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Author! Author! at the R.F.Burton Library

To encourage the reading public, the staff of the Burton will feature a writer, based on the month of their birth.  This month celebrates writer Elizabeth Gaskell who was born September 29, 1810. 

From An Encyclopedia of
British Women Writers
, pp. 186-187:

Two
controversies marred Gaskell’s literary career. In 1853 she shocked and
offended many of her readers with Ruth, an exploration of seduction and
illegitimacy prompted by anger at moral conventions that condemned a
“fallen woman” to ostracism and almost inevitable prostitution — a
topic already touched on in the character of Esther in Mary Barton. The
strength of the novel lies in its presentation of social conduct within a small
Dissenting community when tolerance and rigid morality clash. Although some
Element of the “novel with a purpose” is evident, Gaskell’s
sensitivity in her portrayal of character and, even more, her feel for
relationships within small communities and families show a developing sense of
direction as a novelist. Although critics praised the soundness of the novel’s
moral lessons, several members of Gaskell’s congregation burned the book and it
was banned in many libraries. Even Gaskell admitted that she prohibited the
book to her own daughters, but she nevertheless stood by the work.

The
second controversy arose following the 1857 publication of The Life of
Charlotte Brontë.
The biography’s initial wave of praise was quickly
followed by angry protests from some of the people dealt with. In a few
instances legal action was threatened; however, with the help of her husband
and George Smith the problems were resolved without recourse to law. The most
significant complaint resulted from Gaskell’s acceptance of Branwell BrontÎ’s
version of his dismissal from his tutoring position (he blamed it on his
refusal to be seduced by his employer’s wife) and necessitated a public
retraction in The Times, withdrawal of the second edition, and a revised
third edition, the standard text. Despite the initial complications and
restrictions necessitated by conventions of the period (Gaskell did not, for
example, deal with BrontÎ’s feelings for Constantin Heger), The Life of
Charlotte BrontÎ’
has established itself as one of the great biographies;
later biographies have modified but not replaced it.

During
1858 and 1859 Gaskell wrote several items, mainly for Dickens, of which two are
of particular interest. My Lady Ludlow, a short novel cut in two by a
long digressive tale, is reminiscent of Cranford, yet the setting and
social breadth anticipates Wives and Daughters. The second work, Lois
the Witch, is
a somber novella concerning the Salem witch trials which
prefigures Gaskell’s next work, Sylvia’s Lovers, by its interest in
morbid psychology. Sylvia’s Lovers is a powerful if somewhat
melodramatic novel. The first two volumes are full of energy; they sparkle and
have humor. The ending, however, shows forced invention rather than true
tragedy. Regarded by Gaskell as “the saddest story I ever wrote,” Sylvia’s
Lovers
is set during the French Revolution in a remote whaling port with
particularly effective insights into character relationships.

Critical
awareness of Gaskell as a social historian is now more than balanced by
awareness of her innovativeness and artistic development as a novelist. While
scholars continue to debate the precise nature of her talent, they also
reaffirm the singular attractiveness of her best works.

You can pick up copies of 3 of her well known works at the Burton library. 


  


 

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