Merry Christmas

Just a very short post today to wish you a very merry Christmas. I think we can all agree that this year has brought its own particular challenges (to put it mildly)! Hopefully, next year will be much more positive for everyone.

To all of you who have supported The Proof Doctor this year, thank you very much. However you are spending Christmas, I hope it is happy and peaceful. I will see you in the New Year for some more editing, proofreading, and transcribing! Until then, I wish you all very best wishes. Merry Christmas.


The Nineteenth-Century Book Club: Christmas Tales

As we are well and truly into December, I thought it only right that the next meeting of the Nineteenth-Century Book Club explored some of the wonderful Victorian Christmas stories written by some of our favourite authors. Not only are you sure to enjoy these tales yourself, a Christmas collection could come in very handy if you’re still searching for the perfect gift for the book lover in your life…

Any self-respecting list of nineteenth-century Christmas stories would be doing itself an injustice if it didn’t begin with perennial favourite, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843). Combining Christmas with ghostly visits, this is one for the ages. It’s worth noting that Dickens’s foray into Christmas tales didn’t stop with Ebenezer Scrooge; he also wrote many other yuletide-related short stories, including, ‘The Chimes’, ‘The Haunted Man’, and ‘The Cricket on the Hearth.’

Just when you thought Elizabeth Gaskell couldn’t get any better, you discover her Christmas stories! If you enjoy a bit of a scare as you tuck into your mince pies, then look no further than ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ (1852). Though not strictly Christmas-based, this spooky tale perfectly fits into the Victorian tradition of the ghost story. If one story isn’t enough to give you your Gaskell fix, then try the collection, Curious, If True (published between 1852 and 1861). Perfect for wintery nights in front of the fire.

I see that my recommendations seem to be connecting Christmas with ghosts, but please stick with me for M. R. James. I know, before you say anything, I’m cheating because he isn’t totally nineteenth century, but hey, it’s Christmas, I can do these things. There’s a good chance you might have watched TV adaptations of his stories (the Christmas telly schedule sometimes repeats the 70’s anthology series of his short-stories), even if you haven’t read them. If that is the case, then why not give his collection a go? With stories including, ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’ (1910) you’ll be needing that extra sherry before bedtime.

If you love to curl up with a spot of detective fiction, then look no further than Arthur Conan Doyle’s, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ (1892). Combining the genius of Sherlock Holmes with Christmas, you’ll be guessing until the end.

These are just a few suggestions for those of you looking to enjoy some well-deserved reading time this festive season. There are some beautiful collections out there, which, in my humble opinion, make the perfect gift! If you have an independent bookshop nearby, perhaps consider paying them a visit. After the difficult year we’ve all experienced, your business could be just the present they need.

To all of you wonderful readers out there, have a wonderful Christmas, and happy reading.

The PhD Files: All Things Conference…

Over the course of your PhD research, it’s highly probable that you will think about attending a conference. For some people, this might seem like a terrifying prospect. Speaking in front of a room full of people can take some getting used to, let alone sharing your research. But, fear not. The academic conference does not need to be daunting and scary. Read on for some tips about the different types of conference out there, and even how to enjoy them (gasp!).

Go along for the ride: If you’re very early on in your research, and the thought of preparing a paper all seems a little too much, then why not consider simply attending a conference? Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you have to present. You could have a great time listening to some really interesting research from people at all stages of their career. Attending can be a great opportunity to meet people in your field, share your ideas, and get an idea of how these things work without any added pressure.

Attend at your university: Often, your university will organise conferences that you can make the most of. These could offer the perfect opportunity for you to dip your toe into the waters of presenting. Your audience will (hopefully) be friendly, and ready to offer useful feedback and support. Plus, you’ll be in a familiar environment for your first attempt at presenting. Everyone’s a winner.

Join a professional association: There are tons of academic associations out there who hold annual, or bi-annual conferences geared towards their members. These are usually big gatherings, held over a few days, intended to showcase the up-and-coming research in a specific field. The itineraries of these big conferences tend to include panels of papers, so you can choose what you fancy hearing. There’s also usually some time scheduled for dinners and drinks, so you can chat to your peers. Associations often offer attendance discounts for members, which can come in very useful! (I won’t lie, conferences can be expensive things – more on that later).

