Elizabeth Gaskell joins the greats in Poets' Corner
Westminster Abbey commemorates the 'Cranford' author and biographer days before the bicentenary of her birth
Sunday 26 September 2010
She is one of Britain's best-loved writers but has not been accorded her place in the pantheon, until now. The status of Elizabeth Gaskell, author of Cranford, as a national treasure was confirmed yesterday as she took her place alongside the literary greats in Westminster Abbey.
The Victorian novelist and biographer, who has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years thanks to successful BBC adaptations of her work, joined the ranks of illustrious authors, playwrights and poets in Poets' Corner four days before the bicentenary of her birth.
About 200 people, including her descendants and members of the Gaskell Society, a charity promoting the writer, attended a dedication conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall. Some fans travelled from America and Japan for the service.
The dean, who decides who can be buried or memorialised in the abbey, dedicated a stained-glass panel in a window originally unveiled as a memorial to the architectural historian Edward Horton Hubbard in 1994.
Sarah Prince, Gaskell's great- great- great granddaughter laid a wreath under the window and said it was "marvellous" to see her ancestor memorialised. "I think the number of people here and the many enthusiasts is a testament to her continuing popularity," she added.
Gaskell Biographer Jenny Uglow said her Unitarian faith made her feel that the wrongs of the world should be righted. "She was a natural storyteller, enjoying gossip among friends, listening carefully to local tales. She was also observant, shrewd and sympathetic."
The dean said: "On balance, I decided that Elizabeth Gaskell's social perspective was still valuable and that her contribution to literature would endure," said the dean. "Honouring her in a window in Poets' Corner is a little like an earthly version of beatification: you hope people will be encouraged by her heroic example."
Alan Shelston, whose biography of Gaskell is published in November, said she would have been "honoured and amused" by the attention. "The interesting thing about Elizabeth Gaskell among the Victorian novelists is her range," he added. "In the past, her novels have been underestimated, perhaps because particular works [Cranford and Mary Barton] became popular at the expense of others."
Born Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in London in 1810, the author spent most of her childhood in the Cheshire town of Knutsford, the inspiration for the fictional hub of Cranford.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 A daily walk 'can add seven years to your life'
- 2 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 3 Chrissie Hynde says women who 'wear high heels and dress provocatively entice rapists'
- 4 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 5 News agency criticised for describing Amal Clooney as 'actor's wife' in coverage of human rights trial
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
The X Factor 2015: Ratings drop almost 2 million compared to last year's launch show
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn