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Lesa Scholl, Emily Morris and Sarina Gruver Moore. Eds. Place and Progress in the Works of Elizabeth Gaskell

Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015, 231 p. + xiii. ISBN: 978-1-4724-22963-6
Nancy S. Weyant
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Lesa Scholl, Emily Morris and Sarina Gruver Moore. Eds. Place and Progress in the Works of Elizabeth Gaskell, Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015, 231 p. + xiii. ISBN: 978-1-4724-22963-6

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Gaskell (Elizabeth), lieux
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1Major anniversaries of core events in the lives of novelists, poets and playwrights are frequently accompanied by a flurry of critical analysis published in both journals and monographs. In 2010, the bicentennial of the birth of Elizabeth Gaskell, eight books were published that focused exclusively or significantly on Elizabeth Gaskell. In 2015, two major collections of essays were published to specifically commemorate the sesquicentennial of her death. The first of these to appear was Place and Progress in the Works of Elizabeth Gaskell. This collection consists of fifteen essays framed by introductory and concluding chapters authored by the three editors. The authors of the individual essays are a blend of well-published Gaskell or Victorian scholars and younger literary academics. The essays themselves are organized in four parts: ‘Home Geographies’, ‘Mobility and Boundaries’, ‘Literary and Imagined Spaces’, and ‘Cultural Performance and Visual Spaces’. Each essay is followed by a ‘Works Cited’ list and the volume concludes with a comprehensive index that facilitates easy access to works, themes, events and individuals discussed. The essays critique all of Gaskell’s novels, two of her novellas (Cousin Phillis and Lois the Witch), The Life of Charlotte Brontë, five short stories, the review, ‘Modern Greek Songs’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s own life and letters.

2The four essays that comprise the ‘Home Geographies’ unit explore ‘home’ as a domestic space with those by Nóra Séllei and Divya Athmanathan being primarily focused on individual habitats in Cranford and North and South while those by Robert Burroughs and Emily Cody explore the significance of interior and exterior spaces and the relationships between them. Burroughs presents an insightful, fresh analysis of the waterfront and seaside in Sylvia’s Lovers and Ruth (as well as Gaskell’s own life) as therapeutic and restorative and separated from the industrial development that was propelling England forward at breakneck speed. While Séllei sees Cranford as dominated by domestic spaces, she finds that the characters’ sense of secure space changes to become unsettled space that is challenged by the intrusion of long-dormant sexual memories and the physical intrusion of the Other. She presents a cogent assessment of Brunoni’s important role in dissolving the boundaries between reality and fantasy in the lives of the Amazons. Ultimately, the changed perception of space and physically modified domestic spaces provide an opportunity for a reintegration and strengthening of the self. In the first of four essays on North and South in this collection, Athmanathan effectively assesses Gaskell’s profiles of the houses in London, Helstone and Milton-Northern, contrasting them with the factory/house compound of the Thorntons’. Her essay explores the intricate weaving of images of domestic structures with the movement of the courtship plot in North and South. While Margaret Hale and John Thornton develop a new paradigm for marriage, Thornton and Higgins collaborate to domesticate the factory, redefining the relationship between master and worker. In the closing essay of this chapter, Cody’s examination of the realism of Mary Barton serves as a springboard for her exploration of the Gothic elements in the novel. Her profile of Gaskell’s use of the Gothic allows for a powerful analysis of the horror of crowded urban dwellings where premature death replaces life and the walls of the home are replaced by the walls of a grave. Cody explores the significance of the shared grave of John Burton and Esther in terms of Gaskell’s plea for increased understanding between classes.

