Salma's Reviews > Gothic Tales

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
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Feb 07, 09

bookshelves: classic-lit, favorites
Read in February, 2009

Dickens once called her his 'darling Scheherazade,' so of course I had to check out Elizabeth Gaskell's "Gothic Tales." Overshadowed in today's literature classes by her contemporaries George Eliot and the Bronte sisters, Gaskell was a popular author in her time. This brilliant collection shows the reason. Reading the title, I was expecting, "I see dead people" stuff layered with poetic nineteenth-century language. The first story, "The Old Nurse's Tale," does deal with that- a creepy little girl haunting the moors (Cathy Earnshaw, anyone?).

But the tales are 'Gothic' in that they deal with the dark side of human nature more than the supernatural. Gaskell with her intense, beautiful prose, explores the themes of oppression, hatred, and general human cruelty in this collection. At times, the reading gets a bit weighed down with her liberal use of local dialects and, for the stories taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries, I kept getting a headache weeding through the 'thees' and 'thous.' But that's minor compared to the impact these tales had on me- Summary of my favorites as follows:

Lois the Witch- this is the most disturbing and powerful of the stories- taking place in Salem during witch-hunt time, the story follows the main character as she's accused of withcraft in a town that's teeming with Puritan zealotism and sexual repression, the two things that give rise to the witchcraft hysteria. In a way, I was saddened to realize that this story still resonates today, as every generation has its own witch hunts.

The Poor Clare- This story does have a bit more of a supernatural feel to it- a doppelganger shows up as a result of a curse (go to Wikipedia to look up the word). Interesting stuff. The story had to do more with the theme of sin and salvation, and extreme ascetism as a cure for bad deeds. I can't say I necessarily agree with that remedy, but hey, Gaskell was a minister's wife.

The Grey Woman- Taking place around the French Revolution, the story follows Anna, the German daughter of a miller, when she marries, as she calls him, "a beautiful and effeminate Frenchman." This one turns into a truly terrifying tale when we find out the Frenchman's secret and his danger to Anna. I think this tale is one that especially captures marriage of earlier centuries as essential traps for women.

The Doom of the Griffiths- Can a curse peter down through the generations? I took this one as Gaskell's take on the story of Oedipus and various Greek tragedies.

If you can brave through the sometimes heavy-handed language, I think this collection of tales is one that must be on everyone's "Classic Lit" bookshelf.

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Salma No problem. I've heard she made her mark with her more 'social' works - in quotes coz I thought these were more social than Gothic myself. "Mary Barton" is next on my reading list.


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