The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

Dr Diane Duffy shares news of her plans for our new season of study sessions for the 2024-2025 season.

Brother and Sister Relationships in ‘The Moorland Cottage’ and The Mill on the Floss

Elizabeth Gaskell portrait in chalk by George Richmond, 1851. George Eliot by François D'Albert Durade, based on a work from 1850.

Elizabeth Gaskell has often been compared to George Eliot, particularly when considering the brother and sister relationship in ‘The Moorland Cottage’ and The Mill on the Floss. But that comparison should really be the other way round – Gaskell’s work was published in 1850, whereas Eliot’s appeared ten years later. The fact that the female protagonists are both called Maggie is just one point to consider, just one of a number of striking similarities between these two texts.  There are, however, many differences, not least in the way each writer chooses to bring her work to a conclusion.

This season, our discussion sessions in Knutsford (and also online) will focus on the writings of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot, looking at the similarities between them and thinking about how the difference in their writing may illustrate the writers’ philosophies.  This will tie in beautifully with our 2024 Conference location,  which Hinckley in Leicestershire, in the heart of George Eliot country.

For the first two sessions I will take Gaskell’s novella ‘The Moorland Cottage’ as a starting point to look more closely at how the brother/sister relationships are presented in Eliot and Gaskell and how they can be compared. We can also focus on how the writers use the domestic situation to look at more political matters, such as education and the law.

As the summer progresses, I shall be posting extracts that we can use for comparative study, initially from The Mill on the Floss and later  to cover my other ideas for comparison which are:

  • Rosalind Vincy (Middlemarch)and Mrs Gibson ( Wives and Daughters);
  • the sisters Deane, Pullet and Tulliver from The Mill on the Floss with the ladies of Cranford / Wives and Daughters;
  • and fallenness in Adam Bede, Mary Barton and Ruth

I have not yet decided whether to leave the last session open for a discussion on the relative merits of Gaskell and Eliot; Eliot has always received more consistent critical acclaim, ought we to review our ideas in the light of our findings? If anyone has any other ideas that they would like to discuss, please let me know.

Happy Summer reading.