There were two blots on her landscape. However kind her relations, she was hurt by her father's rejection, and was lonely. When he remarried, he did not send for her until several years later - and when he did, her stepmother resented her. Stays with her family in London when she was nine ended in tears. The couple's attention focused on the two new children of the marriage. Elizabeth's only friend in London was her brother - the other survivor of their mother's brood - but when she was 12, he went to sea and she was alone again. Boarding school was her salvation. Surprisingly for a girl of her generation she had a good education, and was encouraged to read widely and to write. She loved visiting and learning about historic places. It was the start of her passion for collecting stories.
Then, as she was beginning to get her life on track, she was knocked back by two disasters. In 1828 her brother John was lost at sea. Six months later her father died too, from a stroke. She was just 18.
With no firm ties, Elizabeth felt unable to settle. She strayed from her Aunt Lumb's care to distant relatives in Newcastle; she travelled to Edinburgh, then back to London, ending up often at Knutsford. She longed to meet men at London balls. There was one in Park Lane, she was told to her excitement, that had "capital flirting places in the balcony". But what she really longed for was marriage - and she soon met her man.
The Reverend William Gaskell was an unlikely beau for this giddy girl. He was scholarly and austere, a classicist like her father. Some thought him dry and rule-bound, but not Elizabeth. He was five years older than her, tall and thin, and very attractive. He was a minister in the Unitarian Church, the Protestant sect in which she had grown up. It was a non-conformist group, intellectually driven, with a faith that emphasised individual salvation combined with a strong streak of social conscience. Marriage to Gaskell thrilled and lifted Elizabeth - only for her to be dashed down again when she gave birth to a still-born girl. This unnamed infant never left her, as she wrote in a heart-wrenching sonnet:
"Thee have I not forgot, my first-born, thou
Whose eyes ne'er opened to my wistful gaze."
Three years later, her first book, Mary Barton, was published. It was a bleak love story set in the Manchester slums. She wrote in the preface: "The tale was formed and the first volume written when I was obliged to lie down constantly on the sofa and I took refuge in invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes." The writer of ten books and dozens of short stories and magazine articles was on her way - but at what a cost.
Mary Barton brought success to Elizabeth. She was paid £200 for the book, which was published anonymously. Charles Dickens sang its praises. Other admirers included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, and Thomas Carlyle. Although critics took a jaundiced view towards her championing of the poor and calls for social reform, the novel led to her writing other books, each one making her more money. From then on she published her books under her own name, Mrs. Gaskell.
Charles Dickens admired Elizabeth so much that he serialised her next novel, Cranford, in his journal, Household Words (1851-1853). More novels followed in rapid succession, including Ruth (1853), North and South (1855), and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). These books did not represent her sole literary output. Elizabeth wrote several novellas, of which Cranford was one, as well as short stories and articles for periodicals.
After her good friend Charlotte Bronte died, Gaskell wrote her acclaimed biography, using firsthand accounts and sources. This led her into some legal trouble, for shortly after the book’s publication a few of the people mentioned in it threatened to sue for having been represented incorrectly.
She made many other important friends, and was an avid correspondent, writing thousands of letters to friends and near strangers with the rapidity and ease of someone who, had she lived in the future, would most likely have embraced email.*
On Sunday November 12, 1865, she and her daughters spent a lazy morning before Elizabeth walked up the lane to church. The vicar thought she looked extremely well.
At 5pm, everyone sat in the drawing room for tea. Elizabeth was gossiping, relating a conversation she'd had with a judge when, mid-sentence, she stopped, gasped and slumped down dead from a heart attack. She was 55 and William, the man she unfailingly loved, was consigned to a widowhood of his own, for 23 more years. After so many tragedies in her life, perhaps that was the final one.The-amazing-secret-life-Cranford-creator-Elizabeth-Gaskell
Gaskell was hostile to any form of biographical notice of her being written in her lifetime. Only months before her death, she wrote to an applicant for data: "I disapprove so entirely of the plan of writing 'notices' or 'memoirs' of living people, that I must send you on the answer I have already sent to many others; namely an entire refusal to sanction what is to me so objectionable and indelicate a practice, by furnishing a single fact with regard to myself. I do not see why the public have any more to do with me than buy or reject the ware I supply to them" (4 June 1865). After her death the family sustained her objection, refusing to make family letters or biographical data available Victorian web
On 25 September 2010 a memorial to Elizabeth Gaskell was dedicated in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.