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Elizabeth Gaskell and the Art of the Short Story

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Edited By Francesco Marroni, Renzo D'Agnillo and Massimo Verzella

This volume presents a collection of original and interconnected essays which aim to chart Elizabeth Gaskell’s literary imagination by focusing on diverse aspects of her short stories. It includes the papers read at the conference on «Elizabeth Gaskell and the art of the short story», organized by the Centre for Victorian and Edwardian Studies (CUSVE, «G. d’Annunzio» University, Pescara, 2010), to celebrate the bicentenary of her birth. While offering fresh insights into Gaskell’s shorter fiction, this collection provides an introduction to the many issues that absorbed her literary attention. Most importantly, by considering the growing significance of some neglected aspects of her works and the cultural and ideological context in which she lived, the contributions collectively delineate Gaskell’s artistic tensions, ethical sensibility and social commitment in a rapidly changing world. In their overall critical design, the contributors intend to shed light on the complex web of dialogic suggestions underlying her fiction, while at the same time revealing the extraordinary and multifaceted inventiveness of one of the most important Victorian writers.

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INTRODUCTION - Elizabeth Gaskell’s narrating voices: Signs and metaphors for a changing world -7

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INTRODUCTION Elizabeth Gaskell’s narrating voices: Signs and metaphors for a changing world Two centuries after her birth in 1810, Elizabeth Gaskell can no longer be considered the shy peevish little dove David Cecil describes in his Early Victorian Novelists (1934)1. Today – to keep to the ornithologi- cal metaphor – she stands out clearly in the double guise of a dove and an eagle. Indeed, one is almost tempted to say that Gaskell is an eagle that loves to disguise itself as a dove so as to be able to fly through all the rooms of the house of fiction and, in order to approach reality most effectively, adopts multiple voices, whilst choosing, at the same time, to combine the penetrating vision of an eagle with the familiar low flight of the dove, knowing full well that society is constructed from below. However, leaving the stimulating images from Cecil’s seminal study to one side, it is important to observe that, even now in the twenty-first century, any attempt to fully acknowledge Gaskell’s greatness is still met with resistance, especially in view of the fact that her bi-centenary celebrations have not only been ominously low-key but have failed – particularly from an editorial point of view – to give the writer the full attention she deserves. On the other hand, it is also true that, in terms of the canon, Ha- rold Bloom does not even mention her in his self-important volume The Western Canon. Compared to the ten pages Bloom dedicates to George...

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