Symposiums and day conferences: If a big conference isn’t up your street, then don’t despair, plenty of universities and organisations offer day conferences and symposiums. As the name suggests, these events last for a day or two, and are focussed on a particular theme. These can be a great opportunity to hone your presenting skills, while receiving some really useful feedback from an audience of researchers in your field.

Money, money, money: Now, as I mentioned earlier, conferences can be pretty expensive things. Depending on their length, you may need money for accommodation and travel, on top of your attendance fees. Before you know it, this can start to add up. It’s always worth checking to see if your university offers grants and/or expenses payments to cover the costs of student researchers attending conferences, particularly if you plan to present. If you’re fortunate enough to have your fees reimbursed, then do remember to keep hold of tickets and receipts as evidence of your payments. Of course, if it’s a day conference you’re planning on attending, you’re much less likely to have accommodation costs. These events are often quite a bit less expensive, and they usually include lunch and refreshments. Sometimes, conferences offer discounts if you’re willing to do a report or a review about the day. It’s always worth checking for what’s on offer before you go.

These are just a few thoughts on the different types of conference out there, and the ways you can attend. The list is certainly not exhaustive, and if you can think of some more, please do let me know below! In my experience, most people at conferences are friendly and willing to chat. It can seem like a daunting prospect, but remember, people have attended because they are passionate about the same things as you. They want to hear you speak, and you never know, they might even offer some fantastic feedback that helps you with your research. If you’re planning to speak at a conference for the first time, then best of luck! I’m sure you’ll do a great job.

In the meantime, should you have a paper or an article that you’re hoping to fine-tune, I’m your gal. Remember, I’m here for all of your editing, proofreading, and transcribing needs! See you next time.

The Nineteenth-Century Book Club: Margaret Oliphant, Kirsteen (1890)

In the last meeting of the Nineteenth-Century Book Club, we talked about one of Margaret Oliphant’s wonderful novels, Hester. Today, it’s the turn of another of her works, Kirsteen (1890). Like Hester, Kirsteen focusses on a young woman, and her life beyond the boundaries of her home, and out in the public space. It also happens to be one of the novels that I researched for my thesis, and one that I have since published on (funnily enough, Hester was involved in the same article – strange, that)!

Kirsteen Douglas is a young, enterprising woman, who escapes the shackles of her controlling father, whose sole concern is arranging his daughter’s marriage to a well-meaning, but much older man. Unknown to her father, Kirsteen is already (and secretly) betrothed to a young man, Ronald, who leaves to be a soldier before their marriage can take place. Faced with the prospect of remaining with her domineering father, or leaving to forge her independence, Kirsteen chooses to leave her home in Scotland, and head to London to become a dressmaker. Though Oliphant is sometimes criticised for her seeming reluctance to reconcile with the growing feminist movement of the late nineteenth century, Kirsteen reveals her radical side. Not only does Kirsteen make the important decision to defy her father’s restrictive rules and home environment, she travels, alone, to London, to stay with housekeeper Marg’ret’s sister, Miss Jean, where she will join her as a dressmaker, using her skill as a needlewoman to support herself.

In Kirsteen, Oliphant creates an enterprising young woman, who sees dressmaking not as a means to an end, but as the beginning of a career. Kirsteen turns her back on a restrictive home life, to forge a new identity as a talented businesswoman. Importantly, she chooses the moniker, ‘Miss Kirsteen’, to extricate herself from her father’s domineering domestic environment, and to forge her new, public role. Ronald’s premature death means that Kirsteen never marries. In turn, she never takes on a new name as a married woman. Instead, she is free to embody her businesswoman identity for the remainder of her career, and indeed, life.

Kirsteen is, in my humble opinion, one of Oliphant’s most important (and all-round wonderful) novels. If you haven’t yet read anything of hers, then I highly recommend it!

If you would like to support an independent businesswoman, and you require some editing, proofreading, or transcription, then look no further – here I am! See you next time.

The PhD Files: The ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’

One of the most important parts of any big project is the planning. I say this as someone who believes in the power of a list. In fact, whenever I’m spinning a lot of plates at once, making a list can be the difference between a slick and completed task, or a stressed and hurried one. And believe me when I say, I’ve been at the business-end of both of these, and I know which I prefer.

When it comes to getting your PhD research together, cleverly organised lists can be your best friend. They can prevent scrambling through books looking for elusive chapters, and forgetting where you found that really important quotation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t figure this out straight away. It took me some time before the penny finally dropped that I was going to need somewhere to order all of my quotations and ideas if I was going to get anywhere fast with my actual writing. I had my fair share of sitting, staring blankly into space, bereft at losing something thrilling. Then one day, out of the blue, it hit me. If I expected to keep a cool head, I needed a ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ – and so it began.

