Each year, the team at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on Manchester’s Plymouth Grove picks one of the famous 19th-century author’s texts to take – in modern parlance – a deep dive into: in 2024, it’s the turn of Wives and Daughters.
Throughout the next 12 months, you can enjoy a host of events celebrating this fascinating novel and TV adaptation and, going on previous feedback, you can some expect great insights from enthusiastic and knowledgeable speakers. Audiences will have the chance to find out more about the context in which the book was written, including a background to Elizabeth Gaskell’s personal life and the influence of the industrial Manchester in which she lived.
So far, we’ve studied the novels Cranford and North And South by Chorlton-on-Medlock’s most famous writer, and in 2023 it was the turn of Mary Barton: A Tale Of Manchester Life – Gaskell’s first novel. From there, we jump to her last, and unfinished, work, Wives and Daughters, a literary masterpiece that is described as ‘the most underrated novel in English’ but which shows Gaskell at the height of her literary powers.
Wives and Daughters is set in a small English country town, based, we’re told, on Knutsford, with the big house being a loose version of Tatton. The story centres on young Molly Gibson’s response to her doctor father’s new marriage and its impact (and that of her difficult stepmother and beautiful stepsister) on those around her, and the novel teems with understated wit, revealing Elizabeth Gaskell’s skill at comedy and offering a wry social commentary on rural life.
The Wives and Daughters season starts with a full introduction to the novel, looking at the social and personal context in which it was written; read on for details of all the talks lined up for the year so far and watch this space as more events are added, including an exciting new partnership with the George Eliot Fellowship.
Wives and Daughters – An Introduction (Wednesday 17 January) The Wives and Daughters season begins with a special introduction by popular speaker Elizabeth Williams to Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel when you can find out more about the context in which the book was written, including Victorian social change.
Charles Darwin and Literary Science in Wives and Daughters (Wednesday 4 September) The character of Roger was probably based on evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin, and Wives and Daughters was Darwin’s favourite novel. Gordon Chancellor will help you to discover how Elizabeth Gaskell’s knowledge of science debates influenced her storytelling.