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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

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Published : 92 Articles
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Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn (Stevenson)Mrs Gaskell I 1810–1865, novelist. Attended the Misses Byerley’s school in Stratford-on-Avon. In 1832 married William Gaskell. Her first published writing, verse written in collaboration with her husband, appeared in Blackwood’s, 1837. Thereafter contributed to Howitt’s Journal, Sunday School Penny Magazine, both of Dickens’s periodicals, Cornhill; occasionally to other periodicals. Published in book form Mary Barton, 1848; Ruth, 1853; and Sylvia’s Lovers, 1863; published her other novels first as serials in periodicals; Wives and Daughters was appearing in Cornhill at time of her death. Author also of The Life of Charlotte Brontë, 1857.


Mrs. Gaskell sent Dickens a copy of Mary Barton soon after the book was published; she seems to have first met him in 1849. In that year she was among the guests at the David Copperfield celebration dinner. Later, Dickens at times visited the Gaskells when he was in Manchester. On occasion, in the early years of their acquaintance, Mrs. Gaskell asked him for information or assistance in helping people in whom she was interested – an unfortunate girl to be helped to emigrate to Australia, the Manchester prison philanthropist Thomas Wright to be championed in H.W. as worthy recipient of a Government pension. Otherwise, their association was entirely that of contributor and editor, and, in that relationship – until their dissension concerning the serialization of North and South [X, 61–68. Sept. 2,1854, and the 21 following nos., ending X, 561–70. Jan. 27,1855] – she held him in friendly regard. In a letter of 1852 (addressee unknown), she stated that she was not in the habit of writing for periodicals and wrote occasionally for H.W. only "as a personal mark of respect & regard to Mr Dickens" (Letters, No. 519, misdated 1862). Mrs. Gaskell, naturally, shared "the well-grounded feeling of dislike to the publicity" that Dickens gave to his domestic affairs in 1858. It had, she wrote, made him "extremely unpopular," and she did not wish to be announced as a contributor to his new periodical that was to appear in April of the following year (Letters, No. 418). 
      Mrs. Gaskell was among the first writers whom Dickens asked to contribute to H.W. "... I do honestly know," he wrote to her, Jan. 31, 1850, "that there is no living English writer whose aid I would desire to enlist in preference to the authoress of Mary Barton (a book that most profoundly affected and impressed me). ..." If Mrs. Gaskell preferred to speak with him about the matter of contribution, he would be glad to call on her in Manchester to explain whatever she might wish to know. 
      In response to the request, Mrs. Gaskell sent Dickens "Lizzie Leigh," [I, 2–6. March 30, 1850, and the 2 following nos.] the first chapter of which appeared in the opening number immediately following Dickens’s "Preliminary Word." Thereafter, at Dickens’s repeated urging, she sent him from time to time additional stories, as also articles, for some of which he had exceedingly high praise, and for their author pretty compliments. The "Cranford" stories ["Our Society at Cranford [lead]", IV, 265–74. Dec. 13, 1851; "A Love Affair at Cranford", IV, 349–57. Jan. 3, 1852; "Memory at Cranford", IV, 588–97. March 13, 1852; "Visiting at Cranford", V, 55–64. April 3, 1852; "The Great Cranford Panic", VI, 390–96. Jan. 8, 1853, and the following no.; "Stopped Payment, at Cranford", VII, 108–15. April 2, 1853; "Friends in Need, at Cranford", VII, 220–27. May 7, 1853; "A Happy Return to Cranford", VII,277–85. May 21, 1853] were delightful; "The Old Nurse’s Story" [Christmas 1852, pp. 11–20] was "Nobly told, and wonderfully managed." Mrs. Gaskell was his "Scheherazade"; she could not write too much for H.W. and had "never yet written half enough"; anything that she might write would please Dickens; "it only needs be done by you to be well done" (Dec. 5 [4], Dec. 21, 1851; Nov. 6, 1852; Nov. 25, 1851; April 13, Sept. 19, 1853). When he felt it advisable to make more than slight changes in her stories he did so in consultation with her and did not insist on changes that she did not approve. (The letter in which Mrs. Gaskell objected to Dickens’s alteration in "Our Society at Cranford" – his substituting mention of Hood and Hood’s writings for her mention of Boz and Boz’s writings – reached Dickens only after the number in which the story was to appear was already in print. He hoped that she would not blame him for what he had done "in perfect good faith." "I would do anything rather than cause you a minute’s vexation arising out of what has given me so much pleasure ..." Dec. 5 [4], 1851). 
