Gaskell's best known work is set in a small rural town, inhabited largely by women.
This is a community that runs on cooperation and gossip, at the very heart of which are the daughters of the former rector: Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Miss Matty. But domestic peace is constantly threatened in the form of financial disaster, imagined burglaries, tragic accidents, and the reappearance of long-lost relatives.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born Elizabeth Stevenson on 29 September 1810. Gaskell was the eighth and last of her parents' children, however only she and her brother John survived infancy. After her mother died in childbirth her Unitarian minister father sent her to live with her Aunt in Cheshire.
Much of Elizabeth's childhood was spent in Cheshire, where she lived with her Aunt in Knutsford, a town she would later immortalise as 'Cranford'. They lived in a large red brick house, Heathwaite, on Heathside (now Gaskell Avenue), which faces the large open area of Knutsford Heath.
She also spent some time in Newcastle upon Tyne and in Edinburgh. It was during this period, Gaskell met and married William Gaskell, the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, who had a literary career of his own.
Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. The best known of her remaining novels are Cranford (1853), North and South (1854), and Wives and Daughters (1865). She became popular for her writing, especially her ghost stories, aided by Charles Dickens, who published her work in his magazine Household Words. Her ghost stories are written with a gothic flair which is quite different from her industrial fiction.
Even though her writing conforms to Victorian conventions , Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes: her early works focused on factory work in the Midlands. She always emphasized the role of women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters.
In addition to her fiction, Gaskell also wrote the first biography of Charlotte Bront , which played a significant role in developing her fellow writer's reputation.
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