I am sure the really tech-savvy amongst you will now have a brilliant idea in mind for something colour-coded and digitised. Something that stays on your computer, taking up no space. I’m afraid, in my case, you’d be wrong. My ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ consisted of good, old-fashioned paper, a few reels of sticky-tape, and a packet of highlighters. I attached all of the notes I had taken so far, bit by bit, sticking together the sheets as I went. I cut out, I stuck, sometimes I glued, and by the end, I had a magnificently highlighted, colour-coded chart that I could refer to at a glance. The best part was, all of my notes and thoughts were out of my head. They were in front of me, in all their glory (well, okay, they weren’t all glorious, but they were there).

I can’t tell you how much my chart helped me when it came to writing, and the best part was, I could add to it as I went. Sure, when unfurled it took up a lot of floor-space, but it meant I no longer had a mad scramble through endless books every time I needed to refer to something.

Perhaps, for you, the ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ would look very different to mine. Instead of paper, maybe it would be on your computer. Maybe it would be on the wall, or a pinboard. However your perfect chart might look to you, I can’t stress enough how much having one helped me to order my ideas in one place. It became so precious to me that I couldn’t possibly part with it, even when I was lucky enough to complete my PhD. It had become a real friend, with me through the highs and lows. It’s fair to say my lovely chart saved me on more than one occasion, and I’m sure it could do the same for you.

Speaking of saving time and sanity, don’t forget that I’m here for all of your editing needs. I promise to try to be as useful as a ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’. See you next time, and happy writing.

The Nineteenth-Century Book Club: Margaret Oliphant, Hester (1883)

Today, we will allow Elizabeth Gaskell to take a well-earned break, and instead delve into a novel by the equally wonderful, though often underrated, Margaret Oliphant. This novel is, in my humble opinion, one of her best (and she wrote a lot). Again, I must admit to my bias before we begin. I researched Oliphant for my thesis, so I love her as much as I love Gaskell. I won’t even pretend to hide it.

It has been argued that Oliphant is underrated as a nineteenth-century woman writer because of her sheer volume of work. Over the course of her writing career, she completed in the range of three hundred book reviews and articles, more than fifty short stories, twenty-five works of non-fiction, and ninety-eight novels. Though she created such a vast body of work, much of Oliphant’s output is now difficult to find. Fortunately, every now and again a discerning publisher will decide to reissue an edition from her back-catalogue, and we are blessed with her greatness once more (see, my bias is not hidden).

Of all of Oliphant’s novels, one of the most popular is Hester. Published in 1883, towards the final decade of Oliphant’s writing career, Hester charts the life of the eponymous young woman, Hester Vernon, and her relationship with her much older cousin, Catherine Vernon. When Hester’s father ruins the family bank, abandoning his family in the process, it is down to Catherine to save the business. The novel follows the development of the fraught relationship between the two women, who eventually have to learn to live and work together if the bank is to be saved from ruin.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is Oliphant’s creation of Catherine Vernon as a formidable businesswoman, tasked with saving her family’s business from the inept and profligate men who lead it to the brink of ruin. Alongside this is Hester’s development as she grows from a child into a young woman, increasingly uncomfortable with the world, and the people, around her. Through the years, Oliphant has been criticised for her apparent lack of concern for women’s role in society. In recent times, however, this view has shifted. In my view, it is a reconsideration of her novels like Hester that have helped push this shift. As a central female character, Catherine blends domestic responsibility (a domestic environment filled with petty familial rivalry and jealousy) with running a business. She is both public and private. Nurturing and business-like.

In Hester, Oliphant provides a psychologically drawn portrait of individuals as they grapple with their tensions, resentments and jealousies. For me, it is an underrated piece of work which explores the possibilities for the domestic ‘businesswoman’. If you have never read any of Oliphant’s writing, then I can highly recommend Hester as a starting point. I must add, though, I haven’t exactly been chronological. There are lots of other wonderful Oliphant novels published much earlier, so take your pick! Next week, we stick with Oliphant, as we explore another businesswoman in Kirsteen.

If you like the idea of doing your bit for a small business owner (and a woman at that!) then remember, I’m here to help with editing, proofreading and transcription. See you next week.

