Gaskell House Blogs

Book parcel adventures…

22nd June 2023
in blog, Literature, People

On 29 June 1859, Elizabeth Gaskell is on holiday in Scotland at Mr Turnbull’s, Auchencairn, By ( ie 22 miles off), Dumfries. She has received a very welcome parcel from George Smith, her publisher, and writes to him:

You never no, never – sent a more acceptable present then Cousin Stella & The Fool of Quality. ( ) Thanks many for your kind thought of us. I am sorry to say Meta lies at this present moment fast asleep with Cousin Stella in her hand; but that is the effect of bathing and an eight mile walk; not the book itself.

George Smith had a very generous habit of sending books newly published by Smith, Elder to his stable of authors. Charlotte Bronte was a very grateful recipient of this generosity as indeed is Elizabeth Gaskell from her Scottish holiday home.

Cousin Stella or, Conflict, by the author of Violet Bank was published on 10 February 1859, so the Gaskells are reading the book hot off the press. It was the second novel by Henrietta Jenkin. Set primarily in Jamaica in the 1830s, its anti-slavery message made her name.

Born Henrietta Camilla Jackson in Kingston, Jamaica in either 1807 or 1808, Jenkin was the only daughter of Scottish parents. In 1832, she married Charles Jenkin – a midshipman, naval commander and coastguard – and her son, Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin, was born in 1833. Fleeming Jenkin became a distinguished electrical and civil engineer, who was appointed Regius Professor of Engineering at Edinburgh University. Robert Louis Stevenson was one of his students and wrote a memoir of his professor which records that his mother had no natural taste for writing and wrote only for money.

But in 1851, well before his appointment to Edinburgh, Fleeming was apprenticed to the William Fairbairn Engineering Company in Manchester and had ‘to file and chip vigorously, in a moleskin suit, and internally dirty.’ While the family was in Manchester, they met the Gaskells. It was Elizabeth Gaskell who connected Henrietta Jenkin to her own publisher, George Smith, who went on to publish seven novels by Jenkin between 1859 and 1874. Gaskell’s letter to George Smith written on 10 February 1859 introduces:

An acquaintance of ours, ( the daughter of an officer in the army, & the wife of one in the R.N-& who has been much in the West Indies in consequence of these two connexions-) has written a novel,- the scenery of whh is laid partly in the W. Indies. It is not her first work of fiction- she wrote ‘Violet Bank’, about a year ago,- which Messrs Hurst & Blackett published, & which was well-reviewed. She thinks however that Messrs H&B- behaved shabbily to her,- (and from her statement I quite agree with her-) and is anxious to have an introduction to you, for this second West Indian novel; which I have not seen, but of which Signor Ruffini (‘Doctor Antonio’)thinks very highly. So an introduction from me to you is coming round in due form, via Conway where Mrs Jenkin is at present staying.

Both George Smith and Henrietta Jenkin must have moved quickly as Cousin Stella was in the shops by the end of June, a scant five months after this introduction!

Elizabeth Gaskell rather basked in the reflected glory of her acquaintance, writing in late February 1860:

Mr & Mrs Clarke & Ly Coltman were all full of ‘Cousin Stella’ & I had quite a reflected lustre from the fact that I knew and could tell them about the authoress.

Henrietta Jenkin had two stories published in Household Words, also through Gaskell’s intervention with Charles Dickens. In 1855, whilst living in Paris, Jenkin had sent Gaskell a number of papers and asked her to secure their publication in periodicals. The first story, Coralie, which is set in Paris, appeared on 18 August 1855, and in the Household Words account book is assigned to Mrs Gaskell’s friend with payment going to Elizabeth Gaskell. The second story, The Child-Seer, which appeared a week later, is assigned to Mrs Jenkyn.

The books we display in the study need to have a proven connection with the Gaskell family. I think Cousin Stella is worthy of inclusion, don’t you?

Lesley, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

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Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850