At Home with Cranford: Elizabeth Gaskell and her House
While many may be familiar with the works of English writer Elizabeth Gaskell—Cranford (1851-53), North and South (1854-55), Wives and Daughters (1865), and the first biography of Charlotte Bronte—fewer people are familiar with her home life. After a childhood in Cheshire and schooling in Warwickshire, Gaskell moved to Manchester in 1850 with her husband, the Unitarian Rev. William Gaskell, and four daughters.
Their Regency villa, nestled at the edge of the bustling city, proved to be the perfect birthplace for Mrs. Gaskell’s best-loved novels and marked the beginning of the most productive period of her writing career. In 1851, Charlotte Brontë visited Gaskell’s at home and commented, “She lives in a large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of the Manchester smoke.”
The house’s leafy garden and tranquil setting recalled Gaskell’s bucolic childhood in the Cheshire village of Knutsford, immortalized in her popular novel Cranford. As the author’s reputation grew, visitors to her home included not only literary figures like Brontë and Charles Dickens (who first published Cranford in his magazine Household Words), but also Manchester’s leading social and religious reformers.
Her home’s proximity to Manchester influenced her writings, which included her progressive ideas and reflected her commitment to social reform. Gaskell describes the stark realities of industrial life in North and South, while other books describe poor working conditions and gender and class identity issues. Throughout, however, Gaskell’s Victorian home remained her family refuge. She wrote to a friend “We’ve got a house…it certainly is a beauty…I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can and make it as little a selfish thing as I can.”
Join Country Life and Vanity Fair contributor Patrick Monahan as he leads Royal Oak on a virtual visit to the author’s intimate family villa and illustrates the period rooms and gardens. He will explore the settings of Gaskell’s novels and illustrate some of the places used in film adaptations of her works—including the quintessential English village, Lacock, (managed by the National Trust) which is familiar to viewers as Cranford.