How and why did Elizabeth start writing?
As well as four daughters, Elizabeth had a son, William, who died as a baby of scarlet fever. As a distraction from her grief, her husband suggested that she write a novel. It was out of this sorrow that her first novel Mary Barton (subtitled A Tale of Manchester Life) was born.
Mary Barton was published anonymously in 1848. It had a great impact on the reading public and was widely reviewed and discussed. Its subject matter, the appalling state of the poor in the Manchester area, awakened the conscience of the nation.
Elizabeth’s publisher -Charles Dickens, was one of the people who read and admired Mary Barton and he asked Elizabeth Gaskell to contribute to his magazines Household Words and All the Year Round. She was a popular writer, addressed by Dickens as ‘Dear Scheherazade’.
Her writing is remarkably varied and includes almost forty short stories, ranging from social realism to ghost stories. Her Life of Charlotte Bronte has been described as the first modern biography, and Cranford has never been out of print. The other major works are Mary Barton, Ruth, North and South, Sylvia’s Lovers, Cousin Phyllis and Wives and Daughters, which was left unfinished when Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly of heart failure on 12 November 1865.
The John Rylands Library in Manchester holds the world’s most important collection of literary manuscripts by Elizabeth Gaskell, including the only complete manuscript of Wives and Daughters and her celebrated biography of her friend Charlotte Brontë. You can browse the collection held at the library via this link – http://luna.manchester.ac.uk/luna/servlet/Gaskell2~91~1
The John Rylands Library have also written blogs about their collection including the following;