"Music of [Our] Thoughts: Gaskell's Journal and Mothering

Explore the Chapter by Section:


Gaskell as Mother and Writer

Gaskell's Characterization

The Journal That Mothers

Maternal Models

Gaskell and Self Regulation

Gaskell's Journal and Emotional Labour

Preserving Motherhood

Motherless Children, Childless Mothers

Perfecting Motherhood

Guiding Motherhood



In the penultimate sentence of her journal's opening entry, Elizabeth Gaskell evokes a powerful metanarrative description of her journal's creation that foregrounds the mother-child bond that was its catalyst. Gaskell recounts writing her journal while listening to her sleeping daughter, Marianne, "whose regular breathing has been the music of my thoughts all the time I have been writing" (Journal, March 4, 1835). In this moment, Gaskell the writer and Gaskell the mother are inextricably intertwined, and both take their impetus from the sleeping Marianne, in whose presence the text is written, and without whom it would not exist. Marianne and her mother are bound together in this moment, and Gaskell draws out this connection with her musical metaphor, wherein her own musings and her daughter's restful breathing combine to create a peaceful harmony. It is this image of the maternal relationship as music that sets the tone for the entire journal as a text that records, reflects on, and mourns motherhood, while taking on a mothering role itself.

Gaskell as Mother and Writer

The oft-cited fact that Gaskell's maternal loss propelled her into a writing career creates the temptation to neatly—but falsely—separate Gaskell's life into distinct periods of mothering and writing. In the preface to Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton, Gaskell herself famously wrote: "Three years ago I became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction."[1] The circumstance Gaskell alluded to was the loss of her nine-month-old son, who had succumbed to scarlet fever while on a family trip. The link Gaskell forges in this preface between her maternal loss and her authorship has been perpetuated by biographers for over a century, leading to an assumed separation between her roles as mother and author. Angus Eason, for example, wrote in 1979: "Whatever part the children played in [Gaskell's] writing… only one seems responsible for starting her writing, and that, tragically, her only son, William […] who died in August 1845, within a year of birth."[2] Eason's emphasis on this causative relationship between Willie's death and Gaskell's authorship continues in contemporary scholarship. More recently, the brief biography of Gaskell provided by the British Library's online resource, Discovering Literature, makes a similar claim: "Shattered by the death of her infant son in 1845, [Gaskell] turned to writing for solace." Admittedly, these critics are correct in observing that Gaskell's novels postdated the births of her children. In their use of absolute terminology however, like "started her writing" and "turned to writing", they suggest a marked change or shift toward a writing career that misrepresents Gaskell's long standing commitment to writing during the early years of her motherhood. Her authorship, according to these assessments, appears to have begun suddenly, as an escape from the trials that come with motherhood. Gaskell, however, had been writing for many years; Willie's death, far from inciting a new career trajectory, merely shifted the balance of her responsibilities more strongly toward intentional, professional writing.

Gaskell wrote even in the early years of her motherhood, both for public audiences and in her journal, as a way to consciously shape her own maternal practice. By the time of Mary Barton's publication, Gaskell had been writing poignantly about her motherhood—in poems, letters, and in her journal—for nearly fifteen years, beginning in 1834. She had also been writing for publication since 1836, and possibly sooner, though no evidence has survived. Writing, far from being an escape, was a core activity of Gaskell's life, and of her motherhood, although the two pursuits frequently interrupted each other. Gaskell wrote in 1862 to an aspiring author whose name has not been identified about the challenge of balancing writing and motherhood: "When I had little children I do not think I could have written stories, because I should have become too much absorbed in my fictitious people to attend to my real ones."[3] Within this letter, Gaskell suggests that mothering took priority over her writing in the years before Mary Barton. The level of care she put into her fictional "people" led her to consciously prioritize her own children. Yet she did write—in spite of her assertions in this letter—even while her children were 'little'.

The roles of mother and writer were, for Gaskell and for many other women, never mutually exclusive, and instead, were intrinsically connected and mutually productive forces. Gaskell's first publication, a poem entitled "Sketches Among The Poor", was co-authored with husband William and appeared in print in January 1837, in Volume 41 of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (48-50). The publication of this poem suggests that as early as 1836, when fifteen-month-old Marianne was their only daughter, the Gaskells were already engaged in writing professionally. Margaret (called "Meta"), the Gaskells' second daughter, was born in February 1837, a month after "Sketches" was published. Around the same time, the journal began to bear signs of Gaskell's professional writing aspirations; Gaskell refers to one late entry in 1838 as a "chapter". The following year, in 1839, William Gaskell published Temperance Rhymes anonymously; Elizabeth Gaskell recounts in an 1841 letter to an American Unitarian minister, John Pierpont, that the volume had been praised by Mary Howitt and Wordsworth.[4] Gaskell was silent on the subject of her own success in the same letter, although she too, had been published again. By late 1839, when the Gaskells' daughters were five and two, William Howitt had published an excerpt of one of Elizabeth Gaskell's letters in his Visits to Remarkable Places, and a second excerpt appeared in another work in 1840. These published excerpts were drawn from letters written in 1838, at the same time she was keeping the journal about young Marianne and Meta. Mary Barton was begun after Willie's death in 1845, when the Gaskells' third daughter, Florence, was only three. At the time of its publication in 1848, Marianne, Meta, and Florence were aged 14, 11, and 6, and Gaskell had yet another toddler at home: her youngest daughter, Julia, who had been born in 1846. Although she claims that fiction would have taken her attention away from her daughters, Gaskell's publication history shows that writing was never far from her mind, even during the earliest years of her motherhood.

Gaskell's Characterization

Scholars frequently comment on the detail Gaskell brings to her depictions of others, a descriptive subtlety that also marks her journal. As Anita Wilson claims in her introduction to the 1996 version of the journal: "without sentimentality or condescension, Gaskell chronicled the pleasures and dilemmas of daily life with a keen sense of observation, sympathy, curiosity, and humour — the qualities which would later characterize her fiction."[5] While claiming that "[the diary] has not received the scholarly consideration it deserves," Wilson suggests the journal is amateurish: "a foreshadowing of her development as a novelist" (11). Wilson similarly claims that Gaskell's "emerging roles as new mother and apprentice writer are mutually illuminating as she recounts her experiences with the challenges, dilemmas, and rewards of Victorian parenthood." This identification of Gaskell's journal as the work of an 'apprentice writer' effectively subordinates Gaskell's unpublished works to her better-known novels. Yet Gaskell's depictions of 'the pleasures and dilemmas of daily life' begin in the journal not as inferior sketches, but as fully realized observations that mirror the careful, thoughtful writing that would enliven her novels, and which William Howitt had already recognized in her 1838 letters' descriptions of Clopton Hall and the local custom of "sanding" the doorstops of homes with poetry verses on the morning of a friend's wedding. Wilson's categorization of Gaskell's early writing as developmental is surprising, given her call for greater attention to the journal. Gaskell's 'powers of observation' are not limited to the novels, but in fact are present in the majority of her extant writing. The journal displays not only a keen 'receptivity to detail', but a tendency to meticulously analyze the choices inherent in daily life for their eventual outcomes. Within the pages of her journal, Gaskell carefully weighs and considers both Victorian ideals and her own decisions in light of them, paying careful attention to how her plans affect her own and her daughter's future.

Previous editors of Gaskell's journal have read the manuscript as a rehearsal of the rich characterizations and keen observation that mark Gaskell's fiction, rather than as a text which demonstrates that her introspective description and detailed, nuanced storytelling were well established even in her early years. Most Gaskell scholarship has focused on the last 15-20 years of her life, the years in which she was writing novels and journalism prolifically. Scholars like Eason have described Gaskell's writing as possessing a "subtle delicacy" Even scholars who take into consideration the variety of her output still ground their analysis in their perception of her attention to minute detail, as in this assessment by Shelston: "was she best considered as the delicate provincial ironist of Cranford or the sympathetic if soft-hearted chronicler of urban realities" as in Mary Barton[6]. These descriptions of Gaskell's artistic skills suggest the work of a miniaturist in their emphasis on detail and delicacy. While the journal manifestly demonstrates the same attention to detail and careful sensitivity to the subtleties of individual emotion that mark the novels, it does not follow that her writing about motherhood must be taken as a precursor or preparation for novel writing. Rather, I seek here to foreground the ways in which, on the contrary, Gaskell's writing had always been carried out during motherhood, and often born of it.

The majority of Gaskell's extant work before Mary Barton consists of life writing which demonstrates Gaskell's intense interiority, and the journal in particular manifests the role that writing played in Gaskell's decision making and self-regulation. Though twenty-one letters survive which predate 1838, when the journal was abandoned, the journal is her earliest sustained piece of writing. While already engaged in writing for the public, Gaskell also actively wrote in her journal as a means of mothering. Gaskell wrote out of grief, not only after Willie's death, but also as early as 1836, in a poem recalling her first daughter, stillborn in 1833. She wrote out of confusion, using the journal pages to evaluate and determine the best maternal practices for raising her daughters. She wrote through anguish and fear over Marianne's frequent illnesses. Above all, she wrote to preserve her maternal relationship beyond the deaths which she feared and expected. Writing, for Gaskell, was a means of shaping her own identity as a mother, and a means of mothering not only her daughters, but herself, preparing her to provide her daughters with the constant 'tender sympathy' that she recommended to her authorially ambitious unnamed correspondent.

The Journal That Mothers

Gaskell's journal brings motherhood forward, drawing attention to the fact that the author does not leave her motherhood behind to write, but rather sacrifices her time for creative pursuits to serve her daughters, even using her writing as a means to shape her mothering. The early descriptive moment in which Gaskell describes herself writing the journal at Marianne's bedside at a first glance seems to relegate Gaskell's maternity to a background position: Marianne is there while she writes, breathing quietly as a backdrop to the scratches of the pen. Yet, instead of requiring a "room of [her] own", Gaskell penned her text at Marianne's bedside, still consciously acting in her mother-role even while she engages in creative expression. Gaskell's journaling occurs in quiet moments within the broader concerns of motherhood; the vast majority of entries that give a time of writing mention "Evening". One might expect that writing here is fragile—accomplished in stolen moments and capable of being shattered in an instant by the mother's response to her child's cry. Gaskell herself wrote about prioritizing her children in the journal: "I think it is the duty of every mother to sacrifice a good deal rather than have her child unnecessarily irritated by anything" (Journal March 10 1835). Her insistence on maternal sacrifice, taken together with her advice to her unknown correspondent, emphasizes that although Gaskell was writing before 1838, the choice to prioritize her motherhood was a deliberate one.

