Tender sympathies: the telling of the mother-daughter relationships in the writing of Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapman, Isabelle (1999) Tender sympathies: the telling of the mother-daughter relationships in the writing of Elizabeth Gaskell. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


This study examines the nature of mother-daughter relationships in the writing of Elizabeth Gaskell. It argues that the Gaskellian mother-daughter relationship is based on a pattern of untimely interruption, followed by a subsequent quest for re-establishment of emotional contact between mother and daughter. This pattern is revealed as having its roots in Gaskell's private life, and as such, this study begins by drawing parallels between Gaskell's personal experience and her fiction. Each chapter deals primarily with Gaskell's concerns about how far the longing between mother and daughter can be experienced, and is expressible, through language. The intro~uctory chapter suggests that letters and testimonies which Gaskell wrote to her daughters, intended-to preserve her own memory for them, give rise in her fiction to the idea of a linguistic legacy, which descends from mother to• daughter, and which can function as a maternal genealogy. The various types of mother-daughter relationship which Gaskell portrays in her fiction, and the linguistic means she uses to evoke them, are then categorised into three areas: the first chapter explores the inherent bonds which tie daughters to their mothers, despite long absences or failures in nurturing duties. Chapter two describes how the daughters' craving for love from lost, or uncaring, mothers creates in them an ambivalent psychic split. Conflict arises between the daughters' desire to rest in a passive sub-conscious space that embodies unspoken yearnings for motherly affection, and the necessity for making moral choices which demand independent, autonomous action. The final chapter explores how two mothers' quests for lost daughters find self-expression through linguistic deviations from accepted patriarchalconventions. Gaskell demonstrates the limitations of how far her characters as mothers, and she as a writer, can preserve the continuity of a matrilineal legacy within the rules and conventions of a patriarchal society.

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