The Gypsy-Bachelor of Manchester

Felicia Bonaparte takes issue with the conventional picture of Elizabeth Gaskell as a model Victorian woman and author, noting that the traditional view is based on scant evidence—evidence, in fact, that Gaskell carefully edited. She destroyed many of her letters and directed others to do so as well. The result is a record that seems to confirm the myth she made of her life as loyal wife and preserver of the male-dominated status quo.

Bonaparte concedes that many of Gaskell’s overt statements support a reading of her as a conservative, yet a close study of her life, letters, and fiction as a continuous text reveals a more complicated portrait of a woman whose inward feelings are hinted at in some of her correspondence and revealed in her fictional characters. Their “moments of rebellion” expose a much more complex internal life, a second self Bonaparte calls Gaskell’s “daemonic double,” a creature born to be a “gypsy-bachelor,” and not the “angel in the house” praised by so many male critics.

In the context of academic criticism, this is a ground-breaking book. Neither a conventional biography nor a work of literary criticism, Bonaparte’s work blurs the boundaries between these genres, suggesting that a writer’s life can be read, so to speak, as a book, and that the technique and subject matter of Gaskell’s fiction has to be interpreted in terms of the metaphors that governed both her private life and career.