Gaskell viewed motherhood as imparting an intense responsibility and used the journal to hold herself to a high standard. Contemporaneous American author Lydia Maria Child wrote in her 1831 Mother's Book wrote that "The first and most important thing... is, that the mother should keep her own spirit in tranquility and purity; for it is beyond all doubt that the state of a mother affects her child". Gaskell journal demonstrates that she felt compelled to strive for this level of self-regulation; she expresses this ideal prayerfully at the conclusion of the third entry: "Oh Lord strengthen my good purposes & preserve a due sense of my holy trust" (Journal October 4, 1835). Gaskell's invocation of motherhood as "holy" betrays the depth of importance she placed on her own maternal practice, viewing it as an inherently moral responsibility with far-reaching consequences for her daughters. Later in the century, Victorian mothers would be held to the ultimate standard of holiness: that of an "angel in the house", a term deriving from Coventry Patmore's famed poem (1854). Gaskell's journal depicts her efforts as the "strong sense of responsibility which I now feel" to attain such a standard while engaging in the practical day-to-day tasks of raising children and running a household. According to Elizabeth Langland, Victorian ideology prescribed careful management to women not only of children, but also of the home, and ultimately, of the family's social status: "The domestic sanctuary overseen by its attending angel can be decoded as a theater for the staging of a family's social position, a staging that depends on prescribed practices."[7] Victorian mothers, particularly of the middle class, had many models to turn to for such practices.

Maternal Models

Gaskell makes clear in the journal that she turned to multiple models for her maternal practice. Such a decision was not uncommon. In her 2003 article on Gaskell’s journal, Lesley Maroni writes: "Anxious mothers everywhere will turn to 'professionals' in their desire to 'get it right', but then, as now, there was so much conflicting advice that it often led mothers to become even more confused than before."[8] For Maroni, the journal is telling in its depiction of maternal observation, in particular as it traces the formation of Marianne's character: "One of the more fascinating elements of the journal is the insight the modern reader is given into the forming of a conscience (in the personal sense of the word) in the Victorian era." This establishment of conscience was vital for Gaskell, and it is built upon Victorian expectations, drawn from the books Gaskell consulted.

Although it postdates the journal, the work of Lydia Maria Child and Sarah Stickney Ellis models the prescriptive norms that Gaskell aspired to. Ellis's popular The Women of England was published to great acclaim in 1838, the year in which Gaskell's journal ends. In her Mothers of England (1843), Ellis further emphasized the intense moral responsibility of Victorian women to ensure their children's development, health, and morality, themes that echo in the journal. Child too, begins her text by underscoring the impact motherhood can have from the first moments of life: "Few people think the management of very young babes has anything to do with their future dispositions and characters; yet I believe it has more influence than can be easily calculated."[9] This emphasis on "influence" and impact was a core factor in many maternal decisions, and it was understood to have inestimably far-reaching consequences. Ellis wrote: "what is done by a mother is of infinite importance to her children, because a single fault indulged on her part, may impart its character to their whole lives, and spread through circle after circle of influence, widening on, and still extending, long after she herself has been gathered to her last earthly home."[10] Ellis's words underscore the belief in maternal influence that underpinned Victorian ideals of motherhood. Victorians viewed maternal responsibility as shaping not only the individual sons and daughters of England, but the entire fabric of society. Gaskell's journal was on one front a form of intervention, seeking to assist her to shape her motherhood not only in life, but in a way that would last beyond her death.

Gaskell and Self Regulation

In the same 1869 letter to her unnamed correspondent in which Gaskell advised that she could not have written while her children were little, Gaskell demonstrates how closely she connected motherhood with emotional self-regulation. She advised in her letter: "I think you would be sorry if you began to feel that your desire to earn money, even for so laudable an object as to help your husband, made you unable to give your tender sympathy to your little ones in their small joys & sorrows."[11] This intentional availability which Gaskell requires of mothers is intense, and echoes Mrs. Child's claim that "the mother should keep her own spirit in tranquility and purity". Gaskell mobilized the journal as a means to maintain her sense of tranquility, for the explicit purpose of being emotionally present for her daughters and offering them the same "tender sympathy" that she associates with her high standard of motherhood.

Gaskell's Journal and Emotional Labour

This regulatory function of the diary, recently brilliantly theorized by Anne Marie Millim, offers a lens through which to read Gaskell's journal as a text of mothering. Millim writes "the diary, which functions as a site for self-examination and as a tool for self-management, allows the selected diarists to construct and assert their authorship before the publication of their work."[12] Millim focuses on authors' diaries, and building on both Victorian and contemporary psychology, claims that these diarists engage in "goal-oriented processing and moulding of emotional excitability" through their diary keeping practice. She designates this work of self-management in the diary as "emotional labour", a term "first coined by the American sociologist Arlie Russel Hochschild in her 1975 study The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling in order to thematise the 'artificially created elation' and warmth that airline cabin crew are paid to display and spread."[13] According to Hochschild, "this labour requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others."[14] Millim extrapolates this concept of emotional labour to define what she views as the goal of diarists to "wield[] meta-emotional self-control in order to function within cultural conventions of expression" within the accounts they created[15]. Millim's use of "emotional labour" explicitly excludes "the aspect of manipulating others' emotions"; she chooses to focus on the self-regulatory function of diaristic writing. Drawing on Millim's use of "emotional labour", it is clear that Gaskell's use of the journal participates in a similar form of emotional labour as she seeks to control her maternal emotions and regulate her choices within cultural expectations. In effect, Gaskell seeks in the journal to mother herself. On a secondary level, however, Gaskell's journal does what Millim's chosen diarists do not, by expanding the task of emotional labour to include the manipulation of others' emotions as well. Gaskell is mobilizing her journal to control not only her own mothering, but to control her daughters' characters and emotional states, in the hope of preparing them to fit the Victorian mold prescribed by Mrs. Ellis and her predecessors.

As an act that often appears lived in the background—motherhood as a way of life, separate from and perhaps subordinate to women's "real" or professional work—mothering becomes not only the catalyst, but the central subject of the journal. Marianne's "regular" breathing underscores that for many Victorian women, like Gaskell, motherhood was "regular"— a daily constant over and above which any professional or commercial pursuits, like writing, would be achieved. Yet Gaskell pours her energy into her journal; its pages track her emotional labour to regulate her maternal emotions to produce effective maternal practices, and ultimately, to deliberately mould her daughters' characters for life as Victorian women and mothers themselves. Ostensibly created to record Marianne's life and accomplishments, the journal acts more poignantly on multiple levels to shape, preserve, and guide Gaskell in her maternal efforts, and later to instruct Marianne and other future mothers in their efforts to raise a new generation of women. The journal in effect mothers multiple generations of women, enabling a form of maternal emotional labour that constructs a maternal legacy passed on from generation to generation, the voices of centuries of motherhood wrapped in an unassuming marbled cover.

Gaskell's depiction of herself writing the journal, in which the mother writes against the background of an infant daughter's breathing, is a powerful moment of intersection that speaks to the maternal journal as a productive force, and invites a reexamination of the subject of such mother-journals. The "I" of Gaskell's journal is in fact a "we," as she consciously shapes herself and her daughter intermittently, but always connectedly, throughout the text. Previous editions of the journal, entitled My Diary and Private Voices: The Diaries of Elizabeth Gaskell and Sophia Holland, have highlighted Gaskell's subjectivity as an individual. This edition seeks to foreground the multiplicity of voices that Gaskell captures in her text: to emphasize that the stories and thoughts of Marianne, Meta, and Gaskell herself are woven together in an intricate tapestry that reflects Gaskell's intense observation of and attention to her daughters, and to the mothers that would follow. Richly detailed maternal observations are juxtaposed with sharp, often critical self-reflection and cool, analytical interpretations of Marianne's and Meta's motivations and thoughts. In each of these moments, however, the mother and daughter's roles and voices play against one another, not in dissonance, but in a unique sort of textual polyphony that creates a music all its own. The Gaskell Journal: Digital Edition seeks to foreground the relationships at work in the journal, presenting the text as not only the record of "my" thoughts, as Gaskell wrote, but of "our" thoughts, the thoughts of generations of mothers and daughters, themselves the result of years of careful emotional regulation. Gaskell's journal begs readers to reimagine the journal genre as capable of presenting a rich intersubjectivity of voices, of mothers and daughters, speaking for and through each other across generations as life is lived both on the page and beyond it.

Gaskell had several purposes in mind when she penned her journal: perfecting her own motherhood, preserving the maternal bond with her daughter, and guiding her daughters' in their own eventual motherhood. Each takes priority throughout the text at different times, but from beginning to end, the journal is conscious of itself as a text that records and shapes motherhood. Gaskell and her eldest two daughters, Marianne and Meta (Margaret), are the key players, all brought to life on the page through Gaskell's own voice, and yet all shaped to fit into expected molds as well. Like separate melodic lines coming together to form cohesive harmonies in a musical composition, these subjects and their unique "voices"—whether sentimental, analytical, doubtful or resigned - work together as Gaskell orchestrates her daughters' early development, her own consciousness and practices as mother, and as she carefully records both in an effort to guide and shape the motherhood of future generations, which echo faintly as harmonic overtones of the original composition. In the pages of the journal Gaskell not only mothers her daughters, but she simultaneously writes her own motherhood, inscribing a paper surrogate for her daughters and other women in the face of inevitable mortality.

Preserving Motherhood

Elizabeth Gaskell's maternal journal is, at its heart, a story of loss. Gaskell begins with a dedication, not merely inscribing, but bequeathing her journal to her daughter, Marianne "if I should not live to give it her myself". Thus the journal, undertaken "as a token of [a] mother's love and extreme anxiety in the formation of her little daughter's character," begins with a disturbing premonition of the mother-daughter relationship severed by an unassailable mortality (Journal, Dedication). On its surface, the journal is an engaging record of Marianne's early development, but this is paired with the deeper undercurrent of Gaskell's own implacable maternal anxieties, her doubts of her own success as a mother, and ultimately, her fears of the loss of her relationship with her children, through their death or her own. This preoccupation with loss becomes the framework through which Gaskell approaches her journal, and her characterization of motherhood in her later fiction—it is time-bound, ephemeral, fragile, and precious.

Many of Gaskell's novels contain a plot element familiar to the heroes and heroines of many Victorian novels: the loss of the mother. As Carolyn Dever writes, "Victorian novels almost invariably feature protagonists whose mothers are dead or lost, swept away by menacing and often mysterious outside forces."[16] Several of Gaskell's own novels feature this absent mother, including Mary Barton, North and South, and Wives and Daughters, in the latter of which the lack of a maternal figure is made even more prominent through its pronounced absence in the title: wives and daughters there are, but no mothers. The loss of motherhood echoes through Ruth as well. In Ruth, as the narrative crisis approaches, references to Ruth as "motherless" begin to pervade the story. Ruth longs for the comforts of home, and, the reader is constantly reminded, lacks a guiding influence when faced with the charms of Mr. Bellingham. Ultimately, motherhood becomes Ruth's redemption, as she pours all her energy into caring for and protecting her son, yet even in her selflessness, Ruth too succumbs to the plight of the Victorian mother, dying of illness after caring for the ill Mr. Bellingham, and leaving her own Leonard to make his way through life as a motherless son.