3The first two essays in ‘Mobility and Boundaries’ look at three very different works: Ruth, Lois the Witch and ‘My French Master’. Inglis’s essay begins by documenting Gaskell’s knowledge of the nursing profession and contemporary understanding of contagion and quarantine as they applied to typhus epidemics. She presents an insightful assessment of the evolving nature of the boundaries of community in Ruth and how boundaries and networks within and between the novel’s communities were changing rapidly and impacting both relationships and the spread of disease. The next essay identifies the theme of migration as crucial to Gaskell’s life and her fiction, linking migration to the themes of loss, remembrance and dissolution of community. Shaikh contends that in contrast to Gaskell’s use of emigration to provide Pasley with a new beginning, in the two works she examined, the experience of emigration powerfully reinforces the sense of loss—loss of family, loss of friends, loss of wealth and loss of life. The two remaining essays comprising ‘Mobility and Boundaries’ analyze North and South. That by Lesa Scholl effectively moves beyond the standard analysis of the impact of the railroad to explore its transformative role in breaking down class and geographical boundaries and its contribution to creating the energy and mobility which redefined modern England. Her comparison of the characters of Mrs Hale and Edith with Margaret effectively profiles her as adaptive and prepared to function within the new order. Scholl succinctly profiles Darwin’s theories of adaptation and adroitly applies them to the social and cultural evolution brought about by the community cooperatively created by Thornton and Higgins. Mary Mullen’s essay on North and South explores the ambiguity of time in a rapidly industrializing England and integrates with this an insightful overview of the tensions created by the growing numbers of unskilled Irish workers. She links the strong anti-Irish feeling to their perceived inability to embrace the pace of a capitalist nation and analyzes Gaskell’s portrayal of them as incapable of participating effectively in the futurity of the nation.

4The four essays in ‘Literary and Imagined Spaces’ explore places and progress in Gaskell’s writings more expansively. Levitan’s essay focuses on Gaskell’s travels and her correspondence, profiling places visited within and beyond England and letters written and received, noting that the same technological developments that impacted travel impacted the delivery of letters. She draws on Gaskell’s correspondence to effectively document her insatiable need for news and gossip as well as her commanding knowledge of postal regulations and procedures. ‘Gaskell the Ethnographer’ by Koustinoudi and Passalis is, to my knowledge, the only stand-alone essay ever written that discusses ‘Modern Greek Songs’ and explores Gaskell’s command of Greek history and Greek folklore. While there is other scholarship that explores Gaskell’s knowledge and use of British folklore and traditions, this is the first to look beyond the boundaries of Great Britain. The third essay in this section presents a close reading of Wives and Daughters, balancing a critique of its provincial realism with an analysis of the outside world as reflected by the travels and research of the Darwinesque Roger Hamley. Chavez expands upon Gaskell’s treatment of the Other in the novel by profiling articles on other cultures that appeared with the novel in Cornhill Magazine. In this part’s final essay, Billingham compares Gaskell’s strongly provincial realism to the writing of Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, exploring Gaskell’s use of the past and the present to seeing forward in her life and writing.

5The three essays that comprise the final section of this collection move the discourse on place and progress into several new spheres. Twinn traces the development of meteorology in the mid-century and explores evidence of Gaskell’s knowledge of the science of weather in ‘Cousin Phillis’ and Wives and Daughters. She reviews Gaskell’s effective integration of seasonal weather changes with emotional changes of female characters in these works, seeing them as evidence of Gaskell’s narrative strength. In the second essay, Andres concisely explores Gaskell’s familiarity with Pre-Raphaelite values and views on women and explores her application of their painterly techniques to her literary spaces in Ruth and Sylvia’s Lovers while simultaneously testing their gender stereotypes. The final essay in ‘Visual Spaces and Cultural Performance’ presents an insightful assessment of the 2004 BBC production of North and South, exploring the materiality of the novel and relating it to the materiality of the BBC audiences.

6The fifteen essays gathered together in this strong collection apply a range of literary theories and a range of gazes to a significant portion of Gaskell’s works. The writing is accessible to undergraduates while presenting new readings that will be of interest to advanced Gaskell scholars. It is a welcomed addition to the critical canon on Elizabeth Gaskell.

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Nancy S. Weyant, « Lesa Scholl, Emily Morris and Sarina Gruver Moore. Eds. Place and Progress in the Works of Elizabeth Gaskell »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 83 Printemps | 2016, mis en ligne le 13 mai 2016, consulté le 07 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Nancy S. Weyant

Bloomsburg University

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