Like many people, my first introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell was as a schoolgirl reading a set text entitled Cranford. Although a nineteenth century country town was outside our experience of life, the book had another relevance to us and one that was perhaps unexpected. Most of us had recent experience of matriarchal households where our fathers or older brothers were also with their regiment or ship, as they were serving in either the armed forces or the merchant navy. In either case they were absent for long periods of time leaving their Amazons to keep the home fires burning.
Many years later, as a mature student, I was delighted to find Mary Barton, North and South and a selection of Gaskell short stories edited by Anna Walters on one of the reading lists. I learned to write essays in the light of Marxist and Feminist theory although I was never required to Deconstruct a Gaskell text. After graduating from Manchester Polytechnic, now known as Manchester Metropolitan University, I continued my studies at Salford where I was awarded a Master's Degree. I then went on to teach in Further and Adult Education. As my interest in 19th century literature and society developed I was drawn increasingly to Elizabeth Gaskell. I have endeavoured to read all of her published writing, including her letters, and as many books written about her, and her work, as I could obtain and as time permits.
In 1994 I became a member of the Gaskell Society which was then nine years old. The following year I was invited to join the Committee and to conduct the literary side of our monthly Monday meetings which are held in Knutsford throughout the winter. In the summer of 1996 I successfully completed a City and Guilds Computing Course and was then asked to set up a computerised database for the U.K. membership records. It was realised at that time that the Society had grown to such an extent that it would be helpful to appoint a Membership Secretary. The purpose of this appointment is to relieve our hard pressed Hon Secretary of one of her most onerous tasks, thus freeing up some of her time for her many other important duties which she carries out for the Society.
In 1997 it was decided that I should be Membership Secretary. This means I am responsible for recording names and addresses of new members and updating records when subscriptions are renewed. We have had the Membership Card redesigned and a fully receipted card is sent to all new members and those renewing their subscription. All Membership matters should now be directed to Membership Secretary, while Joan Leach continues to be responsible for all other aspects of the Society. I hope that my contribution to the running of the Society will give Joan Leach more time for her many other tasks.
Overseas membership will also be computerised as soon as possible. It is entirely fitting that our society has become strongly international. Our overseas membership is one of its strengths and will be further helped by the Gaskell Web Page. With modern technology at our fingertips we can build on all of our strengths and face the 21st century with confidence.
I am also a member of the Bronte Society, the Wordsworth Trust, the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society and the Chetham Society.