Friday, April 29, 2016

Nineteenth Century Heroines: One for the Ages

It’s been a while since I discovered another nineteenth century lady worthy of being part of our ongoing series, but a friend recently gave me the book I Married Adventure, and I simply had to include Osa Johnson as a real-life woman who could have been a romance heroine.

Osa Leighty Johnson is a part of the nineteenth century only because she was born in 1894. Raised in a conventional family in Chanute, Kansas, a twist of fate brought her in contact with one of the celebrities of the day, Martin Johnson. Martin had already distinguished himself as an adventurer, having sailed partway around the world with famed author Jack London. Then sixteen-year-old Osa and twenty-six year old Martin had a short and sometimes rocky courtship, but they married in 1910 and set about promoting the pictures he’d taken on his adventures.

Though Osa initially thought Martin had decided to settle down, she soon learned that her husband simply could not stay in one place for long. Martin was a photographer at heart. Nothing made him happier than taking pictures of strange peoples and strange animals in strange places. From cannibals in Borneo to pygmies in Africa, Osa journeyed beside her famous husband into places no white person, and certainly no white woman, had ever dared venture.

And she didn’t just journey. Oh, she was the first to admit she liked pretty dresses and a proper kitchen. But Osa worked right beside Martin in the field. She learned to work the big motion picture cameras. She learned to shoot both pistol and rifle, bringing down even a rhino that charged her husband while he was filming, saving Martin’s life. She hiked up mountains, forded flooding rivers in massive transports, crawled through gorilla trails in the dense jungle. She learned to fly and took her airplane, Osa’s Ark, cross the entire continent of Africa.
Always, Martin and Osa were a pair, her making sure his life was as healthy and easy as possible given their unconventional vocations, him being devoted to her safety and comfort.

Tragically, Martin was killed in a commercial plane crash in 1937, a crash that severely injured Osa. She could easily have retired to Chanute and lived out her life on speaking fees alone. But she didn’t. Instead, she wrote books about her experiences; took a huge safari with her into Africa to shoot portions of the motion picture Stanley and Livingstone, starring Spencer Tracey; and designed real-life-looking stuffed animals for the National Wildlife Federation.

Osa Johnson died at age 58 and was buried alongside her beloved Martin. Her family started the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in her honor. 

Now that’s a heroine for the ages.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Not Regency Fabrics, Part 2

Last Tuesday we had an up close and personal look at paper samples published in Ackermann's Repository. That page of samples was accompanied by the following article, which I thought NineteenTeen readers might find interesting. It’s a little long, but bear with me:


It is not long since needle-work was considered, in our schools for young ladies, as one of the greatest accomplishments; and if a girl had gone home for the half-year holidays without either an alphabet, a map, a name, a flower, or perhaps some wretched figure, the parents would have looked upon the system of the school as extremely deficient, and miss would certainly not have been sent back to so imperfect a seminary. Exclusive of the injurious effects of this branch of education on the health of children, when kept for hours together stooping over one object during the whole six, and, in a larger piece, perhaps twelve months, how was it possible that, with the vivacity natural at that tender age, they could be otherwise than disgusted with continually looking at the same thing over and over again! Consequently, nothing but force and threats on the one had, and promises of going home for the holidays on the other, could prevail on them to apply to such tedious occupations.

It is impossible to congratulate our fair countrywomen too warmly on the revolution which has of late years taken place, when drawing and fancy-work of endless variety have been raised on the ruins of that heavy, unhealthy, and stupefying occupation, needlework.

Drawing, the ground-work of refined taste in the arts, is now considered, and very justly, as an indispensable requisite in the education of both sexes. In that of females in particular, it has opened a prodigious field for the excursions of imagination, invention, and ingenuity. Here the young mind is not easily tired, because fancy-works are frequently begun one day and finished the next; and perhaps the completion of the most considerable job will not take a fortnight.  What pleasure it must afford to a young lady to see her work advance so rapidly! Sometimes she sits to it, and at others stands; and by way of ascertaining its effect, she steps to the distance of some yards, returns with a new idea; and frequently before one object is half finished, her fertile imagination has suggested an additional ornament for the parlour or drawing-room of her beloved parents, or for distant friends or relatives.

