Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Elizabeth Gaskell Borrowed These Books!

Portico friend and researcher Megan Healy writes about her experiences researching Elizabeth Gaskell at The Portico:

In 2009, I traveled across the Atlantic to move to Manchester for two months for a research project at the Portico Library. Funded by my undergraduate Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, I spent my days going through the Portico’s Issue Books, which log every book and journal borrowed from the library from 1850 to 1904. My focus was the borrowings from 1850 to 1865 of the library’s chairman, William Gaskell, husband to Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. By creating a typed account of Reverend Gaskell’s borrowings, researchers visiting the Portico now have access to records of Gaskell’s reading history, available chronologically and alphabetically, with details of the call number (when available) and the date checked out and returned.

Within this extensive list, one finds the classics—Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift—as well as several popular contemporary journals borrowed frequently, including Fraser’s Blackwood’s, Athenaeum, and Saturday Review. Though the books are all checked out in William’, one can assume the Jane Austen’s and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s works were for Elizabeth and not William. Not surprisingly, Collins, Cooper, Hawthorne, Scott, and Trollope feature frequently, as well a pleasantly wide range of female novelists, including Maria Edgeworth, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Oliphant, and Dinah Mulock Craik. Interestingly, apart from the first volume of Household Words, the only Dickens work checked out by Gaskell was David Copperfield, borrowed in July 1852 and November 1858.

In addition to the extensive fiction borrowings, there is a range of biographies, including European rulers such as Louis XIV and Peter the Cruel and literary figures Samuel Johnson and Goethe. Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses was borrowed five times by Gaskell. More obscure borrowings include Personal Narrative of Thirteen Year’ Service amongst the Wild Tribes of Khondistan, for the Suppression of Human Sacrifice; Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, From the Most Authentic Sources; and Six lectures on the chemical history of the candle to which is added a lecture on platinum.  

Furthermore, there is a wealth of travel literature alongside Gaskell’s name, ranging from Yorkshire and Devon to Italy, Greece, and Spain, as well as Bengal, Turkey, Egypt, Ceylon, China, Koordistan, Mesopotamia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Algeria. Titles range from the Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada and Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery to Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines, Including Some Stay in the Lebanon at Palmyra and in Western Turkey, and, my personal favourite, Unprotected Females in Norway; Or the Pleasantest Way of Travelling There, Passing Through Denmark and Sweden with Scandinavian Sketches from Nature.

A particular point of interest is that occasional entries appeared in Mrs Gaskell’s name; on the 17th of March, 1853, she is noted to have borrowed Robert Chamber’s Life of Robert Burns and, two days later, Mariotti’s A Historical Memoir of Fra Dolcino and His Times is ascribed to Mrs Gaskell. Gaskell scholars who had previously worked with the Issue Books question what happened on these days: was William out of town? Was he ill? What do you think?

Can you spot Reverend William Gaskell's name?

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