Gaskell House Blogs

Miss Matty’s Favourite?

6th April 2018
in blog

We have an eye-catching display of primroses in the fern bed at present. They seem to like it there and have been seeding themselves across the bed.

I wrote about them on this blog exactly a year ago and said how encouraging it was that visitors, by making the observation “Miss Matty’s favourite flower”, had made the connection between the plants in the garden and Mrs Gaskell’s writings. The question is, though, whether “Miss Matty’s favourite flower” comes from what Mrs Gaskell actually wrote or from the TV adaptation of Cranford. I have looked through the book and the reference to primroses that I found makes me think that primroses may have had much sadder associations for Miss Matty.

The reference is in Chapter 14, Friends in Need. Mrs Fitz-Adam is speaking:

“And one day, I remember, I met Miss Matty in the lane that leads to Combehurst; she was walking on the footpath which, you know, is raised a good way above the road, and a gentleman rode beside her, and was talking to her, and she was looking down at some primroses she had gathered, and pulling them all to pieces, and I do believe she was crying.”

Mrs Gaskell, in contrast, clearly found great pleasure in primroses. She wrote in a letter to her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Gaskell (Lizzie), dated 12th May 1836, “I sat in a shady corner of the field gay with bright spring flowers -daisies, primroses, wild anenomes, and the ‘lesser celandine’ & with lambs all around me …”.

We are finding lesser celandine in the fern bed at present among the primroses. They are also self-seeded and in another part of the garden would be weeds, but here they are in the right place.
Mrs Gaskell’s description, in Chapter 1 of Ruth, of the painted panels in the workroom also shows that primroses for Mrs Gaskell were part of the beauty of garden flowers:

“…there were stately white lilies, sacred to the virgin -hollyhocks, fraxinella, monk’shood, pansies, primroses; every flower that blooms profusely in charming oldfashioned country gardens was there…”

But the gardening year hasn’t reached that far yet at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. The hollyhocks, monk’s-hood and lilies are yet to come, but we do have a bank of primroses.

PS If anyone knows of a happier association between Miss Matty and primroses, I’d be pleased to hear.

Chris Tucker, Volunteer Gardener

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