      On Aug. 19, 1854, H.W. announced the forthcoming publication in its pages of "NORTH AND SOUTH. By the AUTHOR OF MARY BARTON." The same authorship ascription appeared with the title of the novel in each instalment – this being the only instance, except for Hard Times, in which statement of authorship accompanied a title. North and South was unsuited to Dickens’s serialization formula, and its publication disrupted the amicable relationship that had existed between author and editor. Points of dispute centred on the condensing of material, the quantity to be included in each H.W. number, and the fitting of chapters into weekly instalments. Divided as Mrs. Gaskell insisted, wrote Dickens, the novel was "wearisome in the last degree," and the resultant decrease in H.W. sales was not to be wondered at. The whole matter was "a dreary business" (to Wills, Oct. 14, 1854). His version of the vexatious author-editor relationship during the months of the novel’s serialization Dickens gave in a letter to Wilkie Collins, March 24, 1855: "You have guessed right! The best of it was that she [Mrs. Gaskell] wrote to Wills, saying she must particularly stipulate not to have her proofs touched, 'even by Mr. Dickens.’ That immortal creature had gone over the proofs with great pains – had of course taken out the stiflings – hard-plungings, lungeings, and other convulsions – and had also taken out her weakenings and damagings of her own effects. ‘Very well,’ said the gifted Man, ‘she shall have her own way. But after it’s published show her this Proof, and ask her to consider whether her story would have been the better or the worse for it.’’ Mrs. Gaskell admitted, to Anna Jameson, that toward the end of the novel she had infringed "all the bounds & limits they set me as to quantity," but that every page had been "grudged" her (Letters, No. 225). She was acutely distressed by the unsatisfactory state in which the novel had appeared. In bringing it out in book form, she explained that the serial publication had made impossible the development of the story as she had originally planned and that she had, toward the close, been compelled "to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity." To remedy these matters in some degree, she made various alterations and additions in the book publication. 
      Despite the altercation, Mrs. Gaskell continued to contribute to H.W. (the instalment division of one of her stories – "Half a Life-Time Ago" [XII, 229–37. Oct. 6, 1855, and the 2 following nos.] – again caused contention). To A.Y.R. Mrs. Gaskell did not wish to become a contributor. Concerning a story for which she hoped to find an American publisher, she wrote to C. E. Norton, March 9, 1859; "I know it is fated to go to this new Dickensy periodical, & I did so hope to escape it" (Letters, No. 418). Mrs. Gaskell did not comply with Dickens’s request that she write a novel for A.Y.R., though she did contribute shorter items. After she became a contributor to Cornhill, she reserved for that periodical what she considered her best writing; Dickens got the second best. She made the distinction clear in a letter to George Smith: a story "not good enough" for Cornhill "might be good enough" for Dickens’s periodical (Letters, No. 451a).
      Some of the material that Mrs. Gaskell contributed to H.W. she had used before in an essay and a story published in Sartain's Union Magazine. The social background of the country town described in "The Last Generation in England," and some of the incidents related in that essay, appeared in the "Cranford" stories; "Martha Preston," in revised and expanded form, became 'Half a Life-Time Ago' (see Hopkins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Sharps, Mrs. Gaskell's Observation and Invention). Mrs. Gaskell obviously contributed the material to H.W. as previously unpublished, and Dickens so accepted it. 
      Mrs. Gaskell was generously paid for most of her H.W. contributions, though for some she was paid at the standard rate. In a letter written after she had been almost three years a contributor, she stated that she did not know the rate at which she was paid (Letters, No. 519, misdated 1862). The overgenerous twenty pounds that she received for her first contribution, however, so startled her that she wondered whether she were "swindling" the proprietors (Letters, No. 70). 
