When Mrs Gaskell met Mr Wordsworth: Victorian Studies Lecture on 17 November

Posted by mjs76 at Nov 10, 2010 05:00 PM |
Cranford author’s literary influences explored by acclaimed historical writer Jenny Uglow.

In 1849, shortly after the publication of her first (anonymous) novel Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell holidayed in the Lake District and there met, as one was wont to do in those times, William Wordsworth.

Over the next 16 years, until her death at age 55, a stream of novels, novellas and short stories issued from the pen of the author who now published under the name ‘Mrs Gaskell’. Her literary influences were, in many instances, the same as her address book. She befriended Charlotte Brontë (met, once again, in the literary hotspot that was the Lakes) and was asked by Rev. Patrick Brontë, after Charlotte’s death, to write a biography of her. Charles Dickens approached Gaskell to write for his periodical Household Words (see earlier Newsblog story) and it was therein that Cranford and other works were first published.

But it is the enduring influence of Wordsworth which will be the subject of this year’s Victorian Studies Lecture which takes place on Wednesday 17 November. Award-winning author Jenny Uglow will speak on ‘”One Human Heart”: Elizabeth Gaskell's Wordsworthian vein’; her title quotes Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Old Cumberland Beggar’ which Gaskell specifically cited as an example of how the poor cared for one another.

Gaskell’s work is, if anything, more popular than it ever was, helped not a little bit by high-profile, high-quality television adaptations of Cranford and North and South within recent years. Raised by an aunt after the death of her mother, Gaskell’s father and husband were both Unitarian ministers and liberal-Christian ideas permeate her work just as much as the rich dialects and eccentric idioms which she absorbed from her surroundings in the North West.

As well as immediate associates such as Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, she moved in historically fascinating circles: Charles Hallé was a neighbour; John Ruskin and Harriet Beecher Stowe came to visit; she even found time to meet Florence Nightingale. But she also spent time among the rural and urban poor, observing their lives and reflecting their ideas and attitudes in her stories, alongside the broad swathe of upper and middle class characters. It is this rich recreation of 19th century life which makes Gaskell so fascinating, not just to literary researchers but to historians too.

Jenny Uglow is the author of Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories which won the Portico Prize and the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. Her other highly acclaimed books include Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick, Hogarth: A Life and a World and The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future. As editor, she has compiled Cultural Babbage: Time, Technology and Invention, The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women’s Biography and The Vintage Book of Ghosts (Elizabeth Gaskell herself, when not recounting Chesire life, turned her quill to several effectively chilling ghost stories).

The 2010 Victorian Studies Lecture will be held in the New Lecture Theatre in the Fielding Johnson Building South Wing, at 6.00pm on Wednesday 17 November, and will be followed by a wine reception. The event is free and open to all. For further information please contact Paula Warrington at victorianstudies@le.ac.uk