We were delighted to welcome pupils from The Manchester Grammar School to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House for a private tour and discussion last week. We asked the boys who visited us to comment on their visit and this is what they fed back.
‘I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house. I learnt much about not only her and her work, but also what life was like in nineteenth century Manchester. There were only a quarter of a million people in Manchester, compared to there being nearly 3 million in Manchester now. All the tiny details of the house, such as the window in the dining room and the letter which had writing two ways, all contain something of the culture of the 1800s. It was very interesting to compare it with the culture today, and to see the radical changes which have occurred.’
‘Elizabeth Gaskell was not the expected ‘Victorian woman’. The way the she coped with these expectations was inspirational. She didn’t let it get in the way of her writing, but instead it motivated her further. Despite the major setbacks of being a woman in the nineteenth century, she led a very full and very fascinating life.‘
‘What we found most interesting about our trip to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house was Dr Diane Duffy’s presentation about Charlotte Bronte and her novel Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Gaskell’s defence against the controversies surrounding it. The comparison between the first and third edition of the biography, as highlighted by Dr Duffy, was very insightful and brought light to the ways in which women had to make themselves respectable and appear inferior to their male counterparts within the literature and the society of Victorian times. In particular, Gaskell made sure to separate Charlotte Bronte’s domestic life and life as an author as if they were two different people. We enjoyed listening to Dr Duffy’s knowledge around the two authors and understanding of the societal structure in Victorian times. We would recommend people to visit the house and talk to the experts there if they are keen on understanding the historical context behind the Mancunian literature and culture that they have come to love.’
‘My trip to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house made me realise a lot of things about not only literature, but also about the life, roles and even suppression to an extent of women during the Victorian era. Elizabeth Gaskell was one of few writers at the time that decided to expel the ideas of social norms and as our great guide Dr Duffy, led us through well-designed, lavishly decorated yet Victorian-like rooms that certainly interested me in the life of Elizabeth Gaskell, compared to other people in the industrial Manchester during the times. I also was captivated by the fact that Gaskell was a determined woman, and friends with many other women, such as the literature prodigy, Charlotte Bronte. Their friendship led to the persuasion of Mrs Gaskell writing Mrs Bronte’s biography. At this time, women were expected to be conservative and were expected to be domestic, and so writing a book would be nationally condemned. When Gaskell wrote her biography of Bronte, ‘The Life of Charlotte Bronte’, the first edition was a damning retribution to many other people in Bronte’s life and portrayed Bronte as a perfect woman than what she actually was, using fiction techniques Gaskell procured during her writing of her own stories. She was threatened with lawsuits and she had to edit her biography twice. This trip taught me a lot, and I would highly recommend coming here if you know a lot in the field of literature, or absolutely nothing. The trip was further enhanced by lovely staff members and a great guide, I will be sure to come again in the future!’