Elizabeth Gaskell (née Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson, September 29, 1810 – November 12, 1865) was a British author known for short stories and novels focusing on social classes, from the poor to the middle class to the rich. The upheaval of class boundaries, the industrialization of England, and women’s issues in the Victorian era were all themes of her work. So too was religion — her father and husband were both Unitarian ministers. She was often referred to simply as “Mrs. Gaskell.”
Gaskell’s mother died a year or so after giving birth to her. Her father wasn’t able to care for her, so she was sent to live with an aunt. They lived in Cheshire, England, which years later inspired her story, Cranford. Her aunt encouraged her to read classic books, which led to her love of writing. Her brother, who traveled widely, sent her books from near and far.
A child dies, then a career is born
Her first novel, Mary Barton, published in 1848, followed the death of her first child, a son, at age one (she subsequently had four daughters). The praise she received caught the attention of Charles Dickens, who hired her to write for his magazine Household Words. This is actually where Cranford was first published, in 1853.
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Poetry and social reform
“Sketches of the Poor, No. 1” was a series of poems she wrote with her husband, John Gaskell, and was published in January of 1837 in Blackwood’s Magazine. Both she and her husband were involved in social reform and seeking justice for the poor.
Life of Charlotte Brontë
After making a name for herself she became friends with many well-known writers, including Charlotte Brontë, with whom she was good friends. When Brontë passed away, her father asked Gaskell to write a biography of Charlotte’s life. Life of Charlotte Brontë was published in 1857, and it helped secure the literary reputation of both author and subject.
More about Elizabeth Gaskell on this site
- North and South
- Gothic Tales
- Wives and Daughters: An Everyday Story
- The Life of Charlotte Brontë
- Mary Barton
Biographies about Elizabeth Gaskell
- Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow
- Elizabeth Gaskell: A Portrait in Letters by Chapple and Sharps
- Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years by John Chapple
- Elizabeth Gaskell: A Biography by Winifred Gerin
- BBC Biography on Elizabeth Gaskell
- The Gaskell Society
- The Gaskell Web
- Elizabeth Gaskell – Victorian Web
- North and South – The Musical
- A History of the Gaskell’s Home
- Reader discussions of Gaskell’s books on Goodreads
- Gaskell page on Amazon
Read and listen online
Articles, News, Etc.
- Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Turned into a Museum
- 6 Weeks of Commemorative Events for Elizabeth Gaskell’s 150th Anniversary
Visit and research
- Elizabeth Gaskell’s Home, Manchester, England
- Elizabeth Gaskell’s Grave, Brook Street Chapel, Knutsford, Cheshire
- Gaskell Manuscript & Letters Archive,
University of Manchester, John Rylands University Library
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