Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell

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.

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 her write for his magazine Household Words. This is actually where Cranford was first published, in 1853.

“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. 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.

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Elizabeth Gaskell Quotes

Elizabeth Gaskell“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you don’t understand me.” (North and South, 1854-55)

“Similarity of opinion is not always—I think not often—needed for fullness and perfection of love.” (Ruth, 1853)

“I do not look on self-indulgent, sensual people as worthy of my hatred; I simply look upon them with contempt for their poorness of character.” (North and South, 1854-55)

“People may flatter themselves just as much by thinking that their faults are always present to other people’s minds, as if they believe that the world is always contemplating their individual charms and virtues.” (Wives and Daughters, 1864-66)

“It is odd enough to see how the entrance of a person of the opposite sex into an assemblage of either men or women calms down the little discordances and the disturbance of mood.” (Wives and Daughters, 1864-66)

“A wise parent humors the desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and advisor when his absolute rule shall cease.” (North and South, 1854-55)

“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.” (Wives and Daughters, 1864-66)

“Those who are happy and successful themselves are too apt to make light of the misfortunes of others.” (North and South, 1854-55)

“There is always a pleasure in unraveling a mystery, in catching at the gossamer clue which will guide to certainty.” (Mary Barton, 1848)

“A girl in love will do a good deal.” (North and South, 1855)

“I’ll not listen to reason…Reason always means what someone else has got to say.” (Cranford, 1851-53)

“But the cloud never comes from the quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it.” (North and South, 1855)

“Were all men equal to-night, some would get the start by rising an hour earlier to-morrow.” (Mary Barton, 1848)

“Thinking more of others’ happiness than of her own was very fine; but did it not mean giving up her very individuality, quenching all the warm love, the true desires, that made her herself? Yet in this deadness lay her only comfort; so it seemed.” (Wives and Daughters, 1864-66)

“There is nothing like wounded affection for giving poignancy to anger.” (Wives and Daughters, 1864-66)

“But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be.” (North and South, 1855)

“Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used — not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless.” (North and South, 1855)

“Thinking has, many a time, made me sad, darling; but doing never did in all my life….My precept is, do something, my sister, do good if you can; but at any rate, do something.” (North and South, 1855)


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2 Responses to “Elizabeth Gaskell”

  1. This page is very nicely done. A small suggestion: people using your profile of Elizabeth Gaskell might find it useful if you were to add the short list of bibliographies for further research. In addition to my two published bibliographies and my updates posted on my website (see above), you would be ale to provide complete bibliographic coverage of secondary sources by also including those by Jeffrey Welch (Elizabeth Gaskell: An Annotated Bibliography, 1929-1975) and Robert L. Selig (Elizabeth Gaskell: A Reference Guide). Selig covers 1848-1974. Walter E. Smith’s Elizabeth Gaskell: A Bibliographic Catalogue identifies all of the first and early editions of Gaskell’s works.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I shall certainly do so. And if there is any other pertinent information you think should be added to this page, let me know. I’ll try to add the information you provide later tonight!

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