Elizabeth C. Gaskell
English Novelist of Industrial Life
The great work of Elizabeth C. Gaskell was “Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life”. As an English novelist of industrial life, this book, which was published in 1848, was to the factory worker of England what Uncle Tom’s Cabin became to the slaves in America. She was among the first to get at the heart of the great multitude of factory operatives. Her portrayal is poignant and even painful, but she had to deal with a painful subject, an she was true to like in her descriptions.
Hard times, political unrest, and strikes were all a part of this book that made plain all the great questions between labor and capital. The labor question is not a new one. Mrs. Gaskell was a pioneer novelist in this line. We cannot do better than to allow her to speak for herself. Note the sympathetic hear and the keen observation in the following passage:
“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 made were well founded or no, it is not for me to judge. It is enough to say that this belief of the 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 of the poor uneducated factory workers 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 Bronte`”. This was charmingly written and furnishes many interesting incidents and details of the private life of Miss Bronte` as the two women were close personal friends.
In her novels she occasionally introduces the Lancashire dialect with great effectiveness. As a portrayer of the lights and shades of artisan life, Mrs. Gaskell has few equals.