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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 2: In the darkest labyrinths of Gaskell’s imagination

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MARIACONCETTA COSTANTINI Elizabeth Gaskell and the crime short story Elizabeth Gaskell was intrigued by “the dark underside of human be- haviour”1. This fascination has been acknowledged by recent criti- cism. While questioning traditional readings of her cosy domesticity, scholars have growingly analyzed her penchant for the uncanny and focused on her fictionalization of a world dominated by centrifugal forces2. What is mainly agreed on is the heterogeneous nature of the perversions dramatized by Gaskell. In addition to representing the real- istic effects of violent instincts and desires, she provided glimpses into the unheimlich by using a number of Gothic paraphernalia, such as family curses, disquieting doubles and ghastly apparitions. Insistently assessed in late years, the role Gaskell came to play in the Gothic tradition gained large recognition in 2000, with the publi- cation of the Penguin edition of her Gothic Tales3. Less accounted for, instead, is her contribution to crime fiction – a narrative genre that rapidly grew in popularity during the nineteenth century. Most studies 1 Shirley Foster, “Violence and Disorder in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Short Stories”, Gaskell Society Journal, 19 (2005), pp. 14-24 (p. 15). 2 Gaskell’s representation of mystery and evil is often meant to expose the fragility of Victorian society: “This idea of a changing society, often too ready to destroy the values of the domestic hearth, gives the impetus to Gaskell’s tales, which, as representations of the family unit, tend to dramatize the predominance of negative centrifugal forces over those of solidarity and altruism”. Francesco Marroni,...

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