On September 2, the first part of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is serialised in Household Words. It’s an important year in Gaskell world…
And what about the family? They have been living in their lovely Plymouth Grove house for four years and as the year draws to a close, William will be 49 and Elizabeth 44, while their daughters will range from an eight year old Julia to Marianne who will be 20.
Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell have had many professional differences of opinion about North and South. Dickens suggests North and South as a better title for the book than Margaret Hale on July 26, a suggestion Gaskell reluctantly accepts. On December 14, Dickens complains to Forster about the falling sales of Household Words and it’s clear he holds North and South – ‘so divided, wearisome’ at least partly responsible. With relief, Elizabeth Gaskell finishes the final pages of the serial edition of the book on December 24.
On April 11, Charlotte Bronte writes to Ellen Nussey that she has received another proposal of marriage from Arthur Bell Nicolls and that she has accepted him. They are married on June 29. Charlotte makes her third visit to the Gaskell’s at Plymouth Grove early in May, and has a number of discussions about marriage with Elizabeth and Katie Winkworth.
1854 is the year that Elizabeth Gaskell first meets Florence Nightingale. She is staying at the Nightingale’s Derbyshire house, Lea Hurst, in October as she struggles to finish North and South. While she’s there, Florence gets the call from the British Government accepting her offer to take volunteer nurses to the Crimea, leaving for Scutari with her team of thirty eight on October 21.
And it’s the year Cranford the cat comes to Plymouth Grove! On May 15, Elizabeth writes to Julia, her daughter ‘ Do you know we are going to have a little kitten sent us from Paris, with long hair, and a very pretty face, and is called Cranford, can you guess why?’
And in the wider world?
On February 13, Cheltenham Ladies College, established to provide ‘a sound academic education for girls‘, admits its first 82 pupils.
The UK declares war on Russia on March 28 and so joins the Crimean War. October 25 sees the Battle of Balaclava and while the allies achieve an overall victory, the battle sees the catastrophic charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson’s eponymous poem is published in The Examiner six weeks later on November 9.
Charles Dickens begins the serialisation of Hard Times in Household Words on April 1.
On July 15, John Ruskin’s marriage to Effie Gray is annulled.
Of great importance to Unitarians and other Dissenters, in August the Oxford University Act is passed which abolishes the requirement for students to take a religious test or the Oath of Supremacy before taking up a place at the University. An Oxford place is open to all male students regardless of their faith.
In September, cholera is raging in London. Dr John Snow traces the source of one outbreak, which kills five hundred people, to a single water pump on Broad Street proving his theory that cholera is a water borne disease and also inventing epidemiology!
On October 16, Oscar Wilde is born.
Lesley – House volunteer