Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Moorland Cottage: Background – Writing & Publishing History

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Entrance to Briery Close © Alexander Kapp

Invited by their friends Sir James and Lady Kay-Shuttleworth, Mrs. Gaskell and her daughters stayed at Briery Close near Lake Windermere the summer of 1850. It was there, in August, that she completed The Moorland Cottage. Her publishers Chapman & Hall asked for a Christmas book, she agreed but confided to a friend that it was,

A very foolish engagement of mine, which I am angry with myself for doing, but I promised it and I have done it

London: Chapman & Hall, December 1850. First edition. Octavo. 182 pgs. Illustrations by Birkett Foster.

Originally called Rosemary, Edward Chapman objected and foolishly suggested a rude title to which Mrs. Gaskell said she’d disown the book. He was something of a bully towards her and even withheld the royalties of one of her novels for four years. I’m assuming his lack of professionalism stemmed because she was female. Writing was considered a male profession. Her contemporaries Charlotte Brontë and Mary Ann Evans both wrote under a male pseudonym, Currer Bell and George Eliot respectively.

Gakell and Chapman compromised, settling on December Days but in the end it was published as The Moorland Cottage.

It was very different from Mary Barton and some of friends were disappointed at the ‘simple, sketchy story’ others loved it. Victorian poet, Matthew Arnold, is said to have been moved to tears and Charlotte Brontë wrote it:

Finished like an herb — a balsamic herb with healing in its leaves… the little story is fresh, natural, religious. No more need be said.

“An Elizabeth Gaskell Chronology.” The Victorian Web: An Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2010. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/gaskell/chron.html&gt;.

“The Brontës: 1850 Burnley, Lancashire; and Windermere, Cumbria.” Penn Libraries. University of Pennsylvania , n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2010. <http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/rbm/photos/biswanger/brontes-1850.html&gt;.

Uglow, Jennifer. Elizabeth Gaskell: a habit of stories. London: Faber and Faber, 1993. Print.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Alison says:

    Very interesting to hear that The Moorland Cottage was wrtten as a Christmas book. I always love background in information it helps to set the scene for a more enjoyable rounded experience.

  2. Melissa C. says:

    I love finding out about how things (especially books) came to be. I really appreciated this post. I was delighted to see that she didn’t use a pseudonym to publish her books.

    1. She did publish her first novel, Mary Barton, anonymously but people soon learnt she was the author. Considering all the controversy over MB, it’s plucky that she didn’t decide to use a pseudonym.

  3. Cat says:

    That’s very interesting. I imagine it would seem slight after Mary Barton. I’m only just discovering EG’s short stories and loving them.

  4. bccmee says:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that we are our own harshest critics. But frankly I have to agree with Elizabeth Gaskell’s own assessment of this story. So far I have only completed chapter 1, but it seems a slight and fluffy. It reads almost like a fable although I’m not sure of its intention. I will comment further when I’ve finished the book.

  5. Phylly3 says:

    I am enjoying Gaskell’s description of the countryside. It brings back memories of my trip to the Lake District.
    Thanks very much for the historical perspective for this work.

  6. Summer says:

    Can understand why probably Mrs. Gaskell was disappointed about writing this novel just right after Mary Barton. I have just read the first chapter that beautifully describes life in the English countryside; clashing with the tough living of the working classes in gloomy, polluted Manchester in Victorian times.

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