19 Pages

The nineteenth-century visiting mode and Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction

WithHewitt Martin

The domestic visit was a component of the short stories of nineteenth-century women’s magazines, of religious and philanthropic periodicals, and in novels, from Jane Austen’s Emma to George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Scholarship has tended to treat Elizabeth Gaskell’s position as a realist novelist with ambivalence, along the lines of John Gross’s verdict that ‘Mary Barton survives chiefly as documentary’. There was little sense of state surveillance in Gaskell’s fiction. Such knowledge as there is lies in the institutions of local voluntarism. Gaskell’s composition aligns tightly with the key components of the visiting mode: observation, tableau and specimen. The spatial dynamics of Gaskell’s fiction are usually conceived of on a broader scale, than on these sorts of ‘micro-spatialities’, and attention has been given more to networks and circulations, to movement between rather than places within. Gaskell is particularly severe on the reduction of individuals to economic position.