Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Elizabeth Gaskell: Reading the Lot

I tend to gravitate toward reading projects, and in addition to the Shakespeare-in-order project described earlier, I’m also reading Jenny Uglow’s marvelous biography of Elizabeth Gaskell, entitled A Habit of Stories, and reading her stories and novels in roughly chronological order as I reach Uglow’s discussion of them in the biography.

Before this project, I had only read Wives and Daughters, North and South, and Cranford. Obviously, my choice of how get to know Gaskell was heavily influenced by the BBC productions and the positive reviews over at Republic of Pemberley’s Library.

I do like reading an author’s works in order as I love to look for recurring themes as well as the development of story-telling and writing skills and authorial voice. I tried to do the same with Dickens roughly ten years ago but got bogged down after The Old Curiosity Shop. Now, after I’ve finished the Gaskell project, I’m planning on reading Hard Times and seeing how it compares to North and South.

I’ve been nursing a pet theory as to why Dickens is considered The Victorian Writer and Gaskell has been largely forgotten until recently. I don’t think it’s just that Andrew Davies was starting to run out of material to adapt to the screen. I think that Dickens may have had something to do with her smallish reputation. In the letters Uglow includes in the bio, Dickens speaks of and to Gaskell in either patronizing or belittling terms. Plus, he started Hard Times well after she started North and South, which he renamed as he was serializing it in Household Words. According to Uglow, Gaskell always thought of and referred to N&S as ‘Margaret Hale.’ She expressed concern that he basically stole her idea. I suspect she suspected that he would promote his novel of the industrial north over hers.

I just finished Ruth a couple of nights ago. I’ll be posting thoughts on it soon. Especially The Lie!

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