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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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Part 1: Unweaving the text:a new language for a new society

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Part 1: Unweaving the text: a new language for a new society ALAN SHELSTON Exploring the boundaries in Elizabeth Gaskell’s shorter fiction Jenny Uglow subtitled her biography of Elizabeth Gaskell “A Habit of Stories”1. Gaskell was the most prolific of the canonical nineteenth- century novelists in her commitment to the story form. In her case the term ‘story’ has to include writing of a few pages at one end of the spectrum, and novellas like Cousin Phillis or “A Dark Night’s Work” at the other. In an informal listing of Gaskell’s works over forty of her titles are of works in the story or imaginative essay form. Many of them were contributions to Dickens’s two journals, Household Words and All the Year Round, and her early work largely follows his agenda of providing improving reading for the literate working class. In her later work for All the Year Round she seems to have felt freer to estab- lish her own priorities, although here too with her stories of crime and sensation she can be said to have been following popular taste. Work- ing with Dickens had both positives and disadvantages. The speed of production in his operations meant that the stories were often written quickly and submitted for his approval. Always determined to protect the integrity of her full-length novels she could be more casual where the stories were concerned. They rarely aspired to what might be called the high aesthetic line which was to be a development in...

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