Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mrs Gaskell - finished!

I have finally finished this biography of Mrs Gaskell and as I had been less than enthusiastic about it in a previous post, I thought it warranted another post.  Yes, it was extremely detailed and written in a scholarly way, as I said before.  There was a wealth of source material, used effectively and intelligently, and the author obviously liked her subject immensely.  There was plenty of analysis about each of Mrs Gaskell's novels which was very interesting, and as one of my favourite novels is Wives and Daughters, the analysis made me want to immediately re-read it.   However, initially, I found it hard going but was determined to finish it.  Having made it to the photographs in the middle of the book, things started to become much more interesting for me. Charlotte Bronte entered Mrs Gaskell's life and also various Pre-Raphaelite artists and eminent poets and writers of the day.  This made me much more interested and indeed, I started to really enjoy the book from that point onward.  My favourite part is a description of a meeting with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, who they "got to know pretty well".

"...always excepting the times when ladies with beautiful hair came in, when he was like the cat that turned into a lady, who jumped out of bed and ran after a mouse.  It did not signify what we were talking about or how agreeable I was; if a particular kind of reddish brown, crepe wavy hair came in, he was away in a moment, struggling for an introduction to the owner of the said head of hair.  He is not as mad as a March hare, but hair-mad."

There is also a lovely description of the possible origin of the word 'scrattling' by one of Mrs Gaskell's daughters (maybe Stella Gibbons knew about this and so included it in Cold Comfort Farm).
"Some cousins of Mama's very often had an old lady staying with them who was most inquisitive and if the cousins had been out of the room or were away from her for some time, on their return this old lady would make a point of saying "Well Mary and what have you been doing?" Mary told her, but in time this grew very tiresome, so they determined to invent a word which was to mean anything they chose.  So the next time the old lady asked her Everlasting question of "Well Mary and what have you been doing?" "Oh," said Mary, "I have been scrattling".  The old lady never liked to betray her ignorance of this word so she said, "Oh, scrattling have you and a very nice employment it is for you."
The second half of the book definitely redeemed it in my view and I am glad I decided to stick with it and finish it.

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