The PhD files: The Literature Review

This week, I’m going to give you a bit of an insight into the literature review which you’re likely to have to complete some time near the start of your PhD research (again, I must add here, mine was an English PhD, so if you’re planning on starting, or are in the process of, anything outside of the humanities, the rules might be different – please don’t blame me if they are). In basic terms, the literature review is exactly what it says on the tin: a review of the critical stuff in your field of research. By the time it’s done, it should give you an idea of whether or not your research idea has legs, or whether you might need (or want) to shift things about now you’ve seen what’s what. I definitely did a LOT of shifting over the course of my research. Remember, don’t worry. It’ll all come together in the end.

I know things can seem a bit overwhelming when you’re faced with the prospect of searching through years and years of publications, but fear not! Take a deep breath, and type your key research terms into your university library’s catalogue. These could be key authors, book titles (if you have them), or even key words which are pertinent to your idea. You don’t have to have everything pinned down, and it’s fine if you’re still a bit vague at this point. Hit enter, and you will be faced with a plethora of books, chapters, and journal articles, all of which could be useful to your initial research. This is where the digging begins! What you’re looking for is texts that are focussed on something similar to your research. Remember, your eventual thesis will be a beautiful, shining, original piece of work; one that has engaged with all of these other scholars, but offers something new to add to the discussion. That’s why you want to root out the good stuff, and see what’s already been said.

It should come as no surprise at this point that the next thing you have to do is read, read, read all of these texts (If this does come as a surprise, you may want to reconsider you choices). Don’t get me wrong, they may not all thrill you, but read them you must. Of course, this early reading will not be all you ever have to do (again, if that shocks you, perhaps you’re in the wrong field), but it is crucial. It helps you to get your footing, bed in your ideas, and even change your perspective. As you read, remember to take plenty of notes, label the important stuff with tons of sticky notes, or even consider starting a ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ (more on this next time). You want to understand the main points of each text so that you can actually write your review.

Once you have read all that you have researched in this preliminary hunt, made notes, and got the ideas clear in your mind, it’s time to write and review. It may seem laborious, but it is useful. It should help you to see where you might locate yourself in the broad scope of scholarship, and it might even give you an idea of your next step. If you have a helpful supervisor (hopefully, you will), they will suggest useful, exciting texts along the way, and will work with you to form, grow, and shape your ideas.

Remember, your reading will never end as long as you are researching. You may not totally engage with everything in your literature review. You will almost certainly engage with tons more! Your ideas will shift, alter, and change as you read, but it’s all fine. That’s the whole point. If you’re lucky, your reading will excite you, and reinforce the whole reason behind you taking this big research step: because you love it.

If you are working on your literature review, or if you have completed one in the past, I would love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment below. Next week, we will talk about how to order your research ideas (yes, that’s right, it’s the ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’). See you then.

P.S. Should reading this post remind you that you require a willing party to do some proofreading, editing, or transcribing for your writing, you know where I am.

The Nineteenth-Century Book Club: Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (1853)

Welcome to the second meeting of the Nineteenth-Century Book Club. Last week, we delved into the wonder that is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, Mary Barton (1848). This week, (and please excuse me for my self-indulgence), we’re going to discuss her second novel, Ruth (1853). I promise we will move on to a different author next week, though I absolutely cannot guarantee we won’t return to Gaskell in future meetings (spoiler: we most definitely will return to her). As I noted last week, I do have a vested interest in Ruth. It was one of the novels I included in my PhD thesis, and I love it. There, I’ve said it. Now, for those of you who have yet to read the novel, I will begin with a very brief overview of the plot.

Like Mary Barton, Ruth centres on a ‘fallen woman.’ Seduced, made pregnant, and abandoned, Ruth Hilton provides Gaskell with another opportunity to bring female sexuality, and society’s treatment of women who transgress its conventions, to the forefront of her readers’ minds. As a seamstress, Ruth works extremely long hours for very low pay. While mending dresses for a ball, she encounters her seducer, the rich and caddish Henry Bellingham. Bellingham convinces Ruth to meet him under the guise of a friendship which, before long, results in Ruth running away with him.

