A Tale of Manchester Life – Elizabeth Gaskell’s Manchester
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
2nd April 2023 – 2nd April 2024
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A new exhibition at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House will for the first time explore how Elizabeth Gaskell represented her home city in her novels and the impact of her writing from Victorian times to the present.
Elizabeth Gaskell reflected the world around her in her writing as she witnessed Manchester thriving on the one hand, as the world’s first industrial city and on the other, a place where the working class were living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Her work had a startling effect in its own time and was so painstakingly accurate that it was said to have pricked the conscience of the nation’, but as a woman the influence and importance of her writing has not been recognised by history in the way that it has for her contemporaries such as Charles Dickens.
Elizabeth went into meticulous detail to describe her characters and the world that they occupied, even using the Lancashire dialect in the dialogue. And it’s possible to plot some of the events that Elizabeth witnessed in Victorian Manchester paralleling subjects that appeared in her novels. For example, she moved to the city in 1832, the same year that a cholera epidemic broke out and where the world’s first inter-city passenger railway line from Manchester to Liverpool had opened in 1830, both of which feature in her novel Mary Barton. She was a radical campaigner who supported change and had a role within the foundations of the trade union movement, and in writing works such as North and South, she used the power of her voice to express her opinion and shine a light on the ‘miserable living’ and ‘crowded dwellings’ that resulted in thousands dying due to the deplorable sanitation.
Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd, Director of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, says, “Visitors to Tales of Manchester Life will enjoy a fascinating insight into the mind of Elizabeth Gaskell, the world of Victorian Manchester and why her novels continue to make sure a powerful contribution. She had the skill not only to entertain the reader, but through fascinating detail and incredible observations, she has given us a unique window through to the past.”
The research for Tales of Manchester Life has been carried out by a team of volunteers who support Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. To bring their findings to life and to appeal to visitors of all ages the exhibition includes interactive features, as does the whole experience of visiting the Grade II* listed house. There is a map that highlights some of the locations around Victorian Manchester that inspired some of the settings and storylines that Elizabeth pursued; places like the Mechanics’ Institute, Angel Meadows and Hulme Barracks. A cosy, bright and inviting tea party corner is an important reminder from Mary Barton that working-class life during the industrial revolution was not one-dimensional.