The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

Round the Sofa (1859)  

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Round the Sofa was written by Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell (1810-1865) was in her time a noted writer. She produced a wide range of stories and novels and was well-known for her “social problem” novels. Round the Sofa is entertaining in an evil, ominous way.

Mrs. Dawson is a kindly, sweet woman who is crippled and forced to permanently reside in her brother's house, prone, on a sofa: “Mrs. Margaret Dawson passed whole days, and months, and years, without the power of moving by herself."1 Because of this condition her only outlet for social interaction is entertaining guests. And those guests, which come to include the young, female narrator, end up telling Mrs. Dawson stories. Horrible stories. Stories about races of accursed, despised, demeaned peoples in the Pyrenees, whose history is a long, tragic song of woe, humiliation, and desperation. Stories about family curses striking even unto the eighth generation, utterly destroying two separate families and leaving their houses “sunk into damp, dark ruins.”2 Heart-wrenching stories about wasted lives. Stories of women who become nuns, serving the common good, but who can still not escape their family curses. Stories of step children hated by their parents, who die with broken hearts. Stories horribly sad and sadly horrible.

Who would tell these stories to cheer up a paralyzed invalid? The ordinary humans stuck in Mr. Dawson's boarding house? No, no, a thousand times no. They'd tell cheerful stories. They'd tell stories that would bring a smile to Mrs. Dawson's face, and to the readers’. No, these stories are not the product of human imagination. These stories are the product of an evil being, one who brings horror and sadness to all within its reach and who does so grinning. These stories are the product of Mrs. Dawson's Sofa, the Sofa In Yellow, who lured Mrs. Dawson on to the sofa, trapped here there, and then lures innocent victims in to torment her with vicious, ugly, tragic stories.

As an aside, one of the stories involves a collie named Lassie, who saves her owner, who is trapped in a blinding snowstorm.

Recommended Edition

Print: Elizabeth Gaskell, Round the Sofa. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2005.



1 Elizabeth Gaskell, “Round the Sofa,” in Round the Sofa (London: Oxford University Press, 1913), 5.

2 Elizabeth Gaskell, “The Doom of the Griffiths,” in Round the Sofa (London: Oxford University Press, 1913), 287.