Her father worked in the Treasury. Her mother died when Elizabeth was only 13 months old, and she went to live (and be brought up by) her aunt who lived in Knutsford, Cheshire. She always regarded Knutsford as her home and her aunt as her 'more-than-mother'.
Her father re-married and Elizabeth visited them only rarely. She was later to record that the visits made her very, very unhappy.
Aged 11, she was sent away to school where she experienced the standard conventional education for girls in those days. (But, it must be remembered, most children in those times had no formal education at all.) There was also a strong religious (Unitarian) background throughout her upbringing.
She married William Gaskell on 30th August, 1832. He was an assistant minister at a Unitarian chapel in Manchester, where they settled.
She gave birth to 7 children in total, but one (girl) was stillborn, and two (boys) died in infancy, so that only 4 daughters were raised to adulthood. Alas, not at all uncommon in those days.
It is known that she started to write stories whilst she was still at school, but none have ever been found. She had some success with a few short stories but she really showed her mettle when she wrote about those people whom she knew so well - the poor of Manchester. This she did in Mary Barton. The middle-classes (and factory owners) saw it as an attack on them. But it was no more than an accurate account of the conditions obtaining in the years when the 'Industrial Revolution' was at its peak, told as fiction. The official reports of those times told the same story, but who read them?
It is said that she later wrote North and South as a counter-balance, trying to tell the story from both sides, as a response to the many criticisms she received. But from both those books, as well others she wrote, there can be no doubt that she was a very sharp observer of the human condition.
She died on 12th November 1865, after a massive heart attack, aged 55.
Some of her best known works are:
the Index to
North and South
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