Finding Mrs. Gaskell

Saturday, March 28, 2020

These days of self-isolations force the closures of non-essential public places. Those include libraries which stay in touch with borrowers by opening stacks online, adding titles, and finding ways to make it easier to search for and obtain preferred books. I like that, as an occasional consumer of online books, for sometimes I read from a tablet or cellphone. But I’m accustomed to holding an actual book and prefer reading while balancing its weight, turning pages, and pausing to feel, explore meanings, and do some thinking. Reading is a physical activity, and I’ll read print over digital versions.

Last night, during a sleepless period, I happened across an article from the “New Yorker” (March 26, 2020) by Jill Lepore (one of my favorite writers), about a free online borrowing opportunity. She wrote that, “The Internet Archive, in San Francisco, announced—and, in the blink of an eye, opened—the National Emergency Library, a digital collection of 1.4 million books. Until June 30th, or the end of the national emergency in the United States (“whichever is later”), anyone, anywhere in the world, can check books out of this library—for free.”

I followed the link to the site. Its intelligent search tool brings up many titles both new and arcane. The older titles tossed me back to my college days and access to UCLA’s Library. Then, I had a heavy-duty involvement with literature and a fascination with early British novels. The UCLA Library held many old works–from stories by Sir Walter Scott through those from the Brontes and Jane Austin.

While drinking up those authors, I stumbled across the writings of Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65). An English author living in Manchester, she was married to a Unitarian Minister and the mother of five. She also had managed to become a productive novelist. In those days women were just beginning to be published and Gaskell’s affluence and social stature gained publishers’ attention. Her best known work, and also a delightful read, was Cranford (1853), which has been serialized for British television.

I was addicted to the writings of Charlotte Bronte, a young woman who popped from nowhere and wrote great stories. (Be assured, none of the Brontes escaped me, those siblings were amazing.) Anyway, Gaskell lived about an hour’s drive from the Brontes, was friends with Charlotte, and in 1858 published, The Life of Charlotte Bronte. There, I discovered the delights of Gaskell’s writing skills, character insights, and humor that bubbled.

Those were great days of self-directed studies and early writings that held me in thrall. Those old feelings of delight returned when my Open Library search found Mrs. Gaskell, and her Cranford, Bronte, and whatever else I might wish to re-read. Maybe my future wide-awake midnight hours will have me going back to the future.

Dear Friends: Along with other changes, our increased online access is altering habits. Diana

One thought on “Finding Mrs. Gaskell

  1. Fun. Good info. I’m an English major but not familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell. Will have to check her out! Thanks. We are doing OK and appreciating even more than usual our fur time. Such a comfort. Cooking more and not relying on Costco meals as much. Reading even more. Barry Lopez, Ann Patchett. Stay healthy and sane. ❤️😊🙋‍♀️

    Sent from my iPhone

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