Let us also for a moment reflect on the good consequence which a fondness for fancy-works is calculated to produce in future. Ladies who have once engaged in this innocent and amusing occupation, which daily affords such abundant scope for new inventions, will never relinquish it. From ornamental subjects they are led imperceptibly to the making of useful articles; so that it is no uncommon thing to enter a drawing, breakfast, or dining-room, where the fire-screens, card-racks, chimney-ornaments, boxes, picture-frames, and a variety of other objects of utility or embellishment, are made, painted, and decorated by the ingenious mistress of the house or her daughters.

To enumerate all these different productions of female industry and invention would be an endless task; but we shall occasionally recur to some of them in our future numbers. The annexed wood-cut, with patterns of various fancy-papers and borders, is here introduced for the convenience of those ladies, who either cannot go out shopping themselves, or reside in a part of the country where they cannot meet with such articles as they want. The insertion of such patterns from time to time, will, it is presumed, facilitate the procuring of the materials for fancy-works*, and also make their various uses and the method of applying them more generally known.

*It is requested, when orders are given, to specify the number or description of the pattern, as well as the number of the Magazine.

Okay, that article was a tad self-serving...after all, Mr. Ackermann was selling these fancy papers, right? Furthermore, needlework certainly hadn’t gone out of fashion—Ackermann’s as well as most of the other popular magazines were regularly publishing needlework patterns.

But it’s also a pretty cool link between the present and the past: girls and women were being “crafty” even then, and I’m sure would have been all over DeviantArt and Etsy with their paper crafts if they’d had the internet. Now we know where all the “fancy-work” that was sold in the endless church and Ladies’ Aid Society bazaars and jumble-sales to support missionaries came from...something I’d always assumed was more a Victorian phenomenon, but evidently not! And it illuminates that after-dinner conversation from Pride and Prejudice when Jane is taken ill at Netherfield and Lizzie comes to stay to nurse her at the invitation of the good-hearted Mr. Bingley and his less-than-goodhearted sister Caroline:

"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."

"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"

"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished."

I wonder if those very accomplished young ladies of Mr. Bingley’s acquaintance purchased their screen-covering papers at Ackermann’s? ☺

Friday, April 22, 2016

Free! Oh, and a Preorder Too

Yes, it’s true. I have joined the ranks of authors offering entire e-book novels for free. For a limited time, in preparation for the fifth book on my Lady Emily Capers, Love and Larceny, coming out in May, I’ve made book one, Secrets and Sensibilities, free.

When art instructor Hannah Alexander agrees to accompany four of her students on a country house visit before Easter, she never dreams of entering into a dalliance with the owner David Tenant, the handsome new Earl of Brentfield. But one moment in his company and she’s in danger of losing her heart. There are secrets aplenty at Brentfield, enough to challenge any lady’s sensibilities, even those of Hannah’s protégé, Lady Emily Southwell. As events unfold at Brentfield, Hannah quickly learns that loving David comes at a price, to her future plans of being a portrait painter, to her position as a teacher, and to her very life.

You can find a free copy at the following retailers through April 29:

But wait, there’s more! J

I’m pleased to announce that “An Engagement of Convenience,” in the Timeless Regency anthology Summer House Party is available for preorder. The book, which also features stories by acclaimed Regency authors Donna Hatch and Sarah M. Eden, will release on June 7.

Pretty chaperone Kitty Chapworth has foiled five elopements, four proposals of ill intent, and the worst first kiss in history, so she isn't about to believe a gentleman's silken promises. That is, until charming rake Quentin Adair returns to her life. Ten years ago, Kitty was instrumental in causing the poor fellow to be exiled to Jamaica in a tragic case of love gone wrong. When he requests her help to prevent his father's ruin, she cannot refuse, even when helping requires her to pretend she is engaged to the handsome rogue at a summer house party.

Quentin has spent the last ten years becoming the man his father always hoped. Now he will not allow an old enemy to harm his family. Kitty is the perfect conspirator--sharp, witty, fearless. But as danger threatens, Quentin finds that his priorities have changed. Can a reformed rake convince the perfect chaperone to overlook propriety for love?

