Dickens & Gaskell: A Literary Marriage

Carolyn Lambert's recent talk to the Fellowship (Central) was greatly enjoyed by members judging by the lively discussion that ensued. A copy of her slides can be found here.

Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens were arguably two of the greatest and most popular writers of the nineteenth century.  Yet the relationship between them as contributor and editor mirrored that of nineteenth-century marriage. Nineteenth-century marriage was a socially constructed gamble in which the odds were weighted heavily in favour of existing social, cultural, and legal power structures.  The spiritual authority of the church, the legal authority of the judiciary and social and cultural expectations all combined to assert the pre-eminence of marriage, home, and family life as the foundation of society. Marriage was also an essential part of the economic fabric, a form of exchange and accumulation, a secure foundation on which financial and social stability could be built in an increasingly unstable world.  Yet between 1800 and 1900, marriage evolved from an economic institution to a private relationship. Tensions began to be articulated between the material purpose of marriage – to provide a stable home and financial future – and the higher emotional expectations of a companionate marriage.

Dr Lambert's talk explored the relationship between Gaskell and Dickens as a literary marriage: one which ended in acrimonious “divorce”.  This was done in the context of the nineteenth-century periodical market to which Dickens made a unique contribution.  


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