Today, Audible.com asked the question, “If you could read only one author’s work for the rest of your life, who would it be?” They also said that it could “easily be the toughest question of the day.”
Probably, if one had many authors to choose from – Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens all the way to the contemporaries like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, and so many more. However, it didn’t take me long to pick one author I wouldn’t mind reading for the rest of my life.
In November 1865, when reporting her death, The Athenaeum rated Gaskell as “if not the most popular, with small question, the most powerful and finished female novelist of an epoch singularly rich in female novelists.” Today Gaskell is generally considered a lesser figure in English letters remembered chiefly for her minor classics “Cranford” and “Wives and Daughters: An Every-day Story.”
Gaskell’s early fame as a social novelist began with the 1848 publication of “Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life,” in which she pricked the conscience of industrial England through her depiction and analysis of the working classes. Many critics were hostile to the novel because of its open sympathy for the workers in their relations with the masters, but the high quality of writing and characterization were undeniable, and critics have compared “Mary Barton” to the work of Friedrich Engels and other contemporaries in terms of its accuracy in social observation.
The later publication of “North and South,” also dealing with the relationship of workers and masters, strengthened Gaskell’s status as a leader in social fiction.
I bought the complete works of Gaskell for my e-reader and I’m taking my time reading her stories, beginning with the obscure ones. I’ve already read North and South, but I can’t wait to read Mary Barton, as well as Cranford. I loved how astute she was about the social changes around her, the plight of the poor workers, even if it put her at odds with the general thinking of the time.
So, yes, for the rest of my life, Elizabeth Gaskell would be perfect.
Who would you pick?