Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810–1865) was a prominent writer and biographer during the Victorian era. She is known for writing the biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) and for writing Cranford (1851-53) and North and South (1854-55). Gaskell was also known for writing short, gothic tales, often with the support of Charles Dickens. One such tale, “The Old Nurse’s Story,” published in 1852, depicts a classic gothic ghost story with a moral lesson. Told as a framed narrative and filled with ominous elements, “The Old Nurse’s Story” highlights Gaskell’s gothic writing and cathartic story-telling abilities.

Plot Summary

“The Old Nurse’s Story” begins with an old nurse, Hester, telling children a story about their mother, Rosamond. Hester explains that Rosamond was an orphan from an early age. Rosamond’s mother, Miss Furnivall, was married to a gentleman curate. Rosamond’s father died of a fever, and her mother died two weeks later after giving birth to a stillborn child. Soon after the deaths of Rosamond’s parents, Lord Furnivall—Miss Furnivall’s cousin—and Mr. Esthwaite, the brother of Rosamond’s father, came to settle the estate and decided where to place Rosamond. Lord Furnivall decided to send Rosamond and Hester to Furnivall Manor, an old and stately house occupied by the elderly Miss Furnivall, great-aunt to Rosamond’s mother. According to Hester, the manor had not been occupied by most of the Furnivall family aside from the elderly Miss Furnivall for some time.

Furnivall Manor is located below the Cumberland Fells, which is a barren and hilly landscape. The east wing of the manor is locked up, but the west wing is filled with warm, comfortable rooms. Hester and Rosamond meet Miss Furnivall, who is eighty years old and mostly deaf, and her caretaker, Mrs. Stark, who is cold and stern. The footman, James, takes Hester and Rosamond to their rooms, where they meet...

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