1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn
GASKELL, ELIZABETH CLEGHORN (1810–1865), English novelist and biographer, was born on the 29th of September 1810 in Lindsay Row, Chelsea, London, since destroyed to make way for Cheyne Walk. Her father, William Stevenson (1772–1829), came from Berwick-on-Tweed, and had been successively Unitarian minister, farmer, boarding-house keeper for students at Edinburgh, editor of the Scots Magazine, and contributor to the Edinburgh Review, before he received the post of Keeper of the Records to the Treasury, which he held until his death. His first wife, Elizabeth Holland, was Mrs Gaskell's mother. She was a Holland of Sandiebridge, Knutsford, Cheshire, in which county the family name had long been and is still of great account. Mrs Stevenson died a month after her daughter was born, and the babe was carried into Cheshire to Knutsford to be adopted by her aunt, Mrs Lumb. Thus her childhood was spent in the pleasant environment that she has idealized in Cranford. At fifteen years of age she went to a boarding-school at Stratford-on-Avon, kept by Miss Byerley, where she.remained until her seventeenth year. Then came occasional visits to London to see her father and his second wife, and after her father's death in x829 to her uncle, Swinton Holland. Two winters seem to have been spent in Newcastle-on-Tyne in the family of William Turner, a Unitarian minister, and a third in Edinburgh. On the 3oth of August 1832 she was married in the parish church of Knutsford to William Gaskeil, minister of the Unitarian chape 1 in Cross Street, Manchester, and the author of many treatises and sermons in support of his own religious denomination. Mr Gaskell held the chair of English history and literature in Manchester New College.
Henceforth Mrs Gaskell's life belonged to Manchester. She and her husband lived first in Dover Street, then in Rumford Street, and finally in x85o at 84 Plymouth Grove. Her literary life began with poetry, She and her husband aspired to emulate George Crabbe and write the annals of the Manchester poor, One poetic "Sketch," which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine for January x837, seems to have been the only outcome of' this ambition. Henceforth, while in perfect union in all else, husband and wife were to go their separate literary ways, Mrs Gaskell to become a successful novelist, whose books were to live side by side with those of greater masters, Mr Gaskell to be a distinguished Unitarian divine, whose sermons, lectures and hymns are now all but forgotten. In her earlier married life Mrs Gaskell was mainly occupied with domestic duties--she had seven children--and philanthropic work among the poor. Her first published prose effort was probably a letter that she addressed to William Howitt on hearing that he contemplated a volume entitled Visits to Remarkable Places. She then told the legend of Clopton Hall, Warwickshire, as she had heard it in schooldays, and Howitt incorporated the letter in that book, which was published in x 84o. Serious authorship, however, does not seem tohavebeen commenced until four or five years later. In x844 Mr and Mrs Gaskell visited North Wales, where their only son "Willie" died of scarlet fever at the age of ten months, and it was, it is said, to distract Mrs Gaskell from her sorrow that her husband suggested a long work of fiction, and Mary Barton was begun. There were earlier short .stories in Howitt's Journal, where "Libbie Marsh'sThree Eras" and "The Sexton's Hero" appeared in x847. Butit was Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life that laid the foundation of Mrs Gaskell's literary career. It was completed in x847 and offered to a publisher who returned it unread. It was then sent to Chapman & Hall, who retained the manuscript for a year without reading it or communicating with the author. A reminder, however, led to its being sought for, considered and accepted, the publishers agreeing to pay the author �xoo for the copyright. It was published anonymously in two volumes in q8. This story had a wide popularity, and its author secured first the praise and then the friendship of Carlyle, Landor and Dickens. Dickens indeed asked her in o to become a Contributor to his new maazine Household Words, and here the whole of Cranford appeared at intervals from December t851 to May t853, exclusive of One sketch, reprinted in the "World's Classics" edition (t9o7) , that was published.in All the Year Round for November 1863. Earlier than this, indeed, for the very first number of Household Words she had written "Lizzie Leigh." Mrs Gaskell's second book,however, was The Moorland Cottage, a dainty little volume that appeareft at Christmas 185o with illustrations