Dever, writing on the connection between the Victorian trope of maternal death and Freudian psychology, makes intriguing arguments about the necessity of beginning—both novels and the development of individual subjectivity—from a position of maternal loss. Stating "the Victorian novel conventionally opens with a scene of family rupture," Dever underscores the prevalence of "motherless" heroes or heroines in Victorian novels and claims the loss of the mother "enables mid-Victorian writers to consider complex questions of female subjectivity and sexuality"[17]. Earlier in the century, Jane Austen similarly invoked the paradigm of the lost mother, in Emma and Persuasion. Austen also writes maternal figures who have not yet succumbed to death, such as Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park, as afflicted with various forms of inadequacy. Drawing connections between early psychoanalysis and Victorian fiction, Dever connects this prevalence of the loss of the mother with the need for fictional protagonists—and humanity more broadly—to mature and develop apart from maternal influence:

the narrative mode through which Freud structures normative psychoanalytic development is itself a direct reflection of mid-Victorian tropes, with similar representational and ideological investments in maternal loss. In fact, Victorian concern with maternal loss offers psychoanalysis its most basic vocabulary for human development: in psychoanalysis, maternal loss simply shifts from a representational motif to a psychological mandate, as all permutations of mature subjectivity and sexuality emerge from the negotiation of the predicament of "abandonment."[18]

In her reading of maternal loss in Victorian novels, Dever determines that the loss of the mother provides the conditions for subjectivity and identity formation. Based on her claims, we might assume that successful motherhood rarely appears in novels, not because of the reality of maternal loss through childbirth, but because the loss of the mother provides the best scenario in which a protagonist can mature.

If Victorian novels often begin from a position of maternal loss, then they structure the creation of subjectivity as rooted in the loss of the maternal ideal, while yet inscribing this ideal in the expectations of female subjectivity. The loss of the mother often occasions a substitution, which is the plot on which many Gaskell novels turn. Mr. Gibson attempts to give Molly a stepmother in Wives and Daughters, in order to fill the breach left by her early loss. Yet Gaskell's portraits of motherhood—lost, isolated, or visibly failing as they are, in fact are perfectly aligned with what Caroline Dever reads as a trend in Victorian fiction to write mothers as failures in order to reinscribe maternal tropes and models. The mothers in Gaskell's novels fall prey to illness, to selfishness, and even to death. In Wives and Daughters, the maternal figures (who are, nonetheless, present) are not women to be imitated. Molly Gibson's mother has died as the story opens, and it is her father's deeply caring but rather clumsy attempts to fill the maternal role that drives much of the action of the story. The other mothers in the story are failures as well: Lady Cumnor is ill and cannot be in London to assist her daughter through the "season"; while Mrs. Hamley's petting of Osbourne is ill-placed and causes her much grief. Drawing upon the ideas advanced by Child and Ellis, the influence of the mothers in Wives and Daughters are lacking, and the effects are widely felt.

When Gaskell wrote her friend and colleague Charlotte Brontë's biography, she framed the narrative of Brontë's life around the loss of Brontë's mother. The first chapter, which opens with a sweeping, descriptive portrait of the countryside near Keighley and Haworth, ends its tour at the gravestone that recounts Maria Brontë's death, and afterward, the deaths of all six of her "motherless children". The Brontës' story, and especially Charlotte's, begins with their mother's death. Left without a model and guide, Charlotte must establish her own identity in the world in much the same way that Victorian heroines did in novels. Gaskell's description of the gravestone, with the names engraved on the plaque that marks their deaths, is a telling choice for the first mention Gaskell gives of the Brontës in her biography: they are marked by their mother's death. These motherless children gain readers' empathy, as well as a place in the biography, through their loss. It was a situation Gaskell knew only too well.

Motherless Children, Childless Mothers

Gaskell grew up understanding that motherhood was fragile and treasured the few mementos of her mother that she had. Her childhood experience consisted of more than one mother who could not raise her, and her subsequent experience surrounded by a large circle of extended family in Knutsford left her with a keen awareness of what motherhood really meant. Gaskell's own mother, Elizabeth Stevenson (nee Holland), died in October of 1811, when young Elizabeth was thirteen months old. Later in life, Gaskell was given some of her mother's letters by George Hope, and she responded warmly in an 1849 letter:

I will not let an hour pass, my dear sir, without acknowledging your kindness in sending me my dear mother's letters, the only relic of her that I have, and of more value to me than I can express, for I have so often longed for some little thing that had once been hers or touched by her. I think no one but one so unfortunate as to be early motherless can enter into the craving one has after the lost mother.[19]

By the time she received these letters, Gaskell's career as an author and her motherhood were both already established. Gaskell had approached this role from a place of grief, and her early loss of her mother was not the only one she would experience. Three other women stepped in to take the role of mother in Elizabeth Gaskell's life, and Gaskell was to experience the loss of a mother still twice more.

As Gaskell's mother, Elizabeth Stevenson, lay dying in 1811, nursed by her sister Hannah Lumb, Hannah's daughter, Marianne Lumb, wrote a letter in which she promised to "perform the part of a mother to little Elizabeth to the very best of [her] powers."[20] Sincere and generous as the offer was, Gaskell's second "mother" stands out as a surprising maternal figure within the Victorian era: crippled, young, and unmarried, Marianne Lumb is not the type of woman one would expect to eagerly seek to raise a motherless child.[21] Marianne's story, however, is from beginning to end one of profound maternal love. Elizabeth Gaskell's maternal grandparents, Samuel and Anne Holland, had nine children, including three sons and six daughters. Hannah (Holland) Lumb and Elizabeth (Holland) Stevenson were the only two of these daughters to marry, but Hannah had been granted a separation from her mentally unstable husband and moved back to Knutsford to be near her family years before Elizabeth Stevenson's death.[22] She lived with her daughter, Marianne, whose story, as told by Gaskell's grown daughter, Meta, begins: "As a little wee child, she suddenly leapt out of her nurse's arms, thro' an open window, in her joy at seeing her mother coming up the garden-path and in her eagerness to reach her, she fell on the hard ground, and was maimed for life!"[23] Marianne Lumb's entire existence is thus marked by her love for her mother; physically maimed through her joy in the maternal bond, she later sought to become a mother to young Elizabeth. The portion of this letter which survives is transcribed in Meta's hand in a letter to Clement Shorter, an early would-be biographer of Gaskell, who edited her journal but never completed his biography. Meta's letter goes on to explain: "It has always been said that Aunt Lumb conceived the idea of adopting little Elizabeth for the sake of Marianne—but this letter, to her mother in London, shows that the first thought was Marianne's."[24]

Marianne Lumb, however, would mother Gaskell for less than a year before Gaskell lost her too. Marianne's letter laying out her plan for raising Elizabeth was written in early November. The following March, Marianne Lumb died in Halifax.[25] After Marianne's death, the childless Hannah Lumb and the motherless Elizabeth became each other's family. After sharing in two painful losses within only six months—of sister and mother, of daughter and mother—Hannah Lumb took on the role of mother to Elizabeth herself. The generosity of her choice must have been made even more plain to Elizabeth when in 1814, her father remarried a woman named Catherine Thomson.[26] Through Catherine, Gaskell's father had two more children, who became her stepbrother and stepsister. By all accounts, Gaskell had limited contact with them during the years that followed and was never close to her stepmother.[27] In the end, it was Aunt Lumb who Gaskell came to know as her "more-than-mother".

From an early age, Gaskell had been confronted with the truth that motherhood was often associated with painful losses. Gaskell's own mother, Elizabeth (Holland) Stevenson, according to tradition, lost six of her eight children in infancy, leaving only Elizabeth and her oldest brother, John, surviving.[28] Elizabeth corresponded with her brother, a trader with the East India Company throughout her childhood, who encouraged her to keep a journal in his letters. By the time of her marriage, she had lost her brother too. In 1828, at the age of 30, he traveled on a voyage to India, and she never heard from him again.[29] Several of Gaskell's relatives had experienced similar losses. Her uncle, Peter Holland, lost three children in infancy as well as his first wife. Another uncle, Samuel Holland, lost a teenage son seven or eight years after her arrival at Knutsford, and her youngest uncle, Swinton Holland, had similarly lost a daughter in infancy.[30] Nevertheless, Gaskell saw her Holland relations frequently, and undoubtedly observed her aunts mothering her large set of cousins.

After her early childhood losses, Gaskell grew to womanhood surrounded by the warm family atmosphere of her Holland relations, but throughout her life, loss followed close on her heels. In July of 1833, just eleven months after her marriage, Gaskell gave birth to her firstborn: a stillborn daughter.[31] The loss of this first daughter was clearly a poignant experience for Elizabeth, and one that marked her experience of motherhood years later. In 1836, after the birth of her first surviving daughter, Marianne, Gaskell penned a poem entitled "On Visiting the Grave of my Stillborn Little Girl." The poem emphasizes Gaskell's determination to remember her lost daughter:

I made a vow within my soul, O child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of death on every tender part,
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove! [32]

The intensity of the emotion in this poem is representative of the melancholy tone that pervades the journal and even many of Gaskell's letters, as she frequently reflected on mortality and loss. Gaskell also deepens her experience by writing it. She observes her dead daughter not once, but twice, through reimagining her loss and reconstructing it as a poem, layering the "marks of death on every tender part" by marking them again on a page through the composition of her poem, and on her own heart. Like her journal, Gaskell quite likely read the poem again in later years, reliving again her first experience of motherhood, marked by death. Her experiences of motherhood—both as daughter and as a mother herself—began with loss, and that loss casts a long shadow over her life and the maternal journal that recounts it.

Gaskell's journal is rooted in her experience and her fear of loss, and this fear drives the preoccupation with preservation that marks the journal from beginning to end. In her dedication, Gaskell is preoccupied with her fears of losing her daughter. This carries throughout the text as well: many of the entries end with a prayer, pleading for Marianne's or Meta's health and well-being. The journal is conceived through these losses: Gaskell plans and writes her journal as an intervention, should her greatest fear occur, and the maternal bond be severed. The journal acts as a corrective to her fears; as she records her anxieties, Gaskell is creating an ink-and-paper surrogate to act as a mother should her fears become reality. In a deliberate written act, Gaskell is inscribing the pages of the journal with marks—of life, but quite possibly of a death that has not yet happened—marks that she fervently hopes will outlive her.

The practical result of this loss-driven writing is the journal's preoccupation with bodily health. Throughout the journal, we read about Marianne's feeding practices, informed by medical opinion and her own careful habits of observation. Drawing on her reading of Combe's Physiology, Gaskell carefully attended to her daughters' physical states and made connections with their emotional states. She writes: "It is quite astonishing to see the difference bodily feelings make in Marianne's temper & powers of endurance. I was in great measure prepared for this by Combe's Physiology, but I had no idea how every change of temper might be deduced from some corresponding change in the body" (Journal, October 4, 1835).[33] Gaskell claims that others who laugh at mothers "for attributing little freaks of temper to teething &c… [can't] have had much to do with children," although she admits, "I used to be one" (Journal, October 4, 1835). The calm rational analysis Gaskell applies to evaluating her daughters' physical health is punctuated throughout with her emotional response to her fear of loss. She continued to seek to instill in herself and her daughters the rational thought that flowed from clear headed observation.

