This book vividly presents previously undiscovered biographical information about Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of Mary Barton, Cranford, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, and Wives and Daughters.
It also provides much contextual material about Harriet Martineau, the Brontë family and the history of Manchester.
It casts significant fresh light on Mrs. Gaskell’s influential inner circle of friends, adding to our appreciation of her writings and of her life. The book uncovers some of the mysteries of Mrs. Gaskell’s key relationships, most notably concerning Miss Mitchell, who was previously been misidentified in the Gaskell biography. Given Mrs. Gaskell’s statement that Miss Mitchell was one of the two principal influences in her life, a deeper understanding of this shadowy presence and the figures around her is vital to our understanding of the author.
Existing orthodoxy identifies Miss Mitchell as Rosa Mitchell, a visiting governess in the Gaskell household. However, the Miss Mitchell mentioned repeatedly in Mrs. Gaskell’s letters was in fact Rosa’s much older sister, Janetta Bishop Mitchell.
Janetta, born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1791, is further shown to have been a confidante not only of Mrs. Gaskell but also of Harriet Martineau. Miss Mitchell is mentioned in Harriet Martineau’s early letters in the 1820s – working in Norwich from 1821-25, Janetta became close to both Harriet and her mother and remained in contact with them when Harriet gained literary prominence in the 1830s.
Janetta Mitchell’s fascinating and itinerant life is charted, demonstrating her close links to Unitarian communities across England. Janetta was an example of the many sophisticated women with few material resources who, despite remaining unmarried and culturally invisible, nevertheless found their own paths in 19th-century society.
Mrs. Gaskell’s Personal Pantheon is available from October 2020 (Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd) – ISBN 9781913087463 hardback / ISBN 9781913087470 ebook / 229mm x 152mm, 256pp., fp. 12 b&w illustrations.
Robert C. G. Gamble is a graduate of University College, Oxford, and worked for many years in the advertising industry. Now retired, he is a writer and researcher who has had a number of articles published in Brontë Studies, the official research journal of the Brontë Society.
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