Classics Challenge June Prompt: A tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Monkshaven

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading. Our task for June is to create a Visual Tour of a scene or description from the book.

The novel I’m currently reading for the challenge is Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell. The story is set in the 1790s in the fictional town of Monkshaven which Gaskell based on Whitby in North Yorkshire. Whitby was also the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is a beautiful coastal town with a busy harbour and a ruined abbey on the cliff. I would highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity!

In Chapter 2 of the novel Sylvia and her friend Molly are walking into Monkshaven so that Sylvia can buy a new cloak. While they are there, a whaling ship returns from a voyage to the Greenland Sea. I have chosen some images that I think help to visualise Gaskell’s descriptions in this chapter.

..but as they were drawing near Monkshaven they stopped, and turned aside along a foot-path that led from the main-road down to the banks of the Dee. There were great stones in the river about here, round which the waters gathered and eddied and formed deep pools.

Image from Wikipedia

The next turn of the road showed them the red peaked roofs of the closely packed houses lying almost directly below the hill on which they were. The full autumn sun brought out the ruddy colour of the tiled gables, and deepened the shadows in the narrow streets.

Image from Wikipedia

The narrow harbour at the mouth of the river was crowded with small vessels of all descriptions, making an intricate forest of masts.

Image from Wikipedia – sepia photograph by Frank Sutcliffe, dated around 1890

There the old stone cross was raised by the monks long ago; now worn and mutilated, no one esteemed it as a holy symbol…

Image © bythestars – Caedmon’s Cross at St Mary’s Churchyard, Whitby

The red and fluted tiles of the gabled houses rose in crowded irregularity on one side of the river…

Image from Wikipedia

The fresh salt breeze was bringing up the lashing, leaping tide from the blue sea beyond the bar. Behind the returning girls there rocked the white-sailed ship, as if she were all alive with eagerness for her anchors to be heaved.

Image from Wikipedia – Whitby 1886, a watercolour on paper by Frederick William Booty

I hope these pictures have helped bring Gaskell’s writing to life for you! I’ll be posting my thoughts on Sylvia’s Lovers after I’ve finished reading the book.

11 thoughts on “Classics Challenge June Prompt: A tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Monkshaven

  1. Cat says:

    Thank you – wonderful images and a lovely visual tour which also inspires me to read Sylvia’s Lovers. I like to read anything about Yorkshire as my father was born there, in Bridlington. We visited Whitby in 2001 and it is beautiful – climbing those steps to the abbey I remember well!

    • Helen says:

      I’m not from Yorkshire but I’ve been many times and love reading books set there. Whitby really is beautiful and yes, it’s impossible to forget the steps once you’ve had the experience of climbing them!

    • Helen says:

      It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in that part of the country. I hope you enjoy whichever Elizabeth Gaskell book you choose to read.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Lisa. It took me forever to decide which pictures to include in the tour. It was difficult to find contemporary images that didn’t look too ‘modern’.

  2. Joan Joyce says:

    I am up to the final chapter of Sylvia’s Lovers and was really pleased to find this site, I only wish I had looked for it sooner.You did really well to find these photos and it certainly helps to picture the scenes.I was sort of imagining Staithes in my mind as I have spent more time there. Thanks again…and it is a great story!

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