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Thread: Why is Gaskell underrated?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Why is Gaskell underrated?

    I was looking through the BBC's list of 100 greatest British novels again, checking which is the next I have not read yet (The Good Soldier as it happens). This was a list voted for by 82 non British book critics, but only includes novels written by Britons. For about the 30th time I wondered how it was Virginia Woolf's books were at 2 & 3. Otherwise it is an interesting list, but then I noticed there was not a single one of Elizabeth Gaskell's books in the list. How is that? She is many people's favourite Victorian author. She wrote the best industrial novels. Mary Barton and North and South are still studied on English courses (so I understand). Cranford is very popular. I have not read it but a lot of readers think Wives and Daughters is her best novel. Looking down the list, I would say North and South was better than Barchester Towers at 82, and Cranford was better than Sense and Sensibility at 66. I think that somehow she got a reputation as second rate. I do not know how book critics assess books, but I would have thought a best book merited a place in the top 100.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I haven't read her for some time, but I would agree. Although her chief strength is she doesn't have the negative points of other Victorian novelists, eg George Eliot's worthiness, Dickens' sentimentality, Trollope's garrulity, Emily Bronte's melodrama etc.

    Sense and Sensibility is my least favourite Jane Austen, but it is a finely constructed novel and I would have thought it would have it should be included.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Here is a fairly good article on the subject, although there are not many.

    I have sometimes found Gaskell narratorial interventions a bit clunky, but one thing I think she is brilliant at is making her characters speak like themselves. Sometimes it is hard to believe they're made up characters speaking words an author has written for them. I am sure many of them were based on real people, but even if they were, she could hardly go up to them and ask them to speak naturally on the subject of X so she could scribble it all down in shorthand. Mr Higgins, the factory worker from North and South, is a favourite. There's a Methodist (I think) clergyman in Ruth who nearly takes over the book. Reading him talk was like being in the room with him. In Cranford, there is an elderly woman called Miss Matty, who I think was based on Gaskell's aunt. Her traits and characteristics are so individual (but not weird) she must have been based on a real person. The only other author I have read who was as good as bringing such different characters to life and making them talk in their own ways was Anthony Powell.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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