Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn (Stevenson) [key], 1810–65, English novelist. When she was still an infant her mother died, and she was brought up by an aunt in Knutsford, Cheshire, the background for several of her novels of provincial life. In 1832 she married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister. They settled in Manchester, and she lived a quiet, small-town life, rearing a large family and writing her novels. In Cranford (1853) and Wives and Daughters (1866), Mrs. Gaskell describes the joys and sorrows common to middle-class village life. In Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1855) she depicts the social conditions of early Victorian England, particularly of the working classes in the large industrial towns. Although often overly moralistic, her novels are distinguished by humor, perceptive characterization, and superb descriptive passages. Her excellent Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) roused a furor because of its candid statements about the Brontë family, particularly concerning the excesses of Branwell.
See her letters, ed. by J. A. V. Chapple and A. Pollard (1966); biographies by A. Pollard (1966), G. De W. Sanders (1929, repr. 1971), A. B. Hopkins (1952, repr. 1971), W. Gérin (1976), P. Stoneman (1987), and J. Uglow (1993); studies by K. C. Shrivastava (1977) and E. L. Duthie (1980).
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