Nell Stevens is the author of The Victorian & the Romantic and Bleaker House. She lives in London. (October 2018)

NYR DAILY

Communing with Mrs. Gaskell

A séance, circa 1900

It is a gift to allow someone to make public their half of a two-sided story. I have accepted it nonetheless—the book is now out in the world—and in the absence of permission from the book’s other subject, which was not mine to take and was not willingly given. That is because my book invades not only the privacy of my former lover, but also that of the writer Elizabeth Gaskell, widely known as Mrs. Gaskell, who died in 1865, 120 years before I was born. Gaining the dead’s permission to write about them was a preoccupation of the Victorian age, and, as my book entered the world, it became mine, too.