From the opening of the journal, Gaskell closely links bodily strength and physical, mental, and emotional development. While cheerfully recounting examples of Marianne's "self-government" and her improvement in patience, Gaskell also actively seeks to reduce physical causes of impatience. She plans to dress Marianne warmly and keep her indoors during the winter, due to her perceived fragility. Shortly after her first birthday, Gaskell has stopped feeding Marianne milk, believing that thickened broth is a more "strengthening" food (Journal, October 4, 1835) Gaskell claims early on that she has no desire for Marianne to walk early, wishing instead that she develop this skill at her own pace, rather than being pushed into it or helped by her parents or the servants (Journal, August 4, 1835). Gaskell often links Marianne's bodily complaints to her poor health, claiming that teething, for example, causes her discomfort, or that she "regains" strength after her teeth have come through. In multiple entries, Gaskell worries about Marianne being ill with croup, both describing her worrisome symptoms and her own and William's actions to resolve the problem. In each of these instances, Gaskell's first recourse is to weigh a decision and commit to one, a step that she often takes or recounts within the pages of the journal. The journal acts as a sounding board to evaluate—and in some cases celebrate—Gaskell's parenting choices and commitments. It is a place to write down rules which she has determined to follow, to make justifications for these choices, and to remember and celebrate the accomplishments and development of Marianne, and later Meta, should they succumb to her ultimate fear, and die while still young.

When she began her journal, Gaskell had not yet received her mother's letters from George Hope. Her only memories of her mother likely were passed on to her through her Holland relatives. Gaskell is therefore, through the composition of the journal, not only recording Marianne's childhood and reflecting on her own motherhood, but also actively preparing a legacy for Marianne so that her daughter will not be left without what she later received: a possession bearing the marks of her mother's own hand. In doing so, Gaskell's forward thinking proved to be rather surprisingly accurate; not only was Marianne the only one of her four daughters to have children of her own, but Gaskell's sudden death in 1865 occurred before Marianne's marriage, making the journal the only source of Gaskell's maternal advice Marianne had to look to in her own experience as a mother.

Throughout the journal, Gaskell employs her journal to vividly describe and enact her fears of loss. In the second entry, Gaskell writes of a past illness of Marianne's, in which she feared for her daughter's life: "I cannot tell how I sickened at my heart, at the thought of seeing her no more here.

Her empty crib to see
Her silent nursery,
Once gladsome with her mirth."
(Journal, August 4, 1835)

Although the lines of verse are not attributed or marked, Gaskell is quoting nearly verbatim a poem by Caroline Bowles (later Southey), which powerfully imagines the pervasive grief that follows the loss of a child. The poem, "To a Dying Infant," poignantly recalls the infant's final moments and soliloquizes on the infant's passing from earthly life into the life that follows, and is reminiscent in its emotion and vibrant description of Gaskell's own stanzas composed to recall her stillborn daughter. At the time of the poem's publication in 1821, Bowles had lost her parents, was unmarried, and had only recently begun supporting herself through a literary career that would last twenty years before her eventual marriage to poet Robert Southey.[34] "To a Dying Infant" was widely reprinted both in the months following its initial appearance and in years afterward. The lines Gaskell quotes, which speak of a male infant in the original, are often quoted in obituaries of the time period. In spite of its popularity, the poem itself is not mentioned in Blain's biography of Bowles, which focuses its attention on Bowles' publication of "Ellen Fitzarthur," a lengthy narrative poem published in 1820, and the poem collections that followed.[35] Gaskell writes in the journal with an effort at resignation and an undercurrent of barely contained grief that parallels the emotion in the poem. The journal underscores the struggle between her determined intention to accept loss with her frequent expressions of her fears for Marianne.

The stanza Gaskell quotes emphasizes absence: the mother is taking in the furnishings of the nursery and highlighting the loss of the child who is supposed to occupy them: the "empty crib to see / the silent nursery". There are multiple levels of emptiness here: the crib is empty, bereft of the child who would have been lulled to sleep within. The image of the crib likewise calls to mind (as the poem mentions in a later stanza), the harsh reality that the lost child must be laid somewhere: "'tis hard to lay one's darling in the cold, cold ground". Beyond this image, however, the poem evokes the pervading loss of the marked silence: there is no child-noise in the nursery, none of the soft breathing that Gaskell describes as "music" in her first journal entry. The silence here is oppressive, weighing on the soul: not only through the description of the "silent nursery", but even more poignantly through the ghostly memory of the "mirth" that once filled it. Along with such images, the poem similarly evokes the bodily emptiness of lost motherhood: the empty womb, the empty maternal arms, which have been replaced by the grave where the child lies.

Bowles' poem exemplifies the loss that Gaskell fears, and it is the loss that she attempts to fill, over the course of four years, with paper and ink, in the guise of the journal. Through crafting her narrative, thick with rules and careful self-analysis, Gaskell is building a memory that will not be subject to the ravages of illness or time in the way that flesh is destined to succumb. The journal will not be buried, and through the words inscribed therein Gaskell—or Marianne—can hear again the voice forever silenced by death. The journal is a surrogate mother—a paper memento. Gaskell writes as a means of mothering after death.

Gaskell's fear of loss, and her resignation in the face of such a possibility, is colored by her religious beliefs as a Unitarian and accompanied by a sense of hope in a better and brighter future after death. The journal's dedication ends with a Gaskell's hope in the afterlife: "the hope that however we may be separated on earth, we may each of us so behave while sojourning here that we may meet again to renew the dear & tender tie of Mother & Daughter." According to this quotation, Gaskell's Unitarianism based the hope of an afterlife on an individual's performance in life, citing "behavior" as a determining factor. This sense of divine expectations colors Gaskell's writing about motherhood, both in her insistence on the shaping of good character, and in her attempts at self-regulation. In the second entry, she writes: "I hope I shall always preserve my present good intentions … and then I must pray, to be forgiven for my errors, & led into a better course" (Journal, August 4, 1835). Gaskell's insistence on prayer for guidance in her maternal role is telling: the depth of the responsibility which this indicates is far-reaching and has important implications for how we read her career as a writer in view of her life as a mother. Gaskell seems to have viewed no responsibility in her life as of equal importance with her motherhood.

Although Gaskell punctuates her journal with prayerful entreaties for the preservation of her daughters, her faith in life after death led to her earnest desire to accept the possibility of loss. The prayers in the journal reflect Gaskell's view of God as emphasizing a subtle reliance on a deity to provide an afterlife in which Gaskell and Marianne would be reunited after death "to renew the dear & tender tie of Mother and Daughter" (Journal Dedication). Gaskell seems to have viewed religion as a rather flexible, mutable relationship grounded in individual feeling and behavior. Although Gaskell quotes the Bible on multiple occasions, her doctrinal leanings are not clear. Throughout the journal, Gaskell is reflective about her child's and her own mortality, and in these moments she relies on a tentative faith, turning to God and asking simultaneously for Marianne's preservation and for her own acceptance of the death she fears. Thus, Gaskell employs the journal to protect against the loss of the maternal bond, even as she uses it to strengthen her own resolve to face such a loss in the future. Having come to motherhood through immense losses of first her mother(s) and later, a daughter, Gaskell is hopeful that the journal can ease pain for herself or for the motherless daughters that she hoped not to create in life, though they frequently populate her fiction. The journal is colored by these dual purposes: while it expects and prepares for "the change that may come any day", as she writes in her dedication, it also seeks to overcome it. As the journal weaves together many aims, and many voices, Gaskell also has a more subtle purpose in writing the journal: to strengthen the maternal bond itself.

Life writing as a genre encompasses a wide variety of textual modes, but throughout these iterations, what is at stake in life writing is ultimately loss: loss of the self, of time, of memories: of those things which the journal attempts to preserve through time. Writers create autobiographical memoirs, journals, oral histories, letters and other such documents with a view toward preserving memories, history, and thoughts of personal value. We write so we will not forget. Life writing is an intervention designed to limit loss, and as such, the enemy of life writing is time. Life writing and time have an uneasy association. The documents of life writing are indelibly marked with time. Letters and diaries begin with a chronological timestamp; biographies mark a chronological progression, even when read out of order. These documents are written to preserve our memories and our history. Gaskell invokes her journal as a sort of surrogate daughter to accompany her into the future: "I sometimes think I may find this journal a great help in recalling the memory of my darling child if we should lose her" (Journal, February 4th, 1836). The impulse to create a form of life that is legible beyond its allotted span of temporal existence is rooted in the knowledge of the inevitability of this eventual loss. Yet the journal also acts to make the most of time in the present, through shaping motherhood to fit Gaskell's own expectations.

Perfecting Motherhood

Gaskell spends a significant portion of the journal ruminating on her own maternal practices, and seeks throughout to record, evaluate, and improve her own motherhood through a conscious habit of observation. Gaskell begins the opening entry of her journal with self-critique, regretting the already lost maternal opportunities for observation of her daughter. Although Marianne is only six months old at the time, Gaskell writes, "I wish I had begun my little journal sooner, for… there have been many little indications of disposition &c. already which I can not now remember clearly" (Journal, March 10, 1835). After beginning, she continued her journal until October 28, 1838. The entries were sporadic; there are only eleven entries in four years, although several of them run to over eight handwritten pages.

Throughout the journal, Gaskell attempts to record and consciously care for Marianne's physical body in a way that supports her moral development. Gaskell attempts to follow a careful format of describing Marianne, and later her second daughter, Meta, first physically and then mentally. Always an avid reader, Gaskell had by this time been scouring the prescriptive texts of the day, including Andrew Combe's widely read Physiology (1834), for advice on motherhood, and had formed exacting ideals to which she aspired. She likely found encouragement for her decision to keep a journal in a text she favored, L'Education Progressive (1828-39), by Madame Albertine Necker de Saussure. These two texts, taken together, reflect Gaskell's central observational philosophy in the journal: that "every change of temper might be deduced from some corresponding change in the body" (Journal, October 4, 1835). Gaskell draws the link between emotions and the physical body from Combe, but her emphasis, following De Saussure, is on Marianne's moral and social development.

Gaskell's journal was itself a manifestation of the advice she read on child-rearing, and of her own tendency to self-regulation. De Saussure encouraged mothers to cultivate a habit of observation, stating: "the study of every single child must begin from its very birth, and on that account a mother only can carry it on successfully".[36] For this purpose, DeSaussure also advocated a journal: "in order that this task may be properly fulfilled, I would earnestly exhort all young mothers to keep a journal in which the general progress and unfolding of their children's minds may be regularly noted down".[37] Gaskell read de Saussure's extensive text, in the original French no less, as the English translation was not yet available in England in 1834. Although the texts by Combe and DeSaussure are the only two texts specifically mentioned in the journal, Gaskell writes "books do so differ", suggesting that she had read several (Journal August 4, 1835). Her attention to Saussure's suggestions, and her choice of prescriptive texts, demonstrates the level of commitment she brought to motherhood. The journal itself testifies to how seriously she took the suggestion to make observation of her children a routine part of her maternal care of them.

