Confessions of a Nervous Chair….

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It’s hard to imagine a more nerve-wracking scenario than Newish Chairwoman organising and chairing her first conference for such a well-respected literary society as the Gaskell Society. NOT helped by a history of well-organised, enjoyable, academically stimulating previous conferences stretching back over many years….no pressure then!

Having said all that, I of course was NOT alone – Pam Griffiths, Jackie Tucker and Jean Alston worked every bit as hard as I did to ensure a successful outcome – and yes, it did ‘turn out nicely’, judging from the many compliments and excellent feedback received so far. I knew that we had 4 world-class speakers, I knew we were in a lovely hotel, I knew we’d organised 4 delightful trips – but honestly, it was halfway through Saturday’s programme before I suddenly realised that I wasn’t feeling sick anymore, and yes, was actually beginning to enjoy myself. 

In my defence, I have to say that our 5th speaker pulled out of the conference at VERY short notice, putting me into full headless chicken mode – until (yet again) our very own Diane Duffy and Anthony Burton stepped into the breach and gave a superb double presentation on what and how Mrs Gaskell knew about working-class life in Manchester. I am continually impressed at the wealth of knowledge and talent within this Society. 

A few magic moments for me:-

The MANY conversations I had with Society members I’d never had the pleasure of meeting before.

Discovering that Tankersley Manor Hotel had lactose-free cake!! Two of our members are lactose-intolerant and one of them told me that she’d not eaten cake for 5 years…..

Standing in the Great Hall at Oakwell as the sun streamed through that huge spectacular window, thinking about Charlotte Bronte being there (she went on to use Oakwell as the model for Fieldhead in Shirley).

Diane and Anthony bringing the house down on our last evening, performing as Jem & Betty having their first baby in Edwin Waugh’s poem. Anthony had compiled The Poetry of Humble Life, a truly delightful after-dinner entertainment – and two new stars have definitely been born.

In her foreword to our recently published Journal Index, Jo Pryke quotes Alan Shelston’s observation that literary societies tend to reflect their progenitors in character: Jo goes on to say that “generosity and friendship are surely two key words in any description of Elizabeth Gaskell”. These characteristics were much in evidence during our conference weekend, leading me to say wholeheartedly (and with only the smallest twinge of nerves) – Roll on Conference 2021! 

Libby Tempest
Chair – The Gaskell Society     

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