was the second of ten children born to Henry and Henrietta Shackleton. His father was a land owner, but he gave up farming for medicine shortly after Ernest’s birth. When the boy was six the family moved to Sydenham, London, England. He joined the merchant navy at 16.






Shackleton went on his first polar journey in 1901. He was chosen to join Robert Scott on an expedition to the South Pole. He, Scott and one other companion “trekked towards the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had come” [BBC History] before turning back.






He returned to Antarctica as the head of expedition in 1908 aboard the Nimrod. “He was knighted on his return to Britain.” [Ibid] But it was his third journey to the South Pole that is one of legend.






Endurance final sinking in Antarctica

Endurance final sinking in Antarctica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 1914 Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance headed south determined to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. The ship was trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in 1915 and was crushed in October.






Shackleton’s crew had already abandoned the ship to live on the floating ice. In April 1916, they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island. Taking five crew members, Shackleton went to find help. In a small boat, the six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of ocean to reach South Georgia and then trekked across the island to a whaling station. [Ibid]


The men on Elephant Island were rescued in August, and, amazingly, no one in the crew died.






Launch of the James Caird from the shore of El...

Launch of the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


His memoir of the journey was published in “Endurance”  in 1919. (If he had any luck on the journey it was in taking along Photographer Frank Hurley who took stunning still and motion pictures of the Endurance and her crew.)






Shackleton made a finale trip south in 1922, this time bent on circumnavigating Antarctic. He made it to South Georgia Island. On January 5, he had a heart attack and died.




Glimpse of the Ship ['Endurance'] through Humm...

Glimpse of the Ship [‘Endurance’] through Hummocks, 1915 / photographed by Frank Hurley (Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection)

More reading:

South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition (1914-1917) by Sir Ernest Shackleton

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

And watch:

Shackleton – The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector’s Edition) Starring Kenneth Branagh

South Starring Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, J. Stenhouse, et al. (The original silent movie by Frank Hurley)



Charles Dickens 2.7.13 Thought of the Day

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”–Charles Dickons

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

English: Detail from photographic portrait of Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on this day in Landport, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England in 1812. Today is 201st anniversary of his birth.

He was the second eldest child in a family of eight. His parents were of modest means but dreamed of a bigger, better life. His father, John, was a clerk, Elizabeth wanted to be a teacher — but with 8 children afoot never made it to the head of the classroom. The family was always poor, sometimes destitute.

When Dickens was four the family moved to Chatham, Kent. Dickens and his brothers and sisters roamed “he countryside and explore(d) the old castle at Rochester.” [] They were happy years, and Dickens attended school and read ferociously. But the good times did not last. John outspent his income and was sent to debtor’s prison at the Marshalsea debtors’ prison in London in 1824. Elizabeth and the younger children moved in with  the father, but Frances, the eldest and Charles were sent to live with family friends.

Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse. Charles Dic...

Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse. Charles Dickens is here shown as a boy of twelve years of age, working in a factory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So at 12 years old Charles Dickens was…

forced to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory alongside the River Thames. At the rundown, rodent-ridden factory, Dickens earned six shillings a week labeling pots of “blacking,” a substance used to clean fireplaces. [Ibid]

John Dickens came into some money when his paternal grandmother died and he was released from the Marshalsea, but  Charles’ mother didn’t let him quit the boot-black factory right away. The family had grown accustomed to his six shillings a week. He never forgave her for making him go back to dirt and rats of the factory. Eventually he was able to go back to school, this time to The Wellington House Academy. Unfortunately the experience was anything but pleasant. The headmaster was sadistic, the teaching haphazard and fellow students undisciplined.

Charles Dickens described the second Marshalse...

Charles Dickens described the second Marshalsea in Little Dorrit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 15 he got a job as an office boy at a law office.

As it turned out, the job became an early launching point for his writing career. Within a year of being hired, Dickens began freelance reporting at the law courts of London. Just a few years later, he was reporting for two major London newspapers. [Ibid]

Dickens, who had a near photographic memory, stored all the experiences, the injustices, the cruelties, and the people he met in his head. They came out later on the pages of his novels. (Amy and her family live in the Marshalsea in Little Dorrit. David, Pip and Oliver relive some of his worst experiences in David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist.)