Gaskell deploys the journal as a tool for observation, which she viewed as a key aspect of human character, in line with principles that had been advocated in writing ten years earlier by her father, William Stevenson. Stevenson published a series of articles in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in 1824-5 which analyzed whether "political economy" was a "useful and consistent" science.[38] His premise relied upon two central tenets: "we must, in the first place, find out what the general laws of nature are, and, in the next place, learn to apply them with propriety and effect to the extension of our knowledge and regulation of our conduct".[39] According to Mollmann, observation was the key to "Stevenson's standard for a system of scientific research: it must have consistent rules derived from observations of the world, and it must result in a plan for operating in the world".[40] In order to engage in effective scientific inquiry, one must be a careful and meticulous observer of the laws of nature, and further, must apply these laws with propriety. Gaskell, Mollmann claims, implemented her father's system of observation years later in her novels, in which "the most ethical observers are those who observe the observations of others: such attention to detail allows one to act morally towards others and one's self, 'with propriety and effect to the extension of our knowledge and regulation of our conduct'".[41] The act of ethical observation, however, was not one that Gaskell merely assigned to her characters. While Mollmann focused on Gaskell's fiction, his observations may be extrapolated also to her life writing. I argue that the journal illustrates how Gaskell practiced observation of herself "with propriety and effect" as a key principle of her maternal practice, using careful attention to shape both herself and her daughters.

Gaskell's intensive self-observation reflects a particular application of ethical observation focused on the deliberate shaping of her daughters' minds through perfecting her own maternal practice. The emotional labour at work in the journal becomes evident in Gaskell's ruminations on her own motherhood practices. Maternal observation requires attention to many varied details, and the journal as a form lends itself to the record of such a variety of thinking, always cycling back to evaluate the choices that have been made in the light of her self-imposed rules. Gaskell once wrote in a letter that "the interruptions of home life are never ending".[42] This is motherhood. Grounded in the unending cycle of interruptions, and the day to day details of caring for and raising children whose needs are constantly changing at every moment, motherhood requires a particular kind of thinking, a sort of mental flexibility that the journal embodies brilliantly. Sara Ruddick has described "maternal thinking" as "a unity of reflection, judgment and emotion".[43] Within the journal, we read Gaskell as not only a thoughtful mother, a clever writer, or a witty observer, but as a woman simultaneously engaged in intense thought in all these dimensions. She carefully observes her daughters, reflecting on their actions and achievements while judging her own responses and maternal responsibilities. Over and above these rational, scientific modes of observation, however, the journal is colored with firm judgment of the daily anxieties and emotions that color and mark motherhood. Gaskell is the orchestrator of her own complex maternal life, rife with layers of competing thoughts and aims, and as such the journal displays the internal ambiguities and anxieties of Victorian motherhood.

Gaskell's careful observations of her daughters and her own motherhood, as depicted in the journal, appear as an early form of practicing such scientifically inflected, yet socially motivated careful observation. Reading within Gaskell's novels, Wives and Daughters in particular, Mollmann claims that Gaskell portrays those who observe others' observations as the most ethical and most effective characters, building upon her father's system. Systems of thought that are not only consistent, but consistently applied, are those which are admired in the text. Through considering her own motives and choices, and being keen to discern not only Marianne's unique personalities and traits, but how as a mother to appropriately conduct her own responses for each situation and trait, Gaskell applies her father's suggestions in her maternal role: "I must take care to have presence of mind to remark & adopt the better method every future occasion," she writes when considering her own response to Marianne's behavior (Journal, August 4, 1835). Gaskell frequently sets rules and then evaluates her adherence to them: "I certainly think being calm oneself… & never disappointing her when unnecessary are good rules" (Journal, August 4, 1835). Gaskell's self-reflection demonstrates the depth of her feelings of maternal responsibility to her daughters.

Throughout her life, as indicated by not only her journals, but also her letters to her daughters, Gaskell's maternal observations, undertaken with thoughtful scrutiny and applied intentionally to each daughter's care, were key to her role as mother, and also central to her life. Gaskell closely watched each daughter, and the journal recounts the subtle differences she "read" between Marianne and Meta especially, striving to apply a similar consistent pattern of observation and resulting action to the raising of her four daughters. According to Barbara Brill, both Gaskells were involved in the girls' education: "William instructed them in history and natural history, Elizabeth taking them for dictation and grammar, as well as such domestic skills as needlework and babycare, for the older sisters".[44] The girls also received individualized instruction according to their interests and talents. Marianne, who loved music, attended "a school at Hampstead where music was well taught,' while Meta, who had an aptitude for art, "went to a school in Liverpool run by Miss Rachel Martineau, and at one point had private lessons from John Ruskin".[45] These same considerations appear in late letters, indicating that Gaskell applied de Saussure's and her father's theories of observation to her daughters throughout their lives, even after the journal had been abandoned.

Building on her own use of observation to shape her motherhood, observant behavior is one of the earliest traits Gaskell deliberately cultivates in her daughter Marianne, as well, writing of her at six months old: "when I see her looking very intently at anything, I take her to it, and let her exercise all her sense upon it - even to tasting, if I am sure it can do her no harm. My object is to give her a habit of fixing her attention" (Journal, March 10, 1835). This "habit of attention" marked Gaskell's own approach to motherhood, both in the journal and in her later letters, in which she frequently describes her children, commenting on their unique personalities. Her wish for Marianne to be attentive returns frequently in the journal. She later writes sending Marianne to infant school "to give her an idea of conquering difficulties by perseverance", and frequently writes in later letters of her concern that Marianne can't offer clear arguments to support her opinions. The connection here between observation of her daughters and a deliberate attention to characters' individual patterns of thinking reveals Gaskell's own interest in not only others' actions, but in the consciousnesses that motivate their responses, beginning with an intentional, intensive, and necessarily accurate awareness of and attention to the worlds they inhabit. As she describes her daughters' unique characteristics and development, Gaskell simultaneously models in the journal the keen observation that she desires her daughters to acquire, and which she associates with her most moral, admired, and virtuous characters.

Gaskell's habit of observation, as it appears in the journal, is representative of the prescriptive manuals of the period. The habit of fixed attention she desires for Marianne is similar to this concept of "seeking knowledge, truth telling, and proper "method" advanced first by her father and later borne out in the characters she writes, and the daughters she raises. The encouragement of observation was a central tenet of many prescriptive child-rearing texts. Lydia Maria Child wrote in The Mother's Book (1831), before Gaskell became a mother: "Too much cannot be said on the importance of giving children early habits of observation".[46] Gaskell was a keen observer, a woman whose habit of attention was focused on shaping not only her fictional work, but her own four daughters to contribute meaningfully to the society they inhabited. In later years, after her death, her grown and unmarried daughters Meta and Julia would capitalize on their mother's lessons as they engaged in charitable and social work from the Gaskell home in Manchester.

In addition to cultivating a 'habit of attention' in her daughters, Gaskell also sought to convey expectations regarding the objects of such attention; she favored books. In another piece of life-writing which refers to Gaskell's motherhood, entitled "Precepts for the guidance of a daughter" and included as an appendix to the Wilson edition of the journal, Gaskell encourages her daughters to devote their habits of attention to books, through reading frequently. Four of the eighteen listed "precepts" in this document relate to reading:

2. Wash your hands.
3. When you have washed them, hold a book in them.
14. Assume the power of reading, if you have it not.
15. Hold your book the right way up.[47]

Although lightly humorous—another of the precepts states "Talk German so fast that no one can ascertain whether you speak grammatically or no" —the precepts also undergird the importance Gaskell placed on cultivating habits, as the document on the whole focuses on the minutiae of daily living, rather than any broader, abstract considerations of womanhood. Gaskell is actively shaping her daughters, training them and teaching them to be the kind of young women that she herself admired: attentive, independent and kind. Gaskell saw her maternal role as her most vital one, grounded in the day to day tasks which must be accomplished. Always available to her daughters—these frequent interruptions are noted in her letters—she wrote while they slept, or early in the morning before they awoke.[48] Later in life, when her writing became profitable, she intended to use it to provide a home for her two unmarried daughters, demonstrating her popularity, her productivity, and her maternal care.

Gaskell's manuscript is a journal of motherhood which foregrounds prominently the overpowering sense of individual responsibility Gaskell felt for her children. Maternal responsibility in the period, especially as forwarded by Sarah Ellis in her Mothers of England, was seen as an all-encompassing duty. Although Mothers of England was not published until after Gaskell ceased writing her journal, Ellis's insistence on mothers' responsibility for the moral character of their children echoes in the journal. Ellis writes: "what is done by a mother is of infinite importance to her children, because a single fault indulged on her part, may impart its character to their whole lives, and spread through circle after circle of influence, widening on, and still extending, long after she herself has been gathered to her last earthly home".[49] Similar sentiments underlie Gaskell's own concerns in the journal's opening entry, where she worries: "If I should misguide from carelessness or negligence!…. From ignorance and errors in judgment I know I may, and probably shall, very often" (Journal March 10, 1835). Insofar as Gaskell is working against Victorian norms through encouraging experiential learning for Marianne, she nonetheless feels the intense pressure of her role as a Victorian mother, and she keenly feels the lack of personal experience of such a mother, although she fondly remembers her "more-than-mother", Aunt Lumb. The journal is a text born out of life—and life-giving—rather than focused on a reading public, and as such it is rife with insecurities and ambivalence. Far from a sentimental memory of her children, the journal betrays the level to which Gaskell worked to craft her own maternal persona, in keeping with her conviction of maternal responsibility.

Gaskell's awareness of her own responsibility appears in the marked prevalence of "rules" throughout the journal: "Though I keep laying down rules, I fear I have not sufficiently attended to them" (Journal, March 10, 1835). Gaskell confronted motherhood from a position of anxiety and determination, keenly aware of Victorian tropes of motherhood with their sense of overarching responsibility. The journal's insistence on "rules" provides a key point of intersection with Millim's understanding of diaristic writing's connection to emotional labour. Armed with evidence drawn from medical and philosophical sources, Gaskell deploys—and counters—many of the Victorian tropes of motherhood, as she muses over the vital child-rearing decisions that were the province of mothers at the time. Yet throughout, she seeks to govern herself and adhere to the principles and rules she has put in place for herself, tracked through the handwritten entries in her journal. Most importantly, Gaskell's journal foregrounds the development of the mother-daughter relationship, and the challenges embedded within it related to regulating the emotional states of her daughters and herself. Above all, the journal weaves a compelling portrait of the hopes and fears that mark the maternal relationship, rendering this form of emotional labour a more potent one than the self-regulation contained in the diaries Millim explores. Gaskell's journal seeks to curb her own desires for the good of her daughters, and to instill in them the same mode of self-sacrifice to an overarching ideal. The journal is, in the tradition of life writing, born of losses, but in crafting her narrative, in giving voice to her own rules and strife to adhere to them, Gaskell also betrays hope: hope that her words and insights may live on, and the hope that her own daughter, the subject of her first piece of sustained writing, will successfully self-regulate in the same role that she herself cherished: that of a mother.

