Elizabeth Gaskell

  • Merryn Williams


‘The outstanding fact about Mrs Gaskell,’ writes a twentieth-century critic, ‘is her femininity.’1 Her first readers had much the same opinion. Mrs Gaskell was only once (at the time of Ruth) attacked for writing an ‘unwomanly’ novel. Because she was known to be happily married with children, she did not, like Charlotte Brontë, have to face private and public sneers.2 Her novels express many feelings which are more acceptable in women than in men. ‘I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade’, she wrote in the Introduction to Mary Barton. She had tried to give a true picture of the condition of workers in Manchester, but ‘whether the bitter complaints made by them… were well-founded or no, it is not for me to judge’. This was her way of saying that of course the problems must be solved by men who understand them, but that they should not forget the ‘womanly’ virtues of compassion and goodwill. The elderly Maria Edgeworth realised that this was a weakness — ‘Emigration is the only resource pointed out at the end of this work, and this is only an escape from the evils not a remedy’.3


Good Woman Illegitimate Child Singing Voice Gentle Humanity Married Woman Worker 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Lord David Cecil, Early Victorian Novelists (London, 1934), Ch. 6.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Quoted in Aina Rubenius, The Woman Question in Mrs Gaskell’s Life and Works (Upsala, 1950), p. 152.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    J. A. V. Chappie and Arthur Pollard (eds), The Letters of Mrs Gaskell (Manchester, 1966), Letter 276.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    ‘Half a Life-Time Ago’ and ‘Lois the Witch’ are reprinted in Cousin Phillis and Other Tales, Angus Easson (ed.) (Oxford, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Anthony Trollope, John Caldigate (1879), Vol. 3, Ch. 8.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Bronte (London, 1857), Vol. 2, Ch. 10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Merryn Williams 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Merryn Williams

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