<i>Cousin Phillis</i> (1863)

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:
Cousin Phillis (1863)

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Written almost simultaneously with Sylvia's Lovers, Cousin Phillis seems like a reaction to the intractable problems of evolution, conflict and passion raised in that novel. Evading the problem of aggression, it presents not ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ but ‘man in harmony with nature’. For once, Elizabeth Gaskell has avoided the mixed forms of fiction that cause such critical distress, and written in the clearly defined genre of pastoral, with beautiful descriptions of nature and an apparent absence of disturbing problems. Perfection, paradise, is by definition ‘timeless’, unchanging. But Cousin Phillis describes a post-Darwinian world that ‘has no place for stasis…, pure invariant cycle, or constant equilibrium’. Its references to rural life have the ambiguity of running water, which is always changing while it appears the same. Gaskell shows that while sexual consciousness is spontaneous, shame is a social imposition. Unlike Ruth, Phillis performs no sexual act, but her story raises some of the same questions about innocence and shame.

Keywords: Cousin Phillis; Elizabeth Gaskell; nature; pastoral; rural life; shame; innocence

Chapter.  3079 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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