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Lizzie Leigh by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)

Novella review: Lizzie Leigh by Elizabeth Gaskell (Manybooks.net/Project Gutenberg [1855])

Lizzie Leigh is a story about a family in the countryside somewhere, who carry a dark secret. Their daughter went off to Manchester and was dismissed from her place of work because of some sinful behaviour. On his deathbed, her father forgives her, in her absense, and once he’s gone, the mother decides to let the farm and go to Manchester to look for Lizzie. In Manchester, one of the sons befriends an old drunk and his lovely daughter, a teacher. Could they aid the Leighs in finding their lost daughter?

I started reading this story on the plane from just Manchester, and the funny thing is, it begins around Christmas, with lots of snow and such. Perfect match! Mrs. Gaskell tells a compelling story of a mother’s longing for her lost child, and the hope that she will be found and that she’s not dead and buried.

It partly reminded me of Kejsarn av Portugallien by Selma Lagerlöf, where a father is so proud of his daughter and loves her very much and she goes away to a Big City too (Stockholm). Although, when the daughter doesn’t keep in touch, he starts to live in a fantasy world, believing that she’s an empress, when in fact she’s become a prostitute. Or at least, such was my recollection based on a TV adaptation I saw when I was ten. Reading the synopsis on Wikipedia, it appears the prostitution thing may have just been a vile rumour, as opposed to what actually happened. Anyway, I was thinking that’s what happened to her, so to find out that’s not exactly what happened was a bit surprising, perhaps, but a big issue for the time, none the less. The mother is not under any pretenses that her child has become an empress or anything, she knows the details of the scandal – it’s just that Mrs. Gaskell doesn’t let the reader quite know what has happened.

The style of Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing is very appealing. It’s easy to read, no too difficult words. They do talk in a northern English dialect, but you can actually decipher what’s being said without needing a translation, unlike Joseph’s gobbledygook in Wuthering Heights.

Got a bunch of Gaskell texts downloaded to my Kindle, so I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of them as well! 🙂

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

5 thoughts on “Lizzie Leigh by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)

  1. Lizzie Leigh is one of the few Gaskell stories I haven’t read yet–it wasn’t in the anthology I had, and I couldn’t find a copy, but Project Gutenburg is a great resource.

    I really love how Gaskell dealt with issues of the day head on, compassionately and fairly and, for the most part, realistically.

    Thanks for the reminder to read this Gaskell, and soon!

  2. @JaneGS: Hope you get to read it soon! 🙂 I’m really looking forward to reading more from her. North & South was a good start.

  3. I’m sorry I missed seeing this post until now. I read this story in a collection which included Cousin Phillis. There wasn’t one story that didn’t bring a tear to my eye and this one certainly did bring a few more besides.
    I think the reason the daughter was dismissed was that she had gotten pregnant (most probably from the Master of the house). It is unfortunate that in those days all the blame went to the female even if she was powerless to prevent it.
    I loved Gaskell’s portrayal of the mother’s steadfast love and the way the threads of the story were tied together so neatly at the end.

  4. Phylly3: Thanks for your comment! 🙂 Didn’t really consider it being the Master of the house who was the father, but it might well have been! It wouldn’t be unusual. In fact, it’s in my own family tree! The resulting child was brought up by her maternal grandparents, but yes, her father was the farm owner and her mother one of his farm maids. Scandalous back then, not so much these days. Funny how times change!

  5. Elizabeth Gaskell isn’t quite as known or as celebrated as Dickens or the Brontes, people who had been big friends of hers, according to her biography, but she was a gifted writer in her own right and her talent shows in this wonderful gem which I will reread again in the not-so-distant future.

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