Reading Elizabeth Gaskell: The Story So Far and Some New Suggestions

Patsy Stoneman

in Elizabeth Gaskell

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780719074479
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781701188 | DOI:
Reading Elizabeth Gaskell: The Story So Far and Some New Suggestions

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Some Victorian women's novels, such as Jane Eyre, have been a major inspiration to the current women's movement. Others, such as Elizabeth Gaskell's, have been seen as irrelevant or even counterproductive. While Charlotte Brontë has attracted a mass of new feminist readings, Gaskell remains a respectable minor Victorian, colonised up to a point by Marxists, but almost ignored by feminists. Her work offers neither an explicit critique of women's oppression nor fictive situations. Gaskell's novels appear to present ‘women's lot’ either as material for social comedy, as in Cranford, or as incidental to class struggle, as in Mary Barton, and thus hardly to be ‘about’ women at all. Of all the enormous output of feminist literary criticism during the last fifteen years, none has been concerned to any major extent with Gaskell. This chapter begins with Lord David Cecil's vision of ‘Mrs Gaskell’ as the ‘little woman’, and then examines phallic criticism, the text as female history, ideology and the literary text, psychoanalysis and feminist criticism, Marxism, feminism and the question of motherhood.

Keywords: Elizabeth Gaskell; Mary Barton; literary criticism; Lord David Cecil; novels; phallic criticism; psychoanalysis; Marxism; feminism; motherhood

Chapter.  5520 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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