Gaskell's journal represents emotional labour at work in a thoughtful and carefully regulated motherhood. Maura Dunst recounts Gaskell's forward-thinking raising of her daughters: "Gaskell's diaries reveal an analytical and informed parenting method, which ran against the grain of traditional prescriptions. She allowed her daughters to develop their natures, rather than teaching them to fit in a mould, and gave them the tools to make moral judgments".[50] Gaskell's journal reveals her meticulous attention to her children, and her carefully derived and executed plans for their development: "I have thought a good deal about the formation of any little plans, and I shall like to know their success. I want to act on principles now which can be carried on through the whole of her education," she writes in the first entry, when Marianne is almost six months old (Journal March 10, 1835). Although the diary has had few readers—none, it is presumed, in Gaskell's lifetime—it is not an isolated text, but rather shows its author in a richly engaged discourse surrounding children's education, motherhood, and the Victorian family household: in one instance she engaged the diary as a sounding board for deciding which of several approaches to crying—approaches which bear a marked similarity to contemporary "cry-it-out" or "no tears" methods—to take with Marianne (Journal March 10, 1835). Modern mommy bloggers would find a familiar dilemma in Gaskell's choice between letting Marianne cry in the interest of learning to self-soothe or providing maternal comfort. In the same way that Gaskell's novels appeal to a "wider social vision," her mothering practice draws on and critiques a wide range of social opinions—drawing on far-ranging and even multicultural sources in her attempt to prescribe a course of motherly response to tears.[51]

Motherhood for Gaskell was a fraught concept. On many levels she bought into the Victorian ideals of maternal responsibility and influence, writing in her journal: "How all a woman's life, at least so it seems to me now, ought to have reference to the period when she will be fulfilling one of her greatest & highest duties, those of a mother" (Journal, August 4, 1835). Throughout her "rules" for herself and expectations for her daughter, Gaskell seeks to shape Marianne's emotional temperament, while teaching Marianne to be self-sufficient as well as develop at her own pace. In relevant passages, Gaskell emphasized that Marianne "goes to bed awake"; indicating that she has successfully guided her daughter to overcome reliance upon her parents for sleep—a mark of emotional maturity, and several entries mention Gaskell's plan that Marianne will also learn to walk on her own, believing "that till Nature prompts this, it is worse than useless to force them to their feet" (Journal, March 10, 1835). Gaskell was also very firm in ensuring Marianne's firm reliance on reality and limiting fanciful thinking or trust in falsehoods, as exemplified in her writing about promises: "There is another thing I try to attend to & make the servants attend to: … never to promise her anything unconditionally without performing it" (Journal, March 10, 1835). The overarching purport of these rules is to let Marianne learn self-government, while also ensuring Gaskell herself does not overstep her self-imposed limits by stepping in rather than letting Marianne learn and gain experience. Gaskell's rules are prescriptive not only for Marianne and for Meta, but also for Gaskell herself.

While explicitly dedicating and bequeathing the journal to Marianne, Gaskell engages in a strong undercurrent of self-surveillance and maternal regulation in the pages of the journal that emphasizes the implication of maternal practice in emotional labour. Through applying her philosophy of observation to her own maternal practice, Gaskell uses the journal to track and evaluate her own performance as a Victorian mother. These layers of observation—directed simultaneously at her daughters and herself—reveal Gaskell's multiple aims in the journal as a tool for shaping motherhood as it is lived. Gaskell's careful record and analytical descriptions served to ensure consistency in her parenting: "I want to act on principles now which can be carried on through the whole of her education" (Journal March 10, 1835). The journal also acted as a corrective to Gaskell's own self-described "undecided" character, through creating a space with which to manage her motherhood through carefully prescribed rules. In the surveillance and prescriptive roles of the journal we see the "reflection" and "judgment" of Ruddick's 'maternal thinking. In addition, however, Gaskell's motherhood is heavily inflected by an attempt to control 'emotion', as the journal also resonates with a strong undercurrent of fear and doubt.

In laboring to preserve the maternal bond, the journal—as many are—is enmeshed in time itself. Diaries and journals mark their moment in the past as they look forward to the future. Traditionally, diaries began with headings that record the chronological passage of time. Gaskell's opening entry begins with a nineteenth-century equivalent of the metadata time stamp on a contemporary blog post: "March 10th. Tuesday Evening. 1835." Diaries are more closely associated with these timestamps than journals; commercially, one expects products labeled "diary" or "planner" to include dates, while journals are blank, but both often record the moment of writing in our conventional formats. This writing is named, inscribed with a month, a numerical date, a year, as though the authors were attempting to freeze in time that moment: to take a metaphorical photo or create a sculpture of their own writing act. Gaskell's journal, as many do, uses time as a framing structure; the presence of these chronological markings, the writing down of its creation as a march through time, is one of the identifying traits of the genre.

Gaskell's maternal journal adds an additional layer to this time-marked structure, through including her daughters' ages within the text of many of the entries, resulting in the journal acting as a measurement tool. In this respect, the role of the journal prescribed by DeSaussure as a tool for scientific observation of children's developmental patterns is evident. As the journal progresses, the reader watches with Gaskell as she grows, recognizing and recording the significant milestones that mothers are trained to watch for: the first teeth, first steps, first words, first signs of recognizing others around them. This aspect of the maternal journal—the act of recording and time-stamping developmental achievements, mimics a maternal oral history that is passed down between generations. In marking the ages and stages at which Marianne accomplished various goals, Gaskell is subtly tracking how well she matches expectations for child-rearing, and also creating benchmarks for Marianne to use in her own motherhood years later, as she can now use herself as a guide if, for example, any of her children should be late in walking as she was. What appears at first to be a simple, factual record of "firsts" and daily occurrences becomes in practice a tracking system, and a form of prescriptive maternal judgment.

Given this sense of measuring that occurs in motherhood, writing to Marianne in the form of a journal is an uncannily perfect solution for Gaskell. Having known the loss of the mother, and the "craving" that it occasioned in her own life, Gaskell produces a narrative that is specifically calculated for eager acceptance: as a mother, she writes to the one person whom she can trust to treasure her words in the future. Imagining her own premature death may even work to strengthen this bond, which is rooted in Gaskell's own reliance on Marianne's eventual "forgiveness" and appreciative reading. Even in the journal's opening sentence where she labels her manuscript a "token", she envisions the value of such a text to her motherless daughter. In writing to her daughter, Gaskell has chosen the perfect reader.

Journals are also marked with time's absence. Even those journals and diaries which lack a dating structure still mark time, in each gap and space. Time is compressed into the blank spaces of the journal: interlinear gaps in the text mark miniscule moments of time, in which a hand paused to shift position, to turn a page, as well as months or years that are sometimes condensed into an unwritten sentence between the diarist's periodic accounts. These spaces in Gaskell's journal also bear marks of the act of reading itself. Words that curve around each other mark the order of composition, show the progression of thought and movement as the words were inked onto the paper. Insertions and strikeouts plot points of pause in the act of composition. These scratches and scribbles bear witness to the passage of time, and more importantly, act as an inscribed instance of the act of reading a journal, an act that marks the journal's implication in acts of emotional self-surveillance.

These moments of rereading capture Gaskell's use of the journal to shape her motherhood and are suggestive of the harmonic convergence of generational voices rereading the journal over time. Born of a moment in which the writer is re-thinking what has been written, each alteration is a pause in which the writer reads, and then rethinks and re-writes the text. Gaskell was her journal's first reader, but she also addresses other future readers through the grown Marianne and her descendants. The journal is the ultimate palimpsest: a document that writes the past over the present, choosing—perhaps judiciously, perhaps not—the moments and the version of history that will be preserved and sent into the future. Through her journal, Gaskell makes plans, imagines futures, contemplates past thoughts and actions. Perhaps what is most difficult to perceive, to grasp, is what rereading her own journal accomplishes. What is the work the journal does in its fleeting present—at the precise moment of writing?

This is the work that is most intriguing in the Gaskell journal: its role in working out motherhood, and the mother-daughter relationship. We often think of journals in terms of the time they mark: the days, months, years that pass by in a steady and regular order. Yet more than this, diaries mark far more miniscule and intangible moments of time—the act of writing a journal inscribes pages with the moments in which life is lived; moments that move too quickly to be labeled in individual microseconds, the moments given not to the life the journal records, but to the act of keeping a journal. These are the moments that threaten to be lost, and on which the writer capitalizes. In its dedication, Elizabeth Gaskell claims that her "little journal" was ostensibly written to capitalize on the journal's ability to create this link between past and future through being "reserved" for Marianne. Yet the journal does more than record Marianne's growth and development for posterity. Within the carefully detailed narratives recounting Marianne's early days, Gaskell often switches modes, using the journal as a sounding board for her own maternal anxieties and decisions. She actively reviews her own progress as she writes: "I see I have generally begun my journal with describing the bodily progress she has made, and I will keep to the proper order of things" (Journal, February 7 1836). In this case, the rereading determines the writing that follows. On more than one occasion, this rereading occasions guilt: "I feel quite ashamed to see that more than a year has passed since I last wrote. There have been some sad excuses to be sure" (Journal, December 9, 1837). Prior to writing each entry, Gaskell stops to page through her journal, to review and reflect on her motherhood.

This interplay between recording and reflection gives the journal an active role in guiding and shaping Gaskell's mothering. She uses the journal as a tool to assess her own development as a mother, in addition to her daughters' as Victorian women. The act of writing an entry is an opportunity for introspection for Gaskell, and the text that results is the product of her careful observation of herself and her daughters, recorded for future analysis. The Gaskell journal is an introspective text that navigates motherhood's landscape of blended consciousnesses across time through an inky address to an invisible, but all too necessary audience, elusive but constant through time: the journal's silent reader.

Guiding Motherhood

Gaskell's efforts to mobilize the journal as a surrogate in the event of death results in the journal taking on the role of an informal motherhood conduct manual, which simultaneously models and prescribes proper maternal behavior. The journal thus emerges as a multilayered narrative which encompasses a scientifically inflected observational account of Marianne's and Meta's development, a tool for maternal self-reflection, a memory invested against eventual death, and a source of maternal guidance for future generations. In this latter role, the journal acts as a manifestation of the centuries-old tradition of passing down maternal knowledge within families. The journal itself becomes a paper-mother, standing in for the knowledge and experience of years past, while simultaneously shaping the future generation of its readers, both mothers and daughters alike. In this regard, Gaskell's journal, although heralded by generations of editors as a "private" text, takes on an unavoidably public character, as indeed life writing often does through the simple fact of its own legibility.

