Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reading Gaskell for the First Time?

Mary-Laure left a comment on the previous blog entry asking for a recommendation on which Gaskell to read first.

Here are my thoughts on the subject. Caveat - I haven't yet read Cousin Phillis, nor have I read ALL the short stories, but I think I've read enough to venture an opinion.

1) North and South - some people have a problem liking Margaret, but I think she is a marvelous Victorian heroine. Not as "on a pedestal" as many of Dickens' heroines, but definitely of the angel variety who stumbles from time to time. N&S is a love story, it's a social problem story, and it has a good cross section of characters, showing Gaskell's range and sympathies.

2) Cranford - her most popular novel, and her personal favorite. Based on reminiscences of her girlhood in Knutsford, it is episodic in nature, gentle in tone and humor, and sweet. Dickens loved Gaskell's Cranford stories, which he published as individual pieces before she collected them into a novel.

3) Wives and Daughters - I think of this as Gaskell's masterpiece, but, tragically, she died just before completing it. It is rich in characters that defy type, rich in detail, rural, and a thumping good read. It lacks the social problem aspect that characterized most of Gaskell's writing, especially her early writing, and drove her to sacrifice so much of her time to writing so I can't say that it is the one Gaskell to read, but it is marvelous.

4) The Grey Woman - a novella that is a wonderful Blackbead type story. If all you know about Gaskell is Cranford, the GW is something completely different.

5) My Lady Ludlow - a fascinating novella that shows Gaskell's ability to weave various stories and themes into a cohesive whole, with variations in narrative technique.

6) Sylvia's Lovers - while I never warmed to the heroine, this is a purely historical novel with all the dialogue delivered in accurate dialect. A monumental feat of historical research, inspired during Gaskell's visit to Whitby with her daughters. Based on true events.

7) The Old Nurse's Story - my favorite of Gaskell's short stories. A classic Victorian ghost story.

8) Ruth - a fascinating moral tale in which Gaskell takes the road not often taken by Victorian authors and champions the unwed mother.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I've read Wives and Daughters (and loved it) but I'm looking to read more Gaskell in 2009.

  2. Make sure you let me know what you end up reading, Becky. I'm always looking for someone with whom to compare notes on Gaskell.

  3. I have a long-term project in which I will be reading all of Gaskell's novels... I wish I had seen your post earlier, though, because I recently loaned library copies of 'Cranford' and 'Wives and Daughters' - but no N&S.

    After reading this post, I think I'll also be adding the novellas to my list. The Grey Woman sounds fascinating, as does Lady Ludlow :)

  4. Tuesday - enjoy your reading project, and don't forget N&S! Likewise, don't forget about Mary Barton, Gaskell's first novel. It didn't make my list--not because it's not good, but because everything else I listed is so much better, imo.

  5. I loved reading Cranford and North and South, but Ruth has been collecting dust for several years on the shelf. I need to reed more Gaskell myself!

  6. Well, you know where to come to chat about Ruth when you get around to reading it, Theresa!

  7. I've only recently become a Gaskell fan. Thanks for this list. It will help me in choosing her novels.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Vic.

    Hope you enjoy your journey into Gaskell country.

    BTW, your website is really lovely, and I like your Heyer reviews.