26 September 2010

Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, was born two hundred years ago on 29 September.  To mark the bicenenary of her birth, we would like to offer up this small video in way of tribute to an author who has brought joy to millions but only now has joined the other poets, playrights and novelists in Westminster Abbey's famous poet's corner.

1810 was a strange year. Napoleon and Josephine had their marriage annulled, Beethoven composed Für Elise and the State of West Florida declared its independence from Spain. Plus a little girl was born in Chelsea, the last of eight children and one of only two of them to survive in to adulthood.  She was christened Elizabeth and sent away on the death of her mother three months later to live with her Aunt Hannah in a small Cheshire village called Knutsford.

Knutsford and her childhood theirein was to be the inspiration for her later Cranford novel.  The industrial landscape of the north of England informed many of her novels including the seminal North and South and Wives and Daughters but her reputation lay until fairly recently on her debut work Mary Barton.

The BBC, however, has changed all of that with successful adaptations of several of her novels, which have given her a new and modern audience.  The Cranford series in particular inspired many to take up her novels and read them.

Scenes from one of them, North and South form the basis for our video tribute above.  You're Still You by Josh Grogan is a fitting tribute to a lady who stuck by her unitarian beliefs throughout her life and gave the world some unforgettable fiction in her own indelible style.

It is long overdue that this national treasure be remembered with a place in Poet's Corner and yesterday it came to pass - finally.  Over two hundred people gathered in the Abbey, many of them members of the Gaskell Society who travelled from all over the world for the event, to attend the dedication of a stained glass window in her honor.  Her great great great grand-daiughter Sarah Prince laid a gorgeous wreath of lilies below the window.

Perhaps this marks the end of the almost two centuries of underestimation of one of our greatest novelists, the incomporable Mrs Gaskell.

Image Credit Wikimedia - Gaskell pictured at the age of twenty two by William John Thomson.