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Elizabeth Gaskell’s Byronic Heroes: Wives and Daughters and North and South

  • Sarah Wootton

Abstract

The remaining chapters of this book move on from the reception of the Byronic hero in the Romantic fiction of Jane Austen, and adaptations of her work, to the reception of this figure in the Victorian fiction of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. The focus on these authors, and adaptations of their work, may be as surprising as the previous focus on Austen, and yet it is equally revealing. Establishing previously neglected connections between these authors and the legacy of the Byronic hero achieves a dual purpose. First, it opens their fiction to new lines of enquiry and new critical approaches, as well as situating their work within new literary contexts. For Gaskell and Eliot, the figure of the Byronic hero is central to the interrelated concerns of masculinity and Romanticism. Second, re-evaluating the relationship between these authors and the afterlives of this Romantic poet enables a reassessment of the extent and significance of Byron’s influence, and the cultural reach of Byronism, in women’s writing of the Victorian period. The Byronic hero presented a unique opportunity for Eliot and Gaskell to enter current debates about masculinity and the fate of the hero. This figure served both novelists as a means of surreptitiously transgressing gender conventions and of engaging with, if not endorsing, a Byronic voice of dissent, a position established more broadly in the introduction.1

Keywords

Scarlet Fever Woman Writer Social Agenda Painful Physical Symptom Romantic Poet 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, also, Caroline Franklin, Byron and Women Novelists, The Byron Foundation Lecture (Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 2001).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Don Juan, I. i; J. R. Watson, ‘Elizabeth Gaskell: Heroes and Heroines, and Sylvia’s Lovers’, Gaskell Society Journal, 18 (2001), pp. 81–94 (p. 81).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, ed. by Kerry McSweeney and Peter Sabor (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008), p. 146 (original emphasis); On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (London and Glasgow: Collins’ Clear-Type Press, no date), p. 126. Subsequent page references will be given in the text.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Andrew Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995), p. 91. Elfenbein examines the cultural politics of Carlyle’s apparent anti-Byronism in Chapter 3 of his study.Google Scholar
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    Donald D. Stone, The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard UP, 1980), p. 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Catherine Barnes Stevenson, ‘Romance and the Self-Made Man: Gaskell Rewrites Brontë’, Victorian Newsletter, 91 (Spring 1997), pp. 10–16 (p. 10).Google Scholar
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  17. 22.
    Mariaconcetta Costantini, ‘The Sexton’s Hero’, Gaskell Society Journal, 2 (1997), pp. 77–85 (p. 79). Costantini extends the comparison in a note: ‘Though published in the same year as ‘The Sexton’s Hero’, Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is centred on the devilish character of Heathcliff, whose Romantic legacy is in direct opposition to Gaskell’s innovative concept of Christian heroism’ (p. 84).Google Scholar
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    Foster argues that her brother was pleased with the criticism on Byron because it ‘suggest[ed] that she was taking seriously both his and her father’s advice about her studies’ (Literary Life, p. 9). A letter written by John Gaskell to Elizabeth while at sea, dated 16 July 1827, begins with lines from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: ‘Once more upon the waters! yet once more! …’ (III. ii). See John Chapple, Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years (Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 1997), pp. 285, 311.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Jenny Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p. 99 (original emphasis).Google Scholar
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  21. 25.
    See Uglow, pp. 39–42. In a letter to her sister, dated 5 March 1814, Austen wrote: ‘I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, & have nothing else to do’. Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th edn (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011), p. 268. Austen’s literary engagements with Byron are far more complex and significant than this quotation suggests, as previous chapters in this book establish. See, also, Sarah Wootton, ‘The Byronic in Austen’s Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice’, Modern Language Review, 102:1 (2007), pp. 26–39.Google Scholar
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    Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford, ed. by Patricia Ingham (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 41. Subsequent references will be given in the text.Google Scholar
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    Gaskell’s interest in Wordsworth has long been accepted by critics, as I note in this chapter, as have the connections between Wives and Daughters and Maria Edgeworth’s fiction. See, for instance, Marilyn Butler, ‘The Uniqueness of Cynthia Kirkpatrick: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Maria Edgeworth’s Helen’, Review of English Studies, 23 (1972), pp. 278–90;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jennifer Panek, ‘Constructions of Masculinity in Adam Bede and Wives and Daughters’, Victorian Review, 22 (1996), pp. 127–51 (pp. 147–8).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 40.
