“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 11th 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 🙂

Mr Harrison’s Confessions (1851)

I think Gaskell had fun writing this one. You can just imagine her stopping for a minute to chuckle contentedly and even sharing the joke with her husband, who raising his head from the newspaper asks “what’s so funny?” or better, “pray my dear, what amuses you so?”

In the opening scene, Mr. Harrison is enjoying the quiet comforts of his home with a visiting friend. When Mrs Harrison leaves for bed, his friend asks him the secret to “wooing and winning” such a wife and Mr. Harrison readily agrees to tell his story.

After his studies, Mr. Harrison accepts a proposal of partnership from a country doctor who has been supporting his career, so he moves to the small village of Duncombe. The long-term objective is for Mr. Harrison to take over the practice completely once Mr. Morgan is ready to retire. In Duncombe our hero plays the part of the proverbial inexperienced and single gentleman trapped in a village ruled by middle-aged women. These ladies’ enthusiasm and skills at matchmaking rival those of Emma Woodhouse, so what follows is a delightful comedy of errors. It is wickedly funny to see poor Mr. Harrison innocently trying to conquer the woman he truly loves while a web is being weaved around him. At some point and for reasons beyond his control he finds himself engaged to three different women in the village, while shunned by the lovely Sophy.

Gaskell develops her story in a way that allows us to clearly see what is about to befall the young hero and so creates an atmosphere of amused complicity between author and reader.

Mr. Harrison’s Confessions is a quick, charming read, but as with Cranford, don’t expect a lot of plot. What you can expect are some fine examples of what Gaskell does better than anyone: images of domestic scenes. Here is Mr. Harrison description of Sophy’s home:

There were books and work about, and tokens of employment; there was a child’s plaything on the floor, and against the sea green walls there hung a likeness or two, done in water colours (…). The chairs an sofa were covered with chintz, the same as the curtains – a little pretty red rose on white ground. I don’t know where the crimson came from, I’m sure there was crimson somewhere; perhaps in the carpet. There was a glass door besides the window, and you went up a step to get into the garden.

I want to be there, in that room, or at least I want my own home to have the same feeling of coziness.

*****   *****   *****

Follow this link to the next review on the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicenterary Blog Tour, my  thoughts on My Lady Ludlow.

The other stops on the Tour:

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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