When Bellingham falls ill and his mother discovers his relationship with Ruth, she convinces him to abandon the girl to her fate. By now, Ruth is pregnant. Realising her predicament, Ruth attempts suicide but, before she can act, she is rescued by kindly Mr Benson and taken to live with him and his sister, Faith. In order to prevent Ruth’s history coming to light, the Bensons suggest she change her identity to ‘Mrs Denbigh’, a young widow. Before long, Ruth finds work as a governess for local businessman, Mr Bradshaw. Though all seems calm for a time, it isn’t long before Ruth’s past catches up with her.

For me, one of the most important themes of this novel is Gaskell’s creation of the Benson’s unconventional family set-up. Rather than the typical and normative husband, wife, and children family, the Benson’s are a brother and sister who live together and take in the pregnant Ruth, eventually helping her to take care of her son, Leonard. Their stable domesticity (the importance of which Gaskell was often keen to explore) provides Ruth with some crucial time and space to come to terms with her situation, and also for the rest and recuperation that a steady, domestic environment offers. Though they may not be typical, the Benson’s familial situation allows Gaskell to extend the understanding of a successful domestic space, demonstrating that atypical families who do not fit into the expected mould are still just that: successful family units. Both Ruth’s and the Benson’s situations are not conventional, but they are acceptable.

As Gaskell demonstrates, the flow of ordinary life in the context of a domestic setting is restorative, and is therefore crucial. Within the calm, domestic setting of the Benson’s home, sewing becomes a recuperative act. Though her job as a seamstress initially led to Ruth’s ‘fall’, it now gives her the space to consider her situation and to recover from it.

As you can imagine, this is a very tiny analysis of one small part of a fantastic novel. I could go on (and believe me, I have), but this is supposed to be a blog post and not an article! Needless to say, Ruth is well worth reading if you haven’t yet discovered it. I was very privileged to research it and write about it. It’s one of my favourites, no doubt about it.

Next week, we will give Gaskell a well-deserved rest, and we will instead delve into the world of the oft-underrated Margaret Oliphant. We will start with (in my humble opinion), one of her best novels, Hester (1883). See you then.

Oh, before you go, do remember I am here to help you with all of your proofreading, editing and transcription needs, should you need me (end of plug).

The PhD files: the interview and the very early days

Last week, I told you about how I decided to apply for PhD study, and how I went about getting the ball rolling. This week, as promised, we will talk about my experience of the interview, and what I did once I had the go-ahead.

As you may remember, I had previously emailed a professor, and she had suggested I go for an interview to discuss my ideas for a potential project. Suddenly, everything was getting excitingly real. No longer were my ideas only in my head, I was getting ready to put them out there, to somebody who was really interested. In the days leading up to the interview, I put together my thoughts, taking note of what I might like to research and the books that might help me. my plans were all pretty rudimentary, but that was the fun of it. It left open plenty of opportunities for exploration. The day arrived. It was interview time. I was, understandably, a little nervous, but as is often the way with these things, I needn’t have been. The two people in the room turned out to be my (eventual) primary and secondary supervisors, and the interview turned into a really interesting and (dare I say it) fun chat. If anything, their enthusiasm for my ideas convinced me even more (as I’ve already said, when I’m on my soap-box, I’m on my soap-box) and I knew that I’d made the right decision. If I could give any advice here, it would be to try to remember that you’re not on trial. If you can (and I know, it’s much easier said than done), try not to see this as a big, scary interview, but rather a chance to share your thoughts and ideas. When they see how enthusiastic you are, I promise you, they will be, too.

After an hour or so, the ‘interview’ came to an end, and to my absolute delight, my supervisor told me that she would be happy for me to turn my ideas into a real-life thesis. To say I left her office happy would be a huge understatement. I was delighted. It was real, and I was actually going to do it. It might sound like a huge cliché (because it is, sorry), but as I walked down the driveway, I could have been walking on air. A few days, and some back and forth admin later, it was time for the hard work to begin in earnest. And begin it did.

If you’ve ever been at the start of any big project, you’ll know how it feels. Mainly, you’re excited. It’s Day One and it’s all laid out before you. Anything is possible. It’s usually also about that moment that it hits you. It isn’t just an idea anymore, it’s real, and you need to get going. As you can imagine with a literature degree of any kind, reading a ton of books, chapters, and journal articles is going to feature pretty heavily. Throw into the mix the fact that you’re starting out with an idea that’s going to change shape pretty much every time you read something new, and things can get confusing if you let them (and believe me, sometimes I let them). Luckily, my supervisor had given me some suggestions for preliminary books that might be a good place to start, so I listened, and I read. I think the biggest piece of advice I could give for the very early days and weeks of your research would be to start reading around your topic as much as you can. Don’t worry, and don’t panic. Just read and start taking plenty of notes. Also, listen. Listen to your supervisor. They are there to help you.

