Woman and Writer: Blending the Selves

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:
Woman and Writer: Blending the Selves

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Historical research reveals the typical Victorian woman as a mental and moral cripple; incapable of informed and independent judgement; timid; deferential; vacuous; and as a slave to conventional opinion, to class prejudice, and to a narrow and bigoted morality. Clearly, a Victorian woman writer was not a ‘typical’ Victorian woman, and Elizabeth Gaskell's letters give a delightful sense of her lively and energetic life-style. Although her letters seem to show Gaskell as an anomaly, ‘almost too vivid and aware for her circle’, it is misleading to see all Victorian women as ‘shackled by a cramping and inflexible domestic ideology’. Female friendship was an important counterweight to domesticity, but very few, even of the avowed feminists of the period, wanted to remove women from the home. As early as 1838, we find Gaskell conscious of tension between home duties and a longing for freedom. She never openly speaks of sexuality and desire. This chapter explores Gaskell as a ‘relative creature’ – defined by her status as daughter, wife and mother – and highlights the enriching rather than the cramping aspects of these roles.

Keywords: Elizabeth Gaskell; Victorian women; female friendship; domesticity; home duties; freedom; sexuality; desire; relative creature

Chapter.  7223 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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