Goodness, after confessing all that, I feel so free!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Not Regency Fabrics, Part 1

I’ve been having lots of fun posting in my series on Regency Fabrics with the amazing ads from Ackermann’s Repository that have actual fabric samples glued into them, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them as well.  But what’s even cooler is that fabric isn’t the only commodity to have received this treatment: Mr. Ackermann featured other items as well, including different types of paper which they themselves sold as in this page of "Fancy Papers and Borders". Note the inscription below the samples:

The Public are respectfully informed, that besides the above Specimens of Fancy Papers and Borders, R. ACKERMANN manufactures a great variety of other Fancy Articles; and publishes almost daily, new plates of Fancy Prints, Medallions, Drawing Books, Transparencies, &c. &c. &c. The number already published is near 4000, so that he is enabled to supply Merchants, Dealers, and Schools, on better terms than any other house in the Kingdom.
N.B. Ackermann’s Superfine Water Colours, in such high Estimation, and all other drawing materials, are furnished at his Repository of Arts, 101, Strand, Wholesale and Retail.

Next week we’ll discuss just why Ackermann’s “fair readers” might be interested in “Fancy Papers”...but first, let’s look at the samples themselves. Just as I do with the fabric samples, I’ll do my best to describe each piece.

Explanations of the Patterns of Fancy Papers and Borders

No. 1, denominated fancy gold-paper, may be had of all colours, and about fifty different designs. The pattern here exhibited goes by the name of honeycomb; is principally used for covering boxes, card-racks, and hand and fire-screens. It measure 17 inches by 11; is sold at 1s. 6p. a sheet in gold, and 2s. in silver. It is put down with paste, which ought to be spread very even, and lie about two minutes, to time for the paper to stretch: when put down, pass the hand over a paper laid upon it.

My comments: Such a lovely, vivid turquoise color! The weight of the paper itself is somewhere between that of heavy writing paper and light card stock; the finish is very smooth.

The patterns marked 2, are two gold-embossed borders; with which, when well displayed, articles of the greatest elegance and richest appearance are produced. There is not a single object for the interior of a room, boudoir, or cabinet, to which these borders are not applicable. They are of various widths, from 1/8 of an inch to 2 inches, and 18 inches long. They are to be had in bright and dead gold, ditto silver, in bronze, and in all colours; and are sold, according to width and quality, from 2s. to 27s. per dozen. Embossed borders are laid down with a strong gum, which must be passed sparingly on the edges, otherwise the embossed work would be drawn down, and its beauty destroyed.

My comments: These are fairly similar to embossed gold foil-covered paper that you might find at a craft store—a little stiffer than the honeycomb paper in the first sample. The embossing is quite lovely and detailed.

No. 3 is called copper-plate paper. Of this there are about fifteen different designs, printed in various colours. The annexed pattern, which goes by the name of open-basket-paper, is much used for screens, boxes, card-racks, and for covering ladies’ portfolios. This paper measures 16½ inches by 10, and is sold at 9d. per sheet.

My comments: This is lighter in weight than the first sample, rather like a stiff wrapping paper, and not quite as smooth in texture.

No. 4 is red morocco paper. It is the closest and finest imitation of the leather which it represents, and may be had in all colours. It is also much used for screens, boxes, card-racks, portfolios, and shew-books; is applied with paste, and should lie at least ten minutes before it is laid down, as the oil colour employed in its manufacture prevents it from extending so soon as other papers. Great care should be taken to rub it outward from the center, otherwise blisters and windbags will be the consequence, and these will utterly spoil the neatness of the work. The paper measures 22 inches by 17, and is sold at 2s. or a smaller size at 1s. 6p. a sheet. The large is preferable, because the paper is stronger, and of course preserves the grain better in the pasting.

My comments: This was a pretty good attempt to approximate a leather texture. As the paper is quite stiff and heavy and shiny, I’m wondering if this wasn’t made from a thin layer of lacquer on the paper.

The circular pattern in the enter is called cypress paper, and has a most delicate appearance when worked up in screens, boxes, and portfolios. The design and colours may be varied ad infinitum. It is applied with paste; and great care is necessary, otherwise the gloss is taken out. The paste ought not to be too thin, or to lie longer than two minutes on the paper before it is laid down. It must then be rubbed outward fro the center, and a thin sheet of paper ought to invariably be laid over that which is to be rubbed down, so that the hand may never touch the paper which has received the paste. It measures 21 inches by 16½, and is sold at 1s. per sheet.

My comments: Tie-dyed paper!  Well, not really, but that’s what it looks like. It’s almost as stiff and shiny (if smooth) as the red morocco paper

The oval pattern on the left hand is a beautiful Indian pink paper, principally used for lining the inside of boxes. It measures 48 inches by 20, and the finest colours are at present sold at 2s. per sheet. Being extremely thin, this paper must be very delicately used. It ought to be fitted beforehand to the place for which it is intended, and put down the moment the paste (which must not be very thick) is laid on. To work it well into the corners, an ivory folding-knife is necessary; but it must be used very carefully, otherwise the paper will tear.