Copy of Sketch of Charles Dickens

Copy of Sketch of Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1833 he was being published under a pseudonym, “Boz,” in magazines and three years later his first book, a collection of articles, Sketches by Boz, was published.

He wrote often wrote serialization for magazines (sometimes magazines in which he had a financial interest) and then published the finished story in the form of a book.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of his books:

  • The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club
  • The Adventures of Oliver Twist
  • The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
  • The Old Curiosity Shop
  • Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty
  • The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
  • Dombey and Son
  • David Copperfield
  • Bleak House
  • Hard Times: For These Times    
  • Little Dorrit     
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Great Expectations     
  • Our Mutual Friend
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Christmas books:

  •         A Christmas Carol (1843)
  •         The Chimes (1844)
  •         The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
  •         The Battle of Life (1846)
  •         The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848)


If you are looking for a good Dicken’s dvd to watch during the snow storm we are promised this weekend I can recommend both Little Dorrit with Clair Foy and Matthew MacFayden or Our Mutual Friend with Keely Hawes and Steven Mackintosh.

Our Mutual Friend DVD (Image courtesy IMDB)

Our Mutual Friend DVD (Image courtesy IMDB)

Little Dorrit dvd  (Image courtesy

Little Dorrit dvd (Image courtesy

Emily Dickinson 12.10.12 Thought of the Day

“Saying nothing…sometimes says the most.”
Emily Dickinson

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on this day in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830. Today is the 182 anniversary of her birth.

Emily was the second of three of three children born to Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Her brother William Austin Dickinson was born a year before her, her litter sister Lavinia (“Vinnie”) three years after. Her father was a lawyer who served in the Massachusetts State legislature and Senate and the US House of Representatives.

The Dickinson children (Emily on the left), ca...

The Dickinson children (Emily on the left), ca. 1840. From the Dickinson Room at Houghton Library, Harvard University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emily was a proper Victorian girl and was well-educated in English, History, Science (especially Botany), the Classics, Literature, and Math at Amherst Academy.

“By Emily Dickinson’s account, she delighted in all aspects of the school—the curriculum, the teachers, the students … At the academy she developed a group of close friends within and against whom she defined her self and its written expression. …the time at school was a time of intellectual challenge and relative freedom for girls, especially in an academy such as Amherst, which prided itself on its progressive understanding of education.” [Poetry Foundation. org]

At 16 she entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She found her time at the Seminary less agreeable and less challenging and she only stayed a year.

In February, 1852 the Springfield Daily Republican published Sic transit gloria mundi,” Dickinson’s first published work.

The speakers in Dickinson’s poetry, like those in Brontë’s and Browning’s works, are sharp-sighted observers who see the inescapable limitations of their societies as well as their imagined and imaginable escapes. [Poetry Foundation. org]

Only 20 of her 1700 poems were published  in her lifetime. She collected her writing in notebooks and shared her poems with her family and close friends, especially her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert Dickinson.

In 1864 and 1865 she went to stay with her Norcross cousins in Boston to see an eye doctor whereupon she was forbidden to read or write. It would be the last time she ventured from Amherst. []

By 1870 she and Lavinia were staying at home to care for their bed ridden mother. In 1872 “Dickinson enjoyed a romance with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, a friend of her fathers.” [Emily Dickinson] 

Austin Dickinson house, Amherst, Massachusetts...

Austin Dickinson house, Amherst, Massachusetts. View of facade from left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1874 her father died unexpectedly. At that point Emily stopped going out in public. She lost her nephew Gib in 1883. Judge Lord died in 1884. And her dear friend Helen Hunt Jackson passed in 1885. Death seemed to surround her. Emily herself was very ill with an sickness “affecting the kidneys, Bright’s Disease, symptoms of which include chronic pain and edema, which may have contributed to her seclusion from the outside world.” []

To make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison, Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized.[Poetry Foundation. org]

“She remained in poor health until she died at age 55 on May 15, 1886. She was buried four days later in the town cemetery, now known as West Cemetery.” [Ibid]

English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, ...

English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

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)

%d bloggers like this: