English novelist. Her most popular book, Cranford (1853), is the study of a small, close-knit circle in a small town, modelled on Knutsford, Cheshire, where she was brought up. Her other books, which often deal with social concerns, include Mary Barton (1848), North and South (1855), Sylvia's Lovers (1863–64), and the unfinished Wives and Daughters (1866). She wrote a frank and sympathetic biography of her friend Charlotte Brontë (1857).
Gaskell was born in London, and spent much of her youth with her aunt in Knutsford. In 1832 she married William Gaskell (1805–1884), a Unitarian minister from Manchester, and from then on led a very busy life, bringing up four daughters; helping the unemployed, the poor, and prostitutes in the slums of Manchester; and entertaining numerous friends and acquaintances. The success of Mary Barton established her as a novelist; in this work she describes with insight and sympathy the life and feelings of working-class people. She became a friend of English writer Charles Dickens, and also knew Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle and English writer William Thackeray. At Dickens's invitation she wrote for Household Words, in which Cranford appeared from 1851 to 1853.
Ruth (1853) was her second full-length novel, and aroused controversy by having sympathetically portraying an unmarried mother as its heroine. North and South is similar to Mary Barton, with more emphasis on the owners' and management side of industrial relations. Her later works are all set in the country, and are marked by a maturity of technique. Sylvia's Lovers is a powerful romance set in the days of the press gang. Cousin Phyllis (1863–64) is a delicate prose idyll. Her last work, Wives and Daughters, appeared in the Cornhill Gazette and was left unfinished when she died suddenly.
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn
Elizabeth Gaskell – The Life of Charlotte Brontë
Gaskell, Elizabeth Wives and Daughters
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