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Mrs Gaskell and Me: Two Women, Two Love Stories, Two Centuries Apart
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Mrs Gaskell and Me: Two Women, Two Love Stories, Two Centuries Apart (Hardback)

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'A great galloping joy of a book - funny, lyrical, fast paced, heart-warming - a delicious celebration of love and life' Rebecca Stott, author of In the Days of Rain

In 1857, after two years of writing The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell fled England for Rome on the eve of publication. The project had become so fraught with criticism, with different truths and different lies, that Mrs Gaskell couldn't stand it any more. She threw her book out into the world and disappeared to Italy with her two eldest daughters. In Rome she found excitement, inspiration, and love: a group of artists and writers who would become lifelong friends, and a man - Charles Norton - who would become the love of Mrs Gaskell's life, though they would never be together.

In 2013, Nell Stevens is embarking on her Ph.D. - about the community of artists and writers living in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century - and falling drastically in love with a man who lives in another city. As Nell chases her heart around the world, and as Mrs Gaskell forms the greatest connection of her life, these two women, though centuries apart, are drawn together.

Mrs Gaskell and Me is about unrequited love and the romance of friendship, it is about forming a way of life outside the conventions of your time, and it offers Nell the opportunity - even as her own relationship falls apart - to give Mrs Gaskell the ending she deserved.

Nell Stevens has a First in English and Creative Writing from Warwick, after which she went on to study Arabic and Comparative Literature at Harvard, to receive a Marcia Trimble Fellowship and the Florence Engel Randall Graduate Fiction Award for her MFA in Fiction at Boston University, and to complete a Ph.D. in Victorian literature at King's College London. She was a finalist in the 2011 Elle magazine Writing Talent Contest, and a runner-up in both the 2014 Mslexia Memoir Competition and the 2015 Mslexia Short Story Prize.

More books by Nell Stevens

Customer Reviews

“Two women, two love stories, two centuries apart”. This is a book which sets out to do a lot. There is a large amount of autobiography here which is interesting, but it is sold on the sections concerning the Victorian author, Elizabeth Gaskell. Stevens attempts to run the story of her own life and studies with a fictional story concerning an author about which much is known. There are a few books which attempt to blend a famous author’s life or best known work with the story of the modern writer’s attempts to learn about them, but this is not the best of them. It is a valiant attempt to put some of the story of this lesser known author in a new context, and as such should be applauded, as Gaskell’s works include some excellent novels of individual women’s situation in the fast changing world of the Industrial Revolution. As such it may well inspire some to sample more of Gaskell’s work beyond the popular “Cranford”, which would be an excellent achievement. The book opens with a picture of Elizabeth Gaskell in 1855, as she responds to the sermons that her Unitarian Minister husband preaches, of which she is not a huge fan. Stevens addresses Gaskell as “You” throughout the sections, which is an interesting technique to simultaneously draw her to the reader’s attention, and to approach the writer via her feelings and actions. This section goes on to relate how Gaskell had begun and developed her flourishing career as a writer, which led her to fame and meeting many interesting people, including Charlotte Bronte. When she discovers that Charlotte has died, she embarks on a biography of the writer which she anticipates will cause trouble; she wrote to her publisher “Do you mind the law of libel?” Partly to escape the publicity, she journeys to Rome, where she meets the younger but fascinating Charles Eliot Norton. She falls in love, with him, with Rome, with her escape from Manchester, and many of the sections in the book deals with her feelings on her return and resumption of life. There is a strange section featuring the Barrett Brownings. The Gaskell narrative is interspersed with Stevens’ own story of an international romance, which features her internet links with the man, and her struggles with her Phd studies. There are some varied pictures of a writing group in Paris and a health crisis, which overlaps with Gaskell in a different way. I found much to interest me in this book, having a particular involvement with Gaskell studies, but I found the changes of focus less than engaging. There are almost two excellent books here, but I found the format a little disappointing. I found the fictional construction of Gaskell’s feelings fascinating, and generally fitting in with her existing writing in many letters. This is a good book, championing as it does Gaskell in a timely way. I did enjoy this book, found it engaging and readable, and would recommend it as a good introduction to Gaskell written in a unique way.

- 06/10/2018
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