My comments: The warnings are a good idea—this is comparable to a heavy tissue paper weight-wise. But it’s quite opaque and the color is beautifully vivid.

The right hand oval is green milled paper. It is manufactured in all possible colours and shades, and is used both for lining and covering boxes, card-racks, hand and fire-screens, and a variety of other purposes. It measures 16 inches by 13, and is sold at the following prices: French green 4d. deep scarlet and crimson 6d. and all other colours at 3d. per sheet. It is also applied with paste, which should not be put on it more than two minutes before it is laid down.

My comments: Comparable to No. 3 in weight, smooth without shine.  Though I’m wondering what the source of the green in the dye is...

Included also are directions for paste, which I thought might interest you:

A few directions for making good paste, and also preparing a strong cement, for the gold papers, embossed borders and ornaments, may not perhaps be unacceptable to some of our fair readers.

To make good paste, take about half a pint of water; stir and mix well in it a table-spoonful of the best and finest flour. When no more lumps of flour are perceptible, and the whole appears like milk, set it on a gentle fire, in an earthen pipkin or tin saucepan. Stir it well till it just begins to boil; then take it from the fire; and when cold, it is fit for use. This paste will keep in winter about a week, in summer not above two or three days.

For a cement for gold-paper borders, &c. take one ounce of the best picked and clear gum arabic [the hardened sap of the acacia tree, still in use today for various purposes], pound it to powder; pour on it sufficient water to cover it, set it in a warm place, and stir it three or four times a day. In about two days it will be dissolved and fit for use; and when bottled will keep about a month in winter, in summer not above half that time: may be had in bottles ready prepared, as well as all the foregoing articles, at R. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 101, Strand, London.

All right, NineteenTeen readers: any paper crafters out there? What do you think of these papers?

Friday, April 15, 2016

The (Al)lure of the Selkie

In Tuesday’s post announcing Skin Deep’s release I mentioned something about always having had a thing for selkies, so I thought it might be fun to take a look at selkie legend and folklore.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, selkies are a type of shape-shifter, a magical creature that can take the form either of a seal or a human.  They’re a Celtic creature, from the islands and west coast of Scotland as well as the east coast of Ireland. But unusually for shape-shifters, they don’t just change from one form to another: in order to assume his (or her) human form, a selkie takes off his or her skin and puts it on again when it’s time to return to the sea. In human form they’re said to be very beautiful, dark-haired with shining eyes—so beautiful that humans who see them often fall madly in love with them. But they also often have rough skin on their hands as well as webbed fingers.

The most common stories about selkies usually involve a human happening upon them at one of their dances, for selkies were said to gather on beaches at the full moon to take off their skins and dance together in the moonlight. Smitten by their beauty, the human (usually a fisherman out late at night to check his nets) would sneak over to where the selkies had left their skins and steal the one belonging to the fairest selkie maid, forcing her to remain in her human shape. Though she would beg for him to return her skin he always refused, and would somehow convince her to marry him (maybe she figured that if she stayed close to him she would be able to find her skin again.) They would marry and raise a family together...but years later the selkie would find the place where her husband had hidden her skin  (often led there by one of her own children, who has no idea what the soft furry cloak he or she has found is) and snatch it away to return to the sea...though in some of the stories she would return to visit her children.

It’s a beguiling image, isn’t it—the beautiful selkies, laughing and smiling as they dance on the beach with the sea glittering beyond them in the moonlight, the smitten fisherman watching them from behind a boulder, perhaps? I’m not sure if that’s the image that drew me, or the fact that seals are pretty neat creatures to begin with...but the selkie legend has always held a strong fascination for me, so it was inevitable I’d write about them one day.  But in Skin Deep, I’ve turned the selkie legend more than a little upside down...and given it a happily ever after ending.  Want to find out how?  You can find it in ebook format at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo...and in print also at Amazon. Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can take a chance at winning one of ten copies I’m giving away through Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Skin Deep by Marissa Doyle

Skin Deep

by Marissa Doyle

Giveaway ends May 15, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Any fellow selkie fans out there? Or is there another shape-shifter legend that has you fascinated?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Release Day for Skin Deep!

Sometimes it's what's on the outside that matters...

That’s the tag line for my newest book, Skin Deep, which I’m very happy to announce ships today from all the usual online retailers—Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo—and in paperback as well!