Elizabeth Gaskell's journal has been identified with privacy throughout its history. The first edition (published in 1923) makes this assumption explicit in its title: "My Diary": The Early Years of My Daughter, Marianne. The editor, Clement Shorter, used "my" not once, but twice, in his title, exerting Gaskell's possession upon both the journal and its young protagonist, insisting that readers enter the journal as through Gaskell's metaphorical permission. Shorter's version of the journal is presented as Gaskell's daughter and life, and we are invited as readers to share, but not to own, the story it offers. Interestingly, Shorter underscores this presentational motif through a complete lack of editorial apparatus. The changes in punctuation and spelling to regularize forms are made silently in his edition. This linking of the text with the idea of private possession continued in the 1996 edition, which editors J.A.V. Chapple and Anita Wilson entitled Private Voices: The Diaries of Elizabeth Gaskell and Sophia Holland. From its earliest publication, the editors of Gaskell's manuscript have emphasized our assumptions about the journal as a "private" genre—one that is personal in nature and thus, protected.

Recent scholarship, however, has reinvigorated examination of the totality of Gaskell's writing life, drawing links between her published works and her life writing. Joanne Shattock, the editor of the 2006 Pickering Master's edition of Gaskell's works, writes "[Gaskell's] published letters… demonstrate that the two strands of her writing, the novels and the shorter works, which include her journalism, were much more integrated than had been previously thought, [and] that her writing life was a much more seamless and coherent one than had been recognized".[52] Shattock's edition emphasizes Gaskell's journalistic output, and while the journal is included, it is entitled simply "The Diary" and has only a brief introduction. Shattock evaluates Gaskell's journalism explicitly through the lens of her letters, stating that "[the journalistic writings] link the supposedly constructed persona of the periodical writer, and her consistent and recognizable voice, with the supposedly unselfconscious persona of the letters"[53]. Throughout her analysis, Shattock demonstrates that Gaskell's writing indicates a keen perception of the literary marketplace and an awareness of her audience. Rather than employing a markedly different style within her life writing and her published works, Gaskell uses much the same voice throughout. This coherent writing life, I would argue, begins with her journal, wherein she was already keenly aware of her audiences: first herself, rereading the journal to track her own progress according to the maternal rules she had laid out, and later, Marianne.

Diaries and journals are often assumed to be "private" documents. Since they are written within the confines of home, and often spend most of their existence within domestic spaces in lieu of being sent out to publishing houses to be eagerly perused by a community readers (though often enough with literary writers this is the eventual trajectory for any so-called private texts that survive), they are perceived to have more in common with one's possessions than with one's productive work. Letters, journals, and diaries are, this practice suggests, inherently deserving of a sort of professional and respectful courtesy which dictates that readers are only privy to the works that authors have actively prepared for their consumption. The assumption of privacy likely draws upon our own insecurities. Surely few individuals, even in the age of digital profiles and Facebook status messages that allow hundreds of our close friends and even cursory acquaintances to have nearly constant awareness of our activities, would really want every personal text or document made openly available to a vast readership.

This historically assumed privacy intrinsically heightens the interest of a journal as a reading text, since in approaching it, we imagine a privileged type of access. This imagined access plays into the situation in which many journals and diaries are created: within the confines of the domestic space. The reading of a journal feels like a shared secret, which makes the form well suited to the reception of the intersubjective portrait of the mother-daughter relationship. Gaskell understood that journals were not private; she explicitly wrote her journal to be read. From the moment of its beginning, Gaskell is carefully shaping the narrative to serve multiple aims, all of which require the text to be read. Intended to not only assist in Gaskell's own program of maternal self-regulation, the journal was designed to provide Marianne a record of her early childhood, and also to offer the family a memory in the event of future losses. Each of these strains within the journal works to build to a polyphonic whole as the voice of a tradition of maternal practice; the journal was crafted to serve a broader purpose than the recording of so-called "private" thoughts.

The extant Gaskell letters, as Shattock indicates, demonstrate a similar juxtaposition of disparate lines of thinking into a cohesive whole. One often cited letter from 1857 displays the range and flexibility of Gaskell's daily cares:

Now in this hour since breakfast I have had to decide on the following variety of important questions…. What perennials will do in Manchester smoke, & what colors our garden wants?.... Salary of a nursery governess, & stipulations for a certain quantity of time to be left to herself [perhaps the employer envied the employee this luxury].... Settle 20 questions of dress for the girls, who are going out for the day; & want to look nice & yet not spoil their gowns with the mud &c &c - See a lady about an MS story of hers, & give her disheartening but very good advice. Arrange about selling two poor cows for one good one, - see purchasers, & show myself up to cattle questions, keep, & prices, - and it's not ½ past 10 yet![54]

Gaskell's writing here mimics the text of the journal: a jumble of thoughts running forward with a frequent employment of dashes and abbreviated "&c"s, with hardly a new paragraph to be found. This narrative models Gaskell's easy, stream-of-consciousness thought, paired with her characteristic attention to detail, and her sense of comic timing. Simultaneously, Gaskell demonstrates her devotion to her mothering; although she keeps in mind her roles as domestic manager, writer, and businesswoman, she accepts interruptions for her children, settling "twenty questions of dress" in less than an hour. The letter excerpt also models Ruddick's maternal thinking: Gaskell, in the same paragraph, makes judgments about her daughters' appearance and household finances, reflects on the family's social appearance, and evaluates her own weary desire for a moment's quiet space which she is able to offer her governess but cannot take for herself. The journal, in the early years before her daughters were capable of going out independently, served a similar purpose for Gaskell, allowing her a space in which to reflect on her maternal choices, judge her success as a mother, and work through the emotional burden of caring for her daughters.

Diary as a Source of Energy

Philipe LeJeune has called the diary "this intermediate space, this airlock between the individual and the world, this 'heart of hearts' where we invent a language for ourselves… the diary is both a retreat and a source of energy in each person's dialectical relationship with the world, which [s/]he uses to construct and sustain [her/]himself as an individual".[55] LeJeune gives the diary an uncanny power here: it becomes not a mute recipient of ink or a copy of a powerful thought. Instead, the diary itself takes on agency as a "source of energy": the diary is a productive force. This assessment of the diary as a source of energy, as a potential reserve of actual action and expendable power exposes an important facet of its work in its all too ephemeral present as a tool for emotional labour and self-management—one that is often glossed over in our preoccupation with the diary's link to the past. LeJeune himself highlights this as he calls the diary an "intermediate" space—a space that links chronological time, the past to the future.

Gaskell capitalized on the intermediacy of the diary form in her journal, while counting on the written text's power to overcome time itself. She wrote in a dual-faceted effort to consciously shape and perfect her motherhood, while simultaneously sharing herself and her experience with her daughter(s) in defiance of the unpredictable ravages of time. Although not explicitly stated within its pages, Gaskell likely also recognized the capacity of the journal to become a retreat—a space for outpouring excess emotion without the fear of overstepping social boundaries. Years later, Gaskell wrote of the effect of unburdening oneself in an 1841 letter to her sister-in-law, Anne Robson: "I am sitting all alone, and not feeling over & above well; and it would be such a comfort to have you here to open my mind to, but that not being among the possibilities, I am going to write you a long private letter; unburdening my mind a bit".[56] This "unburdening" is one of the most poignant extant pieces of Gaskell's writing related to her fears for her daughters, aside from the journal. Later in the same letter, Gaskell writes: "one can't help having 'Mother's fears'; and Wm I dare say kindly won't allow me ever to talk to him about anxieties, while it would be SUCH A RELIEF often".[57] These mother's fears take on the same morbid turn that is prevalent throughout the journal, and which one might suspect was a driving force in its creation.

Gaskell's use of the term "mother's fears" exposes the deep undercurrent of emotion at work in the journal, as well as in the maternal relationship. Again facing an illness of Marianne's, and plagued by worry, Gaskell uses this letter to share with her sister-in-law her minute observations of her daughters' particularities of character, begging Anne to "remember" their individuality in the event of her own death, since, she reasons, "we all know the probability of widowers marrying again," convinced that no one else would be able to offer them the same sympathy and care that they, and Marianne especially, require.[58] In writing thus to Anne, Gaskell demonstrates again the use of writing as a tool for emotional self-surveillance, much as she had done with the journal in her children's' earliest years. The same worries and prayers for resignation that close each entry within Gaskell's journal resurface here. What LeJeune's comment glosses over as an "intermediacy", and what Gaskell's journal only subtly acknowledges, is the way in which this use of the journal as a retreat also implies a vital act of selfhood: the act of inscribing moments in a journal is a deliberate choice to write one's identity into existence, particularly to shape that identity to adhere to an ideal. In choosing to record, the diarist chooses not to engage in the kinds of pursuits that are written about—the writing itself becomes the recipient of those minutes or hours. That Gaskell devoted the time to produce lengthy entries, sometimes spanning ten or more pages, bears evidence to the value she placed on such introspection via ink, and her commitment to the value of self-regulation that ensued.

Gaskell's journal allowed her to bring together the multiple strands of maternal thought into a productive space where she could reflect and evaluate her purposes and actions, as well as guide those of her future self. The use of the journal acts as a corrective to the problem she encountered in her attempt to narrate the life of her friend and fellow author, Charlotte Brontë. Gaskell's description of Brontë attempted to carefully limn her existence as a writer within Victorian expectations of women's roles, presenting her as "the daughter… whom God has appointed to fill that particular place," and claiming for Brontë her readers' acceptance. Gaskell recognized that domestic duties were constant; yet in her discussion of Brontë's domestic role, she appears to allow a neat separation that she could not achieve for herself, insisting on a "parallel" construction:

Henceforward Charlotte Brontë's existence becomes divided into two parallel currents--her life as Currer Bell, the author; her life as Charlotte Brontë, the woman. There were separate duties belonging to each character--not opposing each other, not impossible, but difficult to be reconciled".[59]

Neither the professional nor the domestic identity is put aside for the sake of the other; they are both running all the time, but they do not easily intersect. The journal belies this mode of parallel existence. The journal as a generic form lends itself to the representation of the layers of consciousness that define motherhood. The conscious processes identified in Ruddick's characterization of maternal thinking as consisting of "reflection, judgment and emotion" exist in the journal in harmony.

