Elizabeth Gaskell: Biography

Elizabeth Gaskell

29 sep 1810

Elizabeth Gaskell, often known simply as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, born in London in 1810. She is one of the most famous Victorian authors, having written a number of widely influential novels, novellas, short stories and works of non-fiction.

Gaskell was born in Chelsea, London as the youngest child with seven siblings. Her mother died just a year after she was born, and she was sent to live with her aunt, Hanna Lumb. Elizabeth was raised by Lumb and her maternal grandparents in Cheshire. She had no personal financial security and as she was growing up her future was incredibly uncertain. She married Unitarian Minister William Gaskell in 1832. The married couple moved to Manchester and became members of a very industrial community.

Her Mancunian surroundings and the inequality she witnessed became the inspiration for her social commentary novels such as North and South. The Gaskells also travelled around Europe. A trip round Europe lead Mrs Gaskell to discover German literature, which became a very important influence on her collections of short stories. Elizabeth published her first work of fiction in 1847, under a penname of Cotton Mather Mills. Her first full novel, Mary Barton, came a year later in 1848.

During her lifetime she wrote a total of 5 novels: Mary Barton, Ruth, North and South, Sylvia’s Lovers and Wives and Daughters. She was one of the pioneers of the social novel and her works are still studied on many different literature course all around the world.

Mrs Gaskell died in Hampshire in 1865 aged 55.