    Mr Gibson is depicted as intense and somewhat formidable in the illustrations for the Folio Society edition of the novel, published in 2002. An illustration to the lines, ‘It was a brilliantly hot summer’s morning; men in their shirt-sleeves were in the fields getting in the early harvest’ (p. 109), shows Gibson as a dark, obscure figure watching the labourers work in the sunny field. By contrast, Osborne looks more Shelleyan than Byronic, and he is decidedly boyish in the illustration that depicts his death. See Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters, intro. Victoria Glendinning, illustrated by Alexy Pendle (London: Folio Society, 2002).Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, 11. 69, 9. The edition referred to is John Keats: The Complete Poems, ed. by John Barnard, 3rd edn (London: Penguin, 1988). Such moments of Romantic transport often occur when Molly is situated at a window, a prominent feature of George Du Maurier’s illustrations for the serialisation of the novel in The Cornhill Magazine. ‘Væ Victis’ shows Molly seated in a bay window, with a book open on her lap, looking at Roger and his father in the garden, for example. The illustration conveys Molly’s isolation from the male sphere outside, as Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge argue. It also indicates that the heroine’s transition into womanhood is partly informed by what she reads and the sensations she derives from Romantic literature. For a more detailed discussion of Du Maurier’s illustrations to Gaskell’s work, see Bill Ruddick, ‘George Du Maurier: Illustrator and Interpreter of Mrs Gaskell’, Gaskell Society Journal, 1 (1987), pp. 48–54;Google Scholar
  31. and Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge, ‘The Plot Thickens: Toward a Narratological Analysis of Illustrated Serial Fiction in the 1860s’, Victorian Studies, 51 (Autumn 2008), pp. 65–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 42.
    Andrew Davies, ‘Adapting Wives and Daughters’, Gaskell Society Newsletter, 29 (2000), pp. 2–5 (p. 4). Wives and Daughters, directed by Nicholas Renton, screenplay by Andrew Davies (BBC, 1999).Google Scholar
  33. For a further discussion of Davies’s adaptation, see Patsy Stoneman, ‘Wives and Daughters on Television’, Gaskell Society Journal, 14 (2000), pp. 85–100.Google Scholar
  34. 46.
    Jeffrey E. Jackson, ‘Elizabeth Gaskell and the Dangerous Edge of Things: Epigraphs in North and South and Victorian Publishing Practices’, Pacific Coast Philology, 40:2 (2005), pp. 56–72 (p. 65).Google Scholar
  35. 47.
    Deborah Denenholz Morse, ‘Mutiny on the Orion: The Legacy of the Hermione Mutiny and the Politics of Nonviolent Protest in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South’, in Pirates and Mutineers of the Nineteenth Century: Swashbucklers and Swindlers, ed. by Grace Moore (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), pp. 117–31.Google Scholar
  36. 52.
    E. J. Clery, ‘Austen and Masculinity’, in A Companion to Jane Austen, ed. by Claudia L. Johnson and Clara Tuite (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 332–42 (p. 340).Google Scholar
  37. 53.
    David Kelly, ‘In Its Own Light: A View of the BBC’s North & South’, Sydney Studies in English, 32 (2006), pp. 83–96 (p. 93).Google Scholar
  38. 55.
    Sandy Welch states that she wanted the factory interior to be a ‘central image of the drama’: ‘It’s about capturing the excitement and the hardship of a modernising city’. See Sarah Shannon, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’, The Independent, Online Edition (10 November 2004), 3pp (p. 2).Google Scholar
  39. 57.
    Margaret Harris, ‘Taking Bearings: Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South Televised’, Sydney Studies in English, 32 (2006), pp. 65–82 (p. 71). A number of viewers complained about this scene on the BBC’s website (for example, ‘Major gripe is the brutalising of Mr. Thornton’). See http://www.bbc.co.uk/northandsouth/episode2_yourreviews, accessed 9 April 2007. Subsequent references to viewers’ comments are taken from the BBC’s website. The actor who played Thornton comments on the character’s ‘anger’ and reputation for ‘ruthlessness with his workers’ in the DVD’s Special Features section.Google Scholar
  40. 58.
    On the subject of masculinity and class as depicted in the novels of nineteenth-century women writers, see Jessica L. Malay, ‘Industrial Heroes: Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë’s Constructions of the Masculine’, in Performing Masculinity, ed. by Rainer Emig and Antony Rowland (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 41–59.Google Scholar
  41. 59.
    See, for example, Nils Clausson, ‘Romancing Manchester: Class, Gender and the Conflicting Genres of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South’, Gaskell Society Journal, 21 (2007), pp. 1–20 (pp. 13–14);Google Scholar
  42. and Margaret Oliphant, ‘Modern Novelists — Great and Small’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 77 (May 1855), pp. 554–68 (pp. 559–60).Google Scholar
  43. 60.
    Thornton asserts his credentials as a ‘man of character’ who, according to Stefan Collini, ‘possess[ed] the moral collateral which would reassure potential business associates or employers’. Cited in John Tosh, ‘The Old Adam and the New Man: Emerging Themes in the History of English Masculinities, 1750–1850’, in English Masculinities 1660–1800, ed. by Tim Hitchcock and Michèle Cohen (London and New York: Longman, 1999), pp. 217–38 (p. 235).Google Scholar
  44. 61.
    Clausson, ‘Romancing Manchester’, p. 7. Janine Barchas has argued for reading North and South as ‘the first full-length reworking of Pride and Prejudice’. Convincing parallels are established, ranging from the treatment of regional prejudice and Margaret’s Darcyesque pride to illustrations of the novels. See Janine Barchas, ‘Mrs Gaskell’s North and South: Austen’s Early Legacy’, Persuasions, 30 (2008), pp. 53–66 (p. 53).Google Scholar
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    Cited in Patsy Stoneman, ‘The Brontë Legacy: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as Romance Archetypes’, Rivista di Studi Vittoriani, 3:5 (1998), pp. 5–24 (p. 9).Google Scholar
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    See, also, Patricia Nicol, ‘Move Over, Darcy’, The Sunday Times (‘Culture’), 30 April 2006, pp. 6–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah Wootton 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Wootton
    • 1
  1. 1.Durham UniversityUK

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