6. Mrs Gaskell

Today, 29th September, is the birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell. Dear, dear Mrs Gaskell.

One can only imagine how you felt to hear your beloved Charlotte – who truly was a very good friend – had passed away, and how your feelings were to be pushed entirely into a project insisted upon by Patrick Brontë.

In 1857, barely two years after Charlotte’s death, Gaskell had completed and published (through Charlotte’s old publishers, Smith, Elder & Co.) The Life of Charlotte Brontë. It is important to note that Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte’s husband and widower, was not altogether too happy about the work being published (as he was exceptionally private; cf. letters to Ellen Nussey from Charlotte demanding discretion), however, he would not argue with Mr Brontë about this. He advised Mrs Gaskell to seek out Ellen Nussey, as Ellen was the foremost expert on everything Brontë-related.

The biography did not come without its scandals – Gaskell not only had something of a habit of writing quite theatrically and over-dramatizing events and characters, with a frank and forthright approach, but she was also dealing with scandalous content: the conditions of Cowan Bridge School and Branwell’s affair with Lydia Robinson leading to responses and, in the case of the Robinson family, a lawsuit.

We know now much more than Gaskell published, for example Charlotte’s unrequited love for her tutor, Constantin Héger, and the romance that she had with her publisher, George Smith – and these are things that are detailed in Juliet Barker’s extensive biography of the whole family, The Brontës [available to buy here, and Gaskell here].

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