Gaskell's journal, however, illustrates the ability of the genre to convey not only a single subjective record, but an intersubjective blend of voices, even in some cases, of multiple selves. Gaskell's journal is a depiction not of herself alone, nor merely of herself in the moment of writing. Through the journal, Gaskell writes out rules that she expects her future self to use as checks and balances to evaluate her maternal success. Simultaneously, she offers these same prescriptive thoughts and practices to the aged Marianne as an uneasy alliance of sentimental memory and prescriptive guidelines. The journal combines the voices of mother and daughter, both as they were in the past and as they will be in the future, blending together in an ongoing narrative of maternal practice. Gaskell's journal offers "our" thoughts to future generations. Within the journal, Gaskell observes, interprets, and thinks for her daughters, ascribing motivations and intentions to Marianne's and Meta's thoughts and choices. Her practice echoes a passage in de Saussure's text on education, where De Saussure emphasizes the importance of a mother's ability to empathize with her children: "Such a study cannot be completed in a single examination: we can never perfectly understand these young creatures, unless we possess that versatility of imagination which will enable us to embody ourselves in them,—to be at the same time ourselves and another".[60] Marianne Gaskell (later Holland), most vibrantly exists on the pages of the journal, but she exists there as the product of this maternal "versatility of imagination" which Gaskell employed in crafting her journal. Interlineally sketched in minute and tender detail, Gaskell's evocation of Marianne coexists with the unguarded portrait of her own maternal doubts and self-analysis, creating a multifaceted journal that models a polyphonic composition of the mother-daughter relationship. This is the heart of the journal: Gaskell, Marianne and Meta are separate individuals, but in the journal their voices sound in harmony, independent melodic lines, blending into, growing from, and embellishing each other as they grow to their final cadence.

Gaskell's journal builds upon LeJeune's concept of the genre as our "heart of hearts," creating a maternal instantiation of a text in which Gaskell is at the same time, "[herself] and another". The journal becomes a space in which Gaskell can enact her motherhood, regulate it, test it and craft it on the written page, yet it acts prescriptively to similarly shape Marianne's motherhood decades later, in Gaskell's absence, and our own, as we read the age-old milestones of motherhood and human experience in its pages: learning to walk, to talk, to participate in society. For Gaskell, motherhood could never be an isolated, one-size-fits-all proposition. Her journal invites scholars to examine how maternal subjectivity manifests itself within life writing as a genre.

Gaskell's journal is notably more descriptive than some other period mother diaries but maintains much the same content: a blend of careful observations with hints of reflection, responsibility and self-judgment. In their 1996 Private Voices, Chapple and Wilson chose to publish Gaskell's manuscript in conjunction with a second journal, that of Sophia Holland, who wrote about her son Thurstan in much the same way that Gaskell recorded Marianne's childhood. Although she writes with a more concise tone, Sophia Holland follows much the same trajectory as Gaskell: "Found Swinton & himself breaking the animals of the Noah's Ark, checked them at first but remembering Edgeworth's opinion of playthings I said if you wish to break any more you must bring them to me & ask leave to do so. Thurstan brought some, I consented & heard Swin say 'Now we will kill this one' & talking of breakg their legs. —".[61] Holland, like Gaskell, is weighing her actions thoughtfully, based on her reading of child-rearing texts, while keeping a careful record of her child's development. Her journal includes, as Gaskell's does, frequent depictions of Thurstan's physical and mental development. Years later, after Gaskell's death, Thurstan Holland would wed Marianne Gaskell, but a similar journal does not exist to recount the development of their seven children. If such a journal existed, it would no doubt be marked with grief and anxiety as Gaskell's was. Of Marianne's seven children, four died in childhood.

Paper Mothers

Although often approached as records of the past, as stories told to the future, the journals of mothers, particularly as written about their children, become more than mere records. These mother-diaries take a stand against memory, against mortality. They may be mobilized as surrogates for lost experience, or for lost loved ones. The pages become sounding boards, fictional confidantes and mirrors with which to evaluate one's plans and goals, and ultimately, they become a means through which mothers shape ourselves, and shape the future. Gaskell's journal calls attention not only to the role of life writing in her own life, but to the ability of these texts to record and shape the relationships of women across generations. Taken together, women's journals and diaries provide insight into "our thoughts," both in terms of the ways in which motherhood requires, as Ruddick suggests, particular patterns of thoughts, and in the creation of a communal mother-knowledge that can be collected and passed on in journals.

LeJeune's identification of the diary's function as a source of energy calls attention to the way in which a paper notebook—be it called journal or diary—plays with, shapes, and reacts to a life lived not in interaction with others, but in a fictionalized conversation that takes place on paper. The marks that a journal makes on the life—those echoes of the process of writing, which "would be such a relief, often"—these exist not only as marks on a page, but as choices lived and learned from, making women's diaries intriguing social artifacts. The meditative work of writing a journal, especially as a form of mother writing is particularly relevant in today's world, where life writing takes place in a vibrant online community that fundamentally shifts the space of life writing toward a public-facing social media presence.

Gaskell's journal orchestrates the voices of mother and daughter(s) into a fluid narrative, one which outlived her and presumably shaped the relationship Marianne had with her own daughters. The journal is a rich polyphony of not only voices, but of time, blending the past, Gaskell's memories of her children, and her hopes for their future, and this not merely on the written page. The journal becomes in effect a surrogate, a means to bridge the loss imposed by mortality, which ultimately severed the maternal relationship between Gaskell and her daughters—quite literally as she suffered her fatal heart attack while speaking to them, in a home purchased for them through her literary earnings. The journal, not Gaskell herself, follows Marianne into motherhood, and offers her advice and guidance. Gaskell left Marianne a paper mother, the same one that she had used in her earliest experiences of motherhood to mother herself.

Gaskell's journal's final act is to enact her own maternal subjectivity, by creating and controlling the substitute mother that will replace her after her death. Gaskell left explicit instructions to her daughters that no biography be written, a fact which makes her purposeful crafting of the journal even more significant. The journal begins with an eye to her loss and is knowingly designed as an interventional substitute. This is a powerful decision on Gaskell's part, and it is particularly intriguing that she chooses to prepare for her death through leaving Marianne a written substitute for maternal love and guidance. Gaskell's first character was in fact, herself, and throughout the fiction that followed, this same caring, loving, deeply observant and thoughtful maternal figure does not resurface. Gaskell's motherhood is reserved for her own daughters, preserved carefully in the pages of a journal that has historically reached an audience vastly more limited than that of the novels. Gaskell is performing motherhood in the journal, preventively orchestrating a course in maternal ideals that will be inherited by Marianne, and ultimately creating the only version of herself that she hoped to send into the future.


[1] Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton. 1848.

[2] Eason, Angus. "Introduction". Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth. 1853. London: Penguin, 1997.

[3] Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell. Ed. John Chapple, 1966. p. 697.

[4] Gaskell, Elizabeth. Futher Letters of Mrs. Gaskell. Ed. John Chapple. p. 24.

[5] Wilson, Anita. "Introduction". Private Voices: The Diaries of Elizabeth Gaskell and Sophia Holland. Anita Wilson and J.A.V. Chapple, Eds. 1996. p. 24, 26

[6] Shelston, Alan. "Introduction". Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Barton. p. xviii.

[7] Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Middle-class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture. Cornell UP, 1995. p. 291.

[8] Maroni, Lesley. The observant mother - anxiety and love in victorian motherhood: Mrs Gaskell's diary for her infant daughter International Journal of Infant Observation and Its Applications. 6.3: 2003.

[9] Ellis, Sarah. The Mothers of England: Their Influence and Responsibility. 1843. p. 2.

[10] Ellis, p. 385.

[11] Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell. Ed. John Chapple and Arthur Pollard, 1966. p. 695.

[12] Millim, Anne-Marie. The Victorian Diary: Authorship and Emotional Labour. Farnham:Ashgate, 2013. p. 2

[13] Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling. Berkeley: U California P., 2003. p.3

[14] Hochschild, p.7

[15] Millim, p. 3

[16] Dever, Carolyn. Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud. Cambridge UP, 1998. p. xi.

[17] Dever, p. 2.

[18] Dever, p.3.

[19] Letters, p. 796.

[20] Letter, M.E. Gaskell to Clement Shorter, Brotherton Special Collections, Archive File: MS 19cGaskell/16.

[21] Chapple, John. Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years. Manchester University Press, 1997. p. 88.

[22] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 94.

[23] Letter, M.E. Gaskell to Clement Shorter, Brotherton Special Collections, Archive File: MS 19cGaskell/16.

[24] Letter, M.E. Gaskell to Clement Shorter, Brotherton Special Collections, Archive File: MS 19cGaskell/16.

[25] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 111.

[26] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 160.

[27] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 163.

[28] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 84.

[29] Handley, Graham. An Elizabeth Gaskell Chronology. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. p. 19.

[30] Chapple, John. The Early Years. p. 442, 443.

[31] Handley, p. 17.

[32] Chapple, J.A.V. and Anita Wilson, Eds. Private Voices: The Diaries of Elizabeth Gaskell and Sophia Holland. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. p. 121.

[33] Andrew Combe was a Physician/Phrenologist, who established the Phrenological Journal with his brother and others. He was also the President of Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1827. Gaskell quotes his Physiology applied to Health and Education (1834), which was a bestseller.

[34] Blain, Virginia. Caroline Bowles Southey, 1786-1854: The Making of a Woman Writer. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1998. p. 25

[35] Blain, p. 27.

[36] Necker De Saussure, Albertine Adrienne. Progressive Education, or, Considerations on the Course of Life: Translated from the French of Mme. Necker de Saussure. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1839. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, Gale. p. 44.

[37] Necker DeSaussure, p. 45.

[38] Mollmann, Steven. "Observing Observation: The Ethical Investigator in Elizabeth Gaskell's ' Wives and Daughters.'" The Gaskell Journal, vol. 27, 2013, pp. 88.

[39] Mollman, p. 89.

[40] Mollman, p. 90.

[41] Mollman, p. 90.

[42] Letters, p. 411.

[43] Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. p. 385.

[44] Brill, Barbara. William Gaskell, 1805-1884: A Portrait. Manchester: Manchester Literary and Philosophical Publications, Ltd., 1984. p. 40.

[45] Brill, p. 41.

[46] Child, p. 10.

[47] Chapple and Wilson, p. 122.

[48] Lambert, Carolyn. The Meanings of home in Elizabeth Gaskell's Fiction. Brighton: Victorian Secrets Limited, 2013.

[49] Ellis, p. 385.

[50] Dunst, Maura. "'Speak On, Desolate Mother!': Elizabeth Gaskell's Isolated (M)others". The Gaskell Journal 25 (2012). p. 56.

[51] Dunst, p. 52.

[52] Shattock, Joanne. "Introduction". "Journalism, Early Fiction, AND Personal Writings". The Works of Elizabeth Gaskell, Pickering Masters Edition. New York: Routledge, 2005. p. 36.

[53] Shattock, p. 36.

[54] Letters, p. 489-90.

[55] LeJeune, Philippe. On Diary Ed. Jeremy D. Popkin and Julie Rak. U Hawaii P, 2009. p. 164.

[56] Letters, p. 47.

[57] Letters, p. 47

[58] Letters, p.

[59] Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. 1857. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2005. p. 272

[60] Necker DeSaussure, p. 44.

[61] Chapple and Wilson, p. 97.