Skin Deep is a contemporary paranormal romance (yes, that means adult not YA, but the level of steam is restrained) with a bit of a twist: while the hero is a selkie (I have been obsessed with selkie folklore since childhood), the heroine does not fall into the usual human-with-no-powers role often seen in shape-shifter romance. Unbeknownst to her, Garland Durrell has a strange gift: the quilts she creates are imbued with magic. She’ll have to learn to use that gift to save the man—er, selkie—she loves as well as the town that is her new home from an evil entity bent on destroying them—and claiming her magic for itself.

As much as I lurrrve writing historical settings and characters, this book was just as fun to write. It’s set on Cape Cod, near which I grew up and where I still spend a lot of time, and writing a setting I know so intimately was both easy and hard—easy because all I have to do is close my eyes and I’m there, but hard because I needed to make readers see it as well and not just assume you would feel the contours of the land, the colors of the ocean, and the scents and sounds that I do.

In addition, I’m a quilter (though not with my heroine’s talent!), and again it was both easy and difficult to bring the tools, the processes, and most of all the sensibilities of the craft to life in a story.

And of course, there’s that thing I have for selkies...but we’ll talk more about that later. ☺

Skin Deep has already received a 4 ½ star/Reviewers Top Pick designation from Night Owl Reviews; I hope NineteenTeen readers will give it a try!  You can read an excerpt on my website to get a feel for the story...and just for fun, I’ve created several quilt templates that can be downloaded so that you can color and create your own enchanted quilts.

Have fun, and thank you for celebrating with me!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

The northern part of Washington State, between the Cascades and Puget Sound, is famous for flower fields. Every spring, thousands trek to see the daffodils and tulips stretching for acres under the watchful presence of Mt. Baker. Making that journey has long been on my bucket list, so I was delighted to have a chance to spend part of an afternoon tiptoeing through the tulips recently with Regency author Donna Hatch.

Tulips, however, would have been no strangers to the ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century. Imported from the Ottoman Empire to Holland in the sixteenth century, the flower was an immediate hit. In fact, a frenzy for the bulbs, called Tulip Mania, is credited with creating the first economic bubble. Tulips became so popular that the bulbs were used as a kind of currency, and those who planted tulips frequently found their gardens raided. (Tulip pirates, anyone?) According to an 1841 book by Charles Mackay about that time, as many as 12 acres of land was traded for one Semper Augustus bulb (the red and white flower at the left).

Although the tulip was not imported to the United States until the mid-1800s, by the early 1800s, tulips could be found in every English garden of any note and were appearing in paintings, as motifs on ceramics and architecture, and even in ladies costumes. In the language of flowers, a tulip means fame. Certainly the term became slang for a gentleman who had an overly refined taste in clothing.

But the English tulip flowers quickly distinguished themselves from their Dutch counterparts. Flames or feathers of color striped the blossoms. In later years, these patterns were attributed to Tulip Breaking Virus, but at the time such blooms were highly prized as rarities. English Florists’ Tulips, as they were called, were grown to specific standards, and fanciers vied for raising the perfect plants. Tulip societies popped up in many major towns, and there was even a Royal National Tulip Society. Sadly, only the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society remains.

But you can come my way and tiptoe through the tulips instead.

And you can make sure to come back next week, when Marissa will unveil something even better than a striped tulip: a new book. Squee!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

History in the News

So I was all set with another post in my 1810 series when I ran across three awesome historical news stories that I just had to instead of the Duke of Cumberland, today you’re getting ancient Egyptian tailoring, Henry VIII's head injuries, and Sir Walter Scott’s sock puppetry. Ready?

The world’s oldest dress:  Archaeologists have carbon-dated this linen dress (yes, it looks like a shirt but the bottom half is missing, based on other younger examples that have been found) with elegant pleated yoke and sleeves and a v-neck found in an Egyptian tomb to somewhere between 5,100 and 5,400 years old, making it the oldest known piece of tailored, sewn clothing. The garment’s story is a fascinating one: originally found in a tomb at the cemetery at Tarkhan, it was sent to the Petrie Museum at the University College of London entwined in a bunch of rags and ignored for decades...until conservators got around to examining it in 1977. if only there were fashion magazines from ancient Egypt. Ahkenaton’s Repository, anyone?  ☺ (photo Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London)

Henry VIII needed better head gear:  Dr. Arash Salardini and colleagues at Yale’s School of Medicine have speculated in an article in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience that Henry VIII’s famously bad temper and tyrannical behavior in his later years may have been due to repeated traumatic brain injuries in his youth.

