Elizabeth Gaskell was a renowned author of the Victorian era (1810-65). Some of her noted works include Wives and Daughters, North and South, Cranford and even a biography of her beloved friend Charlotte Bronte titled The Life of Charlotte Bronte.
Taking a quote from her novel, North and South, I would continue further into my post. She wrote “Oh, I can’t describe my home. It is home, and I can’t put its charm into words”. And definitely one cannot describe the charm of her home – a remnant of all the descriptions of a Victorian era home- long after the era itself has gone forever. It is said that those involved in literary and artistic passions live amongst us, they are immortal. In a similar way, Gaskell’s house has made her, her works and those of her contemporaries immortal. Elizabeth Gaskell lived with her husband William Gaskell and four daughters in 84, Plymouth Grove Manchester. Thus, it would be out of question to live in the same city and not visit her house which has now been turned into a museum. The house is open to visitors only on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. It is run mostly by eager and enthusiastic volunteers and maintained by donations and collections.
The first words with which I was greeted were “You can touch anything, you can sit on original furniture’s and Yes, You can photograph anything and everything.” The house looked just as I had imagined a Victorian Era house would look like. A walkway leads to the main door. On my right was a little library and on my left was another study room. A little further on was the drawing room or commonly called parlour in those days followed by an elegantly decorated dining room. A staircase leads us upstairs where, from time to time different exhibitions are held. Another staircase leads us down to the basement which has a little café and a bookstore. A door from the basement also directs us towards the garden.
Each of these rooms need an elaborate explanation to actually understand the success of the museum in upholding the look and essence of the Victorian era.
Complete with floor to roof long racks of books, a fireplace and a study table. The library window overlooks the beautiful street outside and I could make out where from inspiration crept into the mind of this great literary figure. The walls were adorned by photographs of the family.
The study had a history of Gaskell which would give a visitor some background about the author and her life. It had some original clothes worn by the author.
The Parlour literally transformed me back to the days of Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility and the list can go on. Right on entering the room one finds the traditional piano. The room had a cosy setting with a fireplace in the middle with a beautifully decorated mantelpiece, sofas, long curtains tied around the middle with strings hanging off the windows and a small study desk. The room was fully decorated with antique wall clocks, table clocks, tea sets and pillows. Even smaller details like a quill on the study table were in its proper place.
The dining room had a large six- seater dining table. The table had hand woven table cloth on it, complete with silver cutleries and china dishes. The wine glass was even filled with liquid (I am not really sure it was wine, didn’t taste it). There were cupboards equipped with tea sets, plates, cups, bowls etc. A mandatory fireplace was in position. A huge framed photograph of Elizabeth hung on the wall.
A little further onto the dining room was a small table overlooking the garden. This table had original manuscripts of the author’s publications and letters. There was also a printed version of the original letters and manuscripts to make it easier for the visitors to understand. I was particularly interested in two letters- one written to Charles Dickens by Gaskell and one written by Dickens to her (I must say Dickens had a better handwriting though).
The café had a lovely ambience. The fact that I was drinking tea at a place where literary legends like Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and Florence Nightingale had set foot was an honour in itself. It is more like a visitor’s library and a bookshop where you can purchase the works of Gaskell and other authors. Alternatively, you can read a book while sipping tea or coffee and relax for sometime.
As we (My parents and I) were about to leave this warmly place, one of the volunteers gave us another surprise. She asked us to ring the doorbell, which was antique and old. It looked nothing like modern day doorbells and sounded a bit different too. After my mother rang it, she smiled and said “ You have now joined Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale, who stood in the exact same spot years ago ringing the same bell .’’