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Elizabeth Gaskell$
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Patsy Stoneman

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780719074479

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719074479.001.0001

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Reading Elizabeth Gaskell: The Story So Far and Some New Suggestions

Reading Elizabeth Gaskell: The Story So Far and Some New Suggestions

(p.1) 1 Reading Elizabeth Gaskell: The Story So Far and Some New Suggestions
Elizabeth Gaskell

Patsy Stoneman

Manchester University Press

Some Victorian women's novels, such as Jane Eyre, have been a major inspiration to the current women's movement. Others, such as Elizabeth Gaskell's, have been seen as irrelevant or even counterproductive. While Charlotte Brontë has attracted a mass of new feminist readings, Gaskell remains a respectable minor Victorian, colonised up to a point by Marxists, but almost ignored by feminists. Her work offers neither an explicit critique of women's oppression nor fictive situations. Gaskell's novels appear to present ‘women's lot’ either as material for social comedy, as in Cranford, or as incidental to class struggle, as in Mary Barton, and thus hardly to be ‘about’ women at all. Of all the enormous output of feminist literary criticism during the last fifteen years, none has been concerned to any major extent with Gaskell. This chapter begins with Lord David Cecil's vision of ‘Mrs Gaskell’ as the ‘little woman’, and then examines phallic criticism, the text as female history, ideology and the literary text, psychoanalysis and feminist criticism, Marxism, feminism and the question of motherhood.

Keywords:   Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, literary criticism, Lord David Cecil, novels, phallic criticism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, motherhood

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