History's Women: Miscellaneous Articles: Elizabeth C. Gaskell, English novelist, Biographer and Short Story WriterElizabeth C. Gaskell
English Novelist of Industrial Life
1810 – 1865 A.D.

Her great work was Mary Barton: a Tale of Manchester Life. The book was to the factory people of England what Uncle Tom’s Cabin became to the colored race in America. She was among the first to get at the heart of the great multitude of factory operatives. Her portrayal is pathetic and even painful, but she had to deal with a painful subject, and she was true to life in her descriptions. Hard times, political agitation, and strikes — all the great questions as between labor and capital are brought out in this book, which appeared in 1848. The labor question is not a new one. Mrs. Gaskell was a pioneer in this line. We cannot do better than to allow her to speak for herself. Note the sympathetic heart and the keen observation in the following:

I had always felt a deep sympathy with the careworn men who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want. A little manifestation of this sympathy, and a little attention to the expression of feelings on the part of some of the work people, had laid open to me the hearts of the more thoughtful among them. I saw that they were sore and irritable against the rich. Whether the bitter complaints were well founded or no, it is not for me to judge. It is enough to say that this belief of injustice and unkindness which they endure from their fellow creatures, taints what might be resignation to God’s will and turns it to revenge in too many poor uneducated factory workers in Manchester.

Mrs. Gaskell’s husband was a Unitarian clergyman of Manchester.

Her other works were, in part, Moorland Cottage, North and South, Right at Last, Wives and Daughters. The one that attracted greatest attention was The life of Charlotte Bronté. This was charmingly written and furnishes many interesting incidents and details of her private life of Miss Bronté, as the two women were close and personal friends.

In her novels she occasionally introduces the Lancashire dialect with great effectiveness. As a portrayer [sic] of the lights and shades of artisan life, Mrs. Gaskell has few equals.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

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