So, there I was. Armed with the wonderful novels of Elizabeth Gaskell to re-read, and plenty of her other writing to discover for the first time, I had more than enough to keep me occupied, and to get the ideas flowing. I also had a pile of critical bits and pieces so I could see what others had already said, and think about how I might engage with them. Now, I’m aware this makes it sound like I had everything sorted, and knew exactly what I was doing. Believe me when I say that couldn’t be further from the truth (as I’m sure will be made apparent in future blogs). The good news is, you don’t need to have it all figured out, you just need to start getting stuck in, reading what looks good and takes your fancy. It also meant I could start thinking about creating my ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ while working out my first important tick on the to-do chart, the literature review. But that (amongst other things) is for next week.

If you are just starting out on your PhD journey, or if you have some words of wisdom to share, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to populate the comment section! See you next week.

The Nineteenth-Century Book Club: Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (1848)

Welcome to the Nineteenth-Century Book Club. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, our discussion today is focussed on the fabulousness that is Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. As Gaskell’s first published novel, Mary Barton set her on a trajectory of success, and put her firmly on the map as a ‘Nineteenth-Century Woman Writer’. Before we start our discussion in earnest, I should come clean. I happen to unashamedly love Elizabeth Gaskell. I researched and wrote about her novels and short stories (along with those of my other favourite, Margaret Oliphant) for my PhD thesis. As a result of this, while I will try my best to be completely balanced and fair in my discussion of her work, there is every chance I will not be able to see any faults at all. So, with that in mind, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you. I promise to share my soap-box.

While much has been written about the novel’s representation of industry and class divisions, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of Mary Barton is its representation of women’s experience, particularly that of ‘fallen women’, in the nineteenth century. One of the novel’s key characters, Mary’s aunt, Esther, has all the hallmarks of the ‘fallen woman’. Though Esther appears to nicely fit into the ‘fallen’ trope (she is seduced, made pregnant, and falls into prostitution and a life on the streets), Gaskell’s representation of her is anything but typical. At a time when unmarried, sexually aware women, are viewed as dangerous and subversive, Gaskell gives Esther a voice. She uses her novel, and Esther’s situation within it, to highlight the plight of women who veer away from the conventional wife and mother construct. She proves that, rather than subversive, these women are a product of their mistreatment, and of society’s strict conventions. She even (shock, horror!) demonstrates through Esther (and through several of her other characters, including Ruth Hilton from Ruth , but that’s for another day) that female sexuality is not the root of all evil, and that there are many more complexities to be considered before ultimate condemnation is meted out.

Esther’s identity as a prostitute is displayed through her clothing. Once expensive and beautiful, her tattered and faded finery has passed through many hands before it reaches hers. As a result, Esther’s clothing suggests she is a street-walker, and she is condemned as such by Mary’s father, John Barton. For Barton, Esther’s out of place (and indeed, out of class) clothing demonstrates her identity as a fallen woman, aware of her sexuality. By longing for ‘finery’, Esther, in Barton’s eyes, inevitably loses all of her ‘respectability’.

Crucially (and this is, I feel, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel), Esther plays a central role in the novel. Firstly, she does her level best to prevent her dressmaker niece, Mary, from seduction at the hands of mill-owner’s son, Harry Carson. Her street-wanderings also allow her to reveal Jeb Wilson’s innocence when Carson is killed. Each time, Esther returns to the saving power of the domestic space. Though, as a prostitute, she has essentially been banished from the home, Esther’s returns to it in order to save Mary. For Gaskell, domesticity is a crucial tool for the recuperation and rehabilitation of sexually experienced women. As if to highlight this, Esther has an intensely close resemblance to her deceased sister, Mary’s mother. Though Esther is, essentially, an outcast, her physicality renders her as a clear member of the family. One who could be given another chance if only she was given permission to enter the family home once more.

I think, for now, this is where I will stop. There is obviously much more to cover on the wonderful Mary Barton and if you have any thoughts from your own reading, I would love to hear them! Next week, I’m going to be very self-indulgent and look at another of Gaskell’s novels, Ruth (1853). I promise that we will look at other authors too, I hope you’ll allow me just one more….see you next week.