In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend, the recently deceased Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Elizabeth was keen to escape the reviews and, leaving her wholesome, dull minister husband at home, travelled with her daughters to Rome. And it was there that she met the American writer and critic, Charles Eliot Norton. Seventeen years her junior, he was the love of her life. She knew they could never be together–it would be an unthinkable breach–but when she returned home to Mr. Gaskell, she discovered to her horror that while she was gone he had betrayed her–betrayed her work–in a way that she is not sure she can ever forgive.
In 2013 Nell Stevens is in a PhD program in London, halfheartedly pursuing a post in academia to keep her afloat while she follows her true vocation as a writer. Her dissertation on the artistic expatriate community of nineteenth-century Rome isn’t quite coming together. But scholarly questions take a back seat to her budding romance with Max, a soulful American with an unfinished screenplay. That is, until their relationship begins to founder, and the echoes between Nell’s life and that of her historical subject become too strong to ignore.
As these two storylines meet up in delightful, funny, and unexpected ways, Mrs. Gaskell and Me evokes the bittersweet ache of lost love and the consolations of female writerly ambition.