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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell[1†]

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, often referred to as Mrs. Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer[1†]. She was born on September 29, 1810, in Chelsea, London, England[1†][2†][1†]. Gaskell’s novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of Victorian society, including the very poor[1†]. Her first novel, “Mary Barton”, was published in 1848[1†]. Gaskell’s “The Life of Charlotte Brontë”, published in 1857, was the first biography of Charlotte Brontë[1†]. Among Gaskell’s best-known novels are “Cranford” (1851–1853), “North and South” (1854–1855), and “Wives and Daughters” (1864–1866), all of which were adapted for television by the BBC[1†].

Early Years and Education

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was born as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson on September 29, 1810, in Lindsey Row, Chelsea, London[1†]. She was the youngest of eight children, but only she and her brother John survived infancy[1†]. Her father, William Stevenson, was a Unitarian minister from Berwick-upon-Tweed[1†].

Tragically, when Elizabeth was still an infant, her mother died[1†][3†][1†]. After her mother’s death, she was sent to live with her mother’s sister, Hannah Lumb, in the Cheshire village of Knutsford[1†][3†]. This village, with its atmosphere of rural gentility, would later serve as the background for several of her novels[1†][2†][3†].

In 1825, at the age of fifteen, Elizabeth began her formal schooling at Stratford-upon-Avon[1†][4†]. However, she had to leave boarding school in 1827 due to her father’s illness[1†][4†]. That same year, her brother John, who was in the Merchant Navy with the East India Company’s fleet, went missing during an expedition to India[1†]. Her father passed away two years later[1†][4†].

In 1832, Elizabeth married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister[1†][3†]. They settled in Manchester, where she lived a quiet, small-town life, rearing a large family and writing her novels[3†].

Career Development and Achievements

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell began her literary career in middle life, driven by a sense of community with the poor and a desire to “give utterance” to their “agony” following the death of her only son[2†][1†]. Her first novel, “Mary Barton”, was published in 1848[2†][1†]. It reflects the temper of Manchester in the late 1830s and tells the story of a working-class family in which the father, John Barton, lapses into bitter class hatred during a cyclic depression and carries out a retaliatory murder at the behest of his trade union[2†]. Its timely appearance in the revolutionary year of 1848 brought the novel immediate success, and it won the praise of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle[2†].

Dickens invited her to contribute to his magazine, Household Words, where her next major work, “Cranford” (1853), appeared[2†]. This social history of a gentler era describes, without sentimentalizing or satirizing, her girlhood village of Knutsford and the efforts of its shabby-genteel inhabitants to keep up appearances[2†]. It has remained her most popular work[2†][1†].

The conflict between Mrs. Gaskell’s sympathetic understanding and the strictures of Victorian morality resulted in a mixed reception for her next social novel, “Ruth” (1853)[2†]. It offered an alternative to the seduced girl’s traditional progress to prostitution and an early grave[2†].

Among Gaskell’s best-known novels are “Cranford” (1851–1853), “North and South” (1854–1855), and “Wives and Daughters” (1864–1866), all of which were adapted for television by the BBC[1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s literary career was marked by a series of notable works that had a profound impact on English literature. Here are some of her main works:

In addition to these novels, Gaskell also wrote several short stories[2†]. Her works have been adapted for television by the BBC[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s work has been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation. Her novels, which appeared in serial form in journals such as Household Words and All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, and the Cornhill Magazine, edited by William Makepeace Thackeray, offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of Victorian society[6†].

Gaskell’s writing combines the delicate humor of Jane Austen with a moralistic intention not unlike that of George Eliot[6†][7†]. However, her workmanship is often uncertain, and her plots are generally weak and not infrequently melodramatic[6†][7†]. Despite these criticisms, Gaskell’s reputation has risen, and the concerns of the feminist movement beginning in the 1970s led to such a revaluation that the scholar Patricia M. Spacks refers to her as “seriously underrated” in the twentieth century[6†].

Other women’s movement writers, including Elaine Showalter, Jenni Calder, and Ellen Moers, have praised Gaskell for detailing faithfully in her fiction the relation between women and marriage, the struggle for self-achievement, and the intermixture of women’s careers and public history[6†]. The sense in her work of women of all classes as victims of economic and social restrictions has caused scholars to study her work and life more closely[6†].

She has been elevated to the ranks of the major Victorian novelists[6†]. Her novels offer an alternative to the seduced girl’s traditional progress to prostitution and an early grave[2†].

Personal Life

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister, on August 30, 1832[8†]. They settled in Manchester, where she lived a quiet, small-town life, raising a large family and writing her novels[8†][3†][8†]. The Gaskells had six children, including a daughter who was stillborn and a son who died in infancy[8†]. It was the death of her son that prompted her to drown her sorrow in writing and motivated her to write her first novel[8†].

Elizabeth Gaskell was well-groomed, tidily dressed, kind, gentle, and considerate of others[8†][1†]. Her temperament was calm and collected, joyous and innocent, she reveled in the simplicity of rural life[8†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s work offers a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of Victorian society, including the very poor[1†]. Her novels are beloved for their vivid characters and arresting portrayals of Victorian life[1†][5†]. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published in 1848[1†]. Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, was the first biography of Charlotte Brontë[1†].

Among Gaskell’s best-known novels are Cranford (1851–1853), North and South (1854–1855), and Wives and Daughters (1864–1866), all of which were adapted for television by the BBC[1†]. These works have left a rich literary legacy and continue to be widely read and studied today[1†][5†].

A memorial was dedicated to Gaskell in 2010 at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey[1†][5†]. This recognition underscores the enduring impact of her work and its continued relevance in the 21st century[5†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Elizabeth Gaskell [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell: English writer [website] - link
  3. Infoplease - Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn (Stevenson) [website] - link
  4. eNotes - Elizabeth Gaskell Biography [website] - link
  5. GradeSaver - Elizabeth Gaskell Biography [website] - link
  6. eNotes - Elizabeth Gaskell Analysis [website] - link
  7. EnglishLiterature.info - Elizabeth Gaskell : Contribution to Novel [website] - link
  8. The Famous People - Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Biography [website] - link
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