      Mrs. Gaskell was "extremely annoyed & hurt" by the way in which an incident related in her "Disappearances" [III, 246–50. June 7, 1851] was handled in Morley’s "Character-Murder," Jan. 8, 1859. In her article Mrs. Gaskell had told of the disappearance of an apprentice, with unmistakable implication that "the poor lad" had been murdered – a suspicion that had been disproved more than fifteen years before. Morley, quoting part of her account, cited it as an instance of the public’s unwillingness to let rumours and scandals die even "after all the truth had been most publicly and perfectly explained." He did not, of course, mention the author of "Disappearances"; but since Mrs. Gaskell had reprinted the article in Lizzie Leigh; and Other Tales, her authorship was not a secret. Mrs. Gaskell wrote to Wills, protesting that Morley’s article made her "say by implication" more than she had actually said; Wills’s reply gave her no satisfaction (Gaskell, Letters, No. 418). Before the appearance of "Character-Murder," two short H.W. items ("A Disappearance" and "A Disappearance Cleared Up") had printed letters from readers stating facts that disproved the murder-rumour (see author details for John and William Gaunt). The first of the items was appended to "Disappearances" in the Tauchnitz Edition of the Lizzie Leigh collection. 
      In addition to contributing to H.W., Mrs. Gaskell at times sent to the editorial office writings of her friends and acquaintances. Not all were accepted for publication. Those that did appear in H.W. were the poem "The Outcast Lady," a story by Mme. De Merey, and two papers by Mrs. Jenkin. 
      A commendatory reference to Mrs. Gaskell’s novels appeared in the H.W. article "Doctor Dulcamara, M.P.," written by Wilkie Collins and to some extent revised by Dickens: to recover from the effect produced by reading The Heir of Redclyffe, stated the article, the writer had had recourse to the "restoratives" provided by better women novelists than Charlotte Yonge, among them Mrs. Gaskell. 
      H.W. readers probably liked Gaskell’s "Cranford" stories best of her contributions to the periodical; among the many admirers of the stories were Forster, Ruskin, Charlotte Brontë, Monckton Milnes, and Charles Eliot Norton. Landor stated that a story related in Gaskell’s "Modern Greek Songs" had provided him with "the rudiments of a story" on which he based his poem "A Modern Greek Idyl." 
      Of the items listed below as not reprinted by Gaskell, "Cumberland Sheep-Shearers" [VI, 445–51. Jan. 22, 1853] is established as her writing by Forster’s letter to her, Jan. 20, 1853 (typescript in Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library); "Modern Greek Songs" [IX, 25–32. Feb. 25, 1854] is so established by a letter from Dickens to her, Feb. 18, 1854. Mrs. Gaskell’s being a guest, in the spring of 1852, at Lord Hatherton’s seat, Teddesley Park, where John Burton was head gardener from 1851 to 1853 (Sharps, Mrs. Gaskell’s Observation and Invention, p. 145n), authenticates her authorship of "The Schah’s English Gardener" [V, 317–21. June 19, 1852]. 
      Bibliographers and biographers have attributed to Gaskell three verse items published in H.W.: "Bran," "The Scholar’s Story," and "A Christmas Carol." The first two are by William Gaskell, with the brief prose introduction to "The Scholar’s Story" being written, according to J. A. Green, by Mrs. Gaskell. The authorship of the third has not been ascertained. Its attribution to Mrs. Gaskell rests on a misunderstanding of the Office Book system of recording. 
      Harper’s reprinted seven of Gaskell’s H.W. contributions (one, only in part), two of them acknowledged to H.W.; of the two, one was "Lizzie Leigh," listed in the table of contents as "By Charles Dickens." The New York publishers De Witt & Davenport brought out a pirated edition, 1850, of "Lizzie Leigh" as "By Charles Dickens." They included "Lizzie Leigh" in a collection (n.d.) of three stories "By Charles Dickens" (the first item in the collection was one of Georgiana Craik’s H.W. stories; the third, one of Howitt’s). "Lizzie Leigh" "By Charles Dickens" appeared as the first of the "spirit-stirring sketches of imagined or of real life" that constituted the Irving Offering, 1851, the picture that served as frontispiece bearing the legend "Lizzie Leigh." "Lizzie Leigh" was included in Choice Stories from Dickens’ Household Words, pub. Auburn, N.Y., 1854. "Disappearances" was included in the Putnam volume of selections from H.W.: Home and Social Philosophy, 2nd ser.
                                                                                                            D.N.B

 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

© Anne Lohrli/University of Toronto Press, 1973

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