“Really it is very wholesome exercise, this trying to make one’s words represent one’s thoughts, instead of merely looking to their effect on others.”
E. Gaskell, Cousin Phillis

Welcome to the 12th stop on the Elizabeth Gaskell 200th Anniversary Blog Tour! I chose to dive into Mrs. Gaskell’s novellas, so after some online search and a lot of indecision I decided to review three of them (a bit ambitious, I know, but I just couldn’t choose): Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (1851) and Lady Ludlow (1959), both part of the Cranford Chronicles, and Cousin Phillis (1964), which according to the Literary Encyclopedia, “has been called the most perfect story in English”. They can all be read online for free. Please also note that there will be some spoilers in the reviews.

You’ll be happy to know that one lucky commenter will win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. Deadline to leave your 2-cents is midnight US Pacific-time on 7 October. The winner will be drawn from names from all the posts in the Tour on 8 October (CD shipments to US and Canada, download for all other countries). Good luck to all of The Sleepless Reader’s commenters, I’m rooting for you!

Enjoy and Happy Gaskell anniversary :)

My Lady Ludlow (1959)

I am an old woman now, and things are very different to what they were in my youth. Then we, who travelled, travelled in coaches, carrying six inside, and making a two days’ journey out of what people now go over in a couple of hours with a whizz and a flash, and a screaming whistle, enough to deafen one.

Isn’t it scary how this type of reminiscence can still be heard nowadays? Only now it’s about what kids learn at school or how no one knows where peas come from.

Just like Austen is still so popular today because the mechanics of relationships don’t change, Gaskell’s stories about the inevitability of progress and how we adapt is the hot-topic of the digital revolution. Of the three novellas, Lady Ludlow is the one that more directly deals with a rapidly changing world and how the old elite deal faces it.

The story it told by Margaret Dawson, is one of the nine young ladies and children living with and being cared for by the widowed Lady Ludlow and her companion Miss Galindo. The plot is also related to Lady Ludlow’s estate manager, Mr Horner, who is providing for the education of Harry Gregson, a poacher’s son.

Through Margaret’s eyes, herself from an impoverished background, we get a look into the life of this aristocrat, how she resists change with all her might, but also how through the people around her she learns to accept the inevitable.

Lady Ludlow’s views of Harry Gregson’s education are set in stone: she simply cannot understand why the lower classes should be educated. Actually, she believes it was this education nonsense that caused all the tragic, innocent aristocratic deaths during the French Revolution. We don’t want the same thing to happen in England, do we? Lady Ludlow’s reminiscence of the suffering of her French friends takes about 70 pages of the book and at this point my interest waned a bit.

Luckily, it was also after this memoir that things really start to get interesting. Lady Ludlow arranges for Miss Galindo to help Mr Horner with his accounts in an attempt to calm his revolutionary ways.  This is a definite glimpse of her capacity to accept (and even actively bring about) change, after all, this decision implies a Lady doing menial work, and a manly work to top.

There is a good amount of social commentary in My Lady Ludlow and although I was prepared to look down upon her fears and snobbish ways, I also realized that at the pace things are going I’ll probably become a Lady Ludlow myself – the Lady Ludlow of paper books, the last person on Earth to have a physical bookshelf :)

And before moving on to Cousin Phillis, take a look at this pearl of witticism that Gaskell directed at her fellow writers.

(Once upon a time Miss Galindo wanted to write and she explains to Lady Ludlow…)

“Well! I got paper and half-a-hundred pens, a bottle of ink, all ready –“

“And then –“

“O, it ended in my having nothing to say, when I sat down to write.  But sometimes, when I get hold of a book, I wonder why I let such a poor reason stop me.  It does not others.”

Touché, Mrs Gaskell!

*****   *****   *****

Follow this link to the next review on the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicenterary Blog Tour, my  thoughts on Cousin Phillis.

Biography

Novels/Biography

Novellas – me!

Resources

  • 14.) Your Gaskell Library - Links to MP3′s, ebooks, audio books, other downloads and reading resources available online: Janeite Deb - Jane Austen in Vermont
  • 15.) Plymouth Grove - A Visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester: Tony Grant – London Calling
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