Famously fit and athletic as a young man, Henry was an avid jouster among other things, and suffered some spectacular falls and plenty of being thumped about as a result...just like today’s football players. In his later years, Henry went from being the ideal Renaissance prince, cultured and courtly, to a cruel, capricious tyrant, suffering blinding headaches and sudden, unexplained rages. Historians have attributed this change to many things: tertiary syphilis, chronic infection, diabetes, and kidney disease...but this new diagnosis makes bunches more sense.

Oh Sir Walter, you tricksy fellow: It seems that sock puppetry is not a modern phenomenon. Two hundred years ago, a well-known author was engaging in practices that today would have gotten him banned by Amazon.

Sir Walter Scott, whose poems and books helped birth the Highland Revival, was also an important writer and reviewer for the Quarterly Review, an important and widely read journal of the day. His reviews of such books as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jane Austen’s Emma, and Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage helped launch their popularity. But he also used his position as a respected reviewer to thoroughly (and anonymously) lambaste one of his own books, a short story collection called Tales of My Landlord, which he’d published under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham.  But he didn’t stop there; after calling the work unoriginal and lame, he speculated about the identity of the author of the Tales, going so far as to suggest not only himself ("the author of Waverley"), but his own brother Thomas.  The result? Huge sales, because everyone wanted to see just how bad the book was and if they could guess who the author was. 

Naughty, naughty! ☺

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Young Bluestockings Continue to Read Cranford

Hello? Anyone home? Have I interrupted your reading? A thousand pardons!

Have you finished the book yet? I must say, this was my first outing with Elizabeth Gaskell’s work, but I found the tone delightful. From the very first, the humor leapt out at me. I read some lines aloud to my husband, who even found a chuckle.

Mrs. Gaskell, as she was often called by her adoring readers, began life as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson. She did not have an easy childhood. She was the youngest of eight children, all of whom except a brother died in infancy, and her mother died a little over a year after giving birth to Elizabeth. Her grief-stricken father sent her to live with an aunt, even after he married again and had two more children. It is said the aunt’s home in Knutsford, Cheshire, was the pattern for the town of Cranford as well as Hollingford in Wives and Daughters, another of her works with which 19 Teen readers might be familiar. I couldn’t help wondering whether Miss Matty’s brother Peter wasn’t modeled a bit after Mrs. Gaskell’s brother John, a sailor in the Merchant Marine, who disappeared during an expedition to India in 1827.

At age 22, Elizabeth married a Unitarian minister like her father. Two years later, they were blessed with a daughter (Marianne), followed by Margaret in 1837, Florence in 1842, and Julia in 1846. Between Florence and Julia, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, William, who died in infancy like her siblings. It was said she felt his death so keenly that only writing would provide a solace, and her husband suggested that she try a novel rather than the short stories she had written up until then.

Her first novel (Mary Barton) was published anonymously in 1848. Though some protested the story, which deals with the working class and those who fancy themselves above and includes some darker themes, the work garnered the attention of the likes of Charles Dickens. He invited her to submit her work to his Household Words, a popular magazine. She would write Cranford for him in a series of stories, as Marissa mentioned, beginning in 1851.

But while Cranford is noted for its droll humor and delicate characterizations, Elizabeth had a strong sense of what today we would call social justice. Unlike many books published during that time, which featured the upper classes, her North and South, like Mary Barton, not only dealt with the working class but showed a marked affinity for their situations.

While her works were quite popular during her time, her literary career was not without controversy. In 1853, she dared to write a novel that openly discussed the plight of women who had been seduced and bore illegitimate children. Supposedly her readers found it quite shocking. In addition, she had met and befriended Charlotte Bronte and was asked by Charlotte’s father to write her biography. The work is heralded by many as a model for biographies, but Elizabeth was actually threatened with a lawsuit because of her depiction of some of the people in it. 

She was, apparently, a warm, welcoming hostess, who was kind to the poor and loved to travel with her daughters. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away in 1865, leaving Wives and Daughters unfinished, although at enough of a stopping point that it was published posthumously.

So, what do you think of the delightful Mrs. Gaskell?

Do you see any other influences from her life in Cranford?

Have you read or seen the adaptations for Wives and Daughters or North and South? How did they compare to Cranford?

Please, chime in!