by Birket Foster. In the Christmas number of Household Words for t853 appeared "The Squire's Story," reprinted in Lizzie Leigh and other Tales in I865. In �3 appeared another long novel, Ruth, and the incomparable Cranford. This last--now the most popular of her books--is an idyll of village life, largely inspired by girlish memories of Knuts- ford and its people. In Ruth, which first appeared in three volumes, Mrs Gaskell turned to a delicate treatment of a girl's betrayal and her subsequent rescue. Once more we are intro- duced to Knutsford, thinly disguised, and to the little Unitarian chapel in that town where the author had worshipped in early years. In x855 North and South was published. It had previously appeared.serially in Household Words. Then came--in x857-- the'Life of Charlotte Bront, in two volumes. Miss Bront, who had enjoyed tle friendship of Mrs Gaskell and had exchanged visits, died in March i855. Two years earlier she had begged her publishers to postpone the issue of her own novel Villette in order that her friend's Ruth should not suffer. This biography, by its vivid presentation of the sad; melancholy and indeed tragic story of the three Bront sisters, greatly widened the interest in their writings and gave its author a considerable place among English biographers. But much matter was contained in the first and second editions that was withdrawn from the third. Certain statements made by the writer as to the school of Charlotte Bront's infancy, an identification of the "Lowood" of Jane Eyre with the existing school, and the acceptance of the story of Bramwell Bront's ruin having been caused by the woman in whose house he had lived as tutor, brought threats of libel actions. Apologies were published, and the third edition of the book was modified, as Mrs Gaskell declares, by "another hand." The book in any case remains one of the best biographies in the language. An introduction by Mrs Gaskell to the then popular novel, Mabel Vaughan, was also included in her work of this year 1857, but no further book was published by her until r 859, when, under the title of Round the Sofa, she collected many of her contributions to periodical literature. RoundtheSofaappeared in two volumes, the first containing ohly "My Lady Ludlow," the second five short stories. These stories reappeared the same year in one volume as My Lady Ludlow and other Tales. In the next year i86o appeared yet another volume of short stories, entitled Right at Last and other Tales. The title story had appeared two years earlier in Household Words as" The Sin of a Father." In i862 Mrs Gaskell wrote a preface to a little book by Colonel Vecchj, translated from the' Italian--Garibaldi and Caprera, and in i863 she published her last long novel, Sylvia's Lovers, dedicated" to My dear Husband by her who best knows his Value." After this we have--in 1863--a one-volume story, A Dark Night's Work, and in the same year Cousin Phyllis and other Tales appeared. Reprinted short stories from All the Year Round, Cornhill Magazine, and other publications, tend to lengthen the number of books published by Mrs Gaskell during her lifetime. The Grey Woman and other Tales appeared in 1865.
Mrs Gaskell died on the 12th of November 1865 at Holyburn, Alton, Hampshire, in a house she had just purchased with the profits of her writings as a present for her husband. She was buried in the little graveyard of the Knutsford Unitarian church. Her unfinished novel Wives and Daughters was published in two volumes in 1866.
Mrs Gaskell has efijoyed n ever gaining popularity since her death. Cranford has. been published in a hundred forms and with many illustrators. It is unanimously accepted as a classic. Scarcely less recognition is awarded to the Life of Charlotte Bront, which is in every library. The many volumes of novels and stories seemed of less secure permanence until the falling in of their copyrights revealed the fact that a dozen publishers thought them worth reprinting. The most complete editions, however, are the "Knutsford Edition," edited with introductions. by A. W. Ward, ir eight volumes (Smith, Elder), and the "World's Classics" edition, edited by Clement Shorter, in xo volumes (Henry Froude 1908).
There is no biography of Mrs Gaskell, she having forbidden the publication of any of her letters. See, however, the biographical introduction to the "Knutsford" Mary Barton by A. W. Ward; the Letters of Charles Dickens; Women Writers, by C. J. Hamilto n, second series; H. B. Stowe's Life and Letters, edited by Annie Fields; Autobiography of Mrs Fletcher; Mrs Gaskell and Knutsford, by G. A. Payne; Cranford, with a preface by Anne Thackeray Ritchie; Icrivains modernes de l'Angleterre, by mile Montgut.
(C. K. S.)