Elizabeth Gaskell met Charlotte Brontë on 20 August 1850 at Briery Close in the Lake District, introduced by Sir James Kay-Shuttlewoth and his wife.
They were immediately drawn to each other. In a letter to Ellen Nussey, written on 26 August , Charlotte says ‘I was truly glad of her companionship… She is a woman of the most genuine talent – of cheerful, pleasing and cordial manners and – I believe – of a kind and good heart.’
Charlotte stayed at Plymouth Grove with the Gaskell family on three occasions. The first was in June 1851 when she visited from the 27th to the 30th when according to Charlotte ‘the weather was so intensely hot, and she herself so much fatigued with her London sight-seeing, that we did little but sit in-doors with open windows, and talk.’
She stayed again in April 1853, arriving for a week’s visit on Friday 22 April. With Elizabeth, she went to a performance of Twelfth Night staged by the Manchester Shakespeare Society at the Theatre Royal on 25 April which she mentions in a letter to Elizabeth written from Haworth on 9 July 1853: ‘ Give my kind love to Marianne and Meta – dear happy girls as they are! Remember me to Mr Gaskell. You cannot now transmit my message to Flossy and Julia. I prized the little wild Flower – not that I think the sender cares for me – – for she does not know me – but no matter – in my reminiscences she is a person of certain distinction – I think hers a fine little nature – frank and of genuine promise. I often see her, as she appeared, stepping from the portico towards the carriage that evening we went to see Twelfth Night.’
Writing of Charlotte to John Forster she had gone home, Elizabeth writes ‘ she is so true, she wins respect, deep respect, from the very first, – and then comes hearty liking, – and last of all comes love. I thoroughly loved her before she left, – and I was so sorry for her!She has had so little kindness & affection shown to her; she said that she was afraid of loving me as much as she could, because she had never been able to inspire the kind of love she felt.’
Charlotte last visited Plymouth Grove in early May 1854 just before her wedding to Arthur Bell Nicholls on 29 June, and in a letter to John Forster written after Charlotte had left, Elizabeth expresses her concerns about the marriage :’I don’t believe Miss Bronte will ever become bigoted, or ever lose her true love for me, – but I do fear a little for her happiness just because he is narrow, and she is not. – good, pure, & affectionate he is, but he is so narrow, and she can never be so.’
We know from the plans of the House that the guest room , and the room Charlotte Brontë slept in, is the one now used as a meeting room – and yes you can hire it!
This is confirmed in a letter to Eliza Fox Elizabeth wrote in 1850: ‘ Your room will be over the drawing room, ours over the dining room…’ In Charlotte’s honour, this room has been re-named the Brontë Room – a fitting tribute we hope. (Find out more here)
Lesley – House Volunteer