MRS. GASKELL: _The Basis for Reassessment_



_Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C.4_ 

© Oxford University Press 1965 

_Printed in Great Britain 
by Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd. 
Aylesbury, Bucks_ 


Preface							vii 
I	Introduction					1
II	The Basis for Reassessment			7 
III	Religion and Purpose				23 
IV	Family and Stability				51 
V	Tradition and Transformation		73 
VI	The World of Manchester			88
VII	The World of Cranford			102
VIII	Society and Sociology				120
IX	The Attempt at Reconciliation: 
	_North and South_ 				129
X	Manchester Abandoned: _The Life of 
	Charlotte Bront‘_ and _My Lady 
	Ludlow_						146
XI	'Lois the Witch' and _Sylvia's Lovers_	164
XII	The Final Synthesis: I	_Cousin Phillis_	190
XIII	The Final Synthesis: II _Wives and 
	Daughters_ 					205
XIV	The Development of Technique: Form 	229
XV	The Development of Technique: Style 	250 

-- vi --

Appendix							265 
Bibliography 						269 
A Chronological List of the Writings of 
	Mrs. Gaskell 					275 
Index							279 

The portrait of Mrs. Gaskell by George Richmond is reproduced as a 
frontispiece by courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. 

-- vii --


I HAVE set out to provide a basis for the overdue reassessment of 
Mrs. Gaskell. The earlier chapters have been used to examine what 
seem to me to be the main themes and interests which determine 
the nature of her work, and in these chapters I am particularly 
concerned with the early novels. The later chapters follow up the 
discussion of themes and interests by relating them, through 
detailed reference to particular books, to her development as a 
novelist. Had either a completely chronological or a completely 
thematic method been attempted, it would not have been possible 
to show so clearly how this development occurred. The discussion of 
technique, although given its own chapters, is also related closely to 
the discussion which precedes it. 

I have had to be selective in my choice of the work dealt with. Mrs. 
Gaskell wrote seven novels, five 'nouvelles', twenty-two short 
stories, eleven articles or essays some of which are lengthy, a major 
biography and some odds and ends of poetry and prefaces. An 
account of all these (with the inexplicable omission of the short 
article 'An Italian Institution') is to be found in Miss Hopkins' 
_Elizabeth Gaskell, Her Life and Work_, a survey which I have 
constantly referred to. But a number of the items are of minor 
importance while a few are best forgotten. I see Mrs. Gaskell's 
longer work as being the more important, and I have therefore 
concentrated on the novels and the 'nouvelles'. We have no 
adequate term in English for the very long short story or short 
novel; I use the term 'nouvelle' for 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions', 'The 
Moorland Cottage', 'Lois the Witch', 'A Dark Night's Work', and 
_Cousin Phillis_. Two of these strike me as being major works both 
in themselves and for my argument, and they have been treated 
accordingly. _My Lady Ludlow_ I count as a novel, although it 
really splits completely into a nouvelle and a short story. 

-- viii --

The short stories are of varying length and quality. A few are 
memorable examples of the form, a number of others are 
interesting. But to have considered them in detail would have 
conflicted with my intentions and added enormously to the length. I 
have therefore referred to them only as they illustrate my 

The articles have been drawn on when they are relevant. One of 
them, 'Company Manners', is important not only for this reason but 
because it is also an unfairly neglected example of that generally 
neglected form, the long essay, and one which deserves to be better 
known. I devote part of a chapter to _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_, 
but this is confined to looking at its place in her development as a 

The edition I have used is the Knutsford, edited by A. W. Ward. This 
edition had the authority and help of Mrs. Gaskell's daughters, and 
as we have details of its provenance which give information about 
the novels themselves as well as the edition, it is worth while 
recording them. 

Reginald Smith, of Smith, Elder and Co., secured the cooperation of 
Mrs. Gaskell's daughters by promising that comment, critical and 
biographical, would be kept on a factual basis and would not 
intrude on the personality or privacy of their mother: 

     To Mr. Arnold was entrusted the revision of the text 
     and the regrouping of the stories. For example, the text 
     suffered from very long paragraphs which required 
     breaking up. Some extended to a page and a half. The 
     probable reason for this appears from an early letter of 
     Mrs. Gaskell to George Smith. She explains that she writes 
     steadily across her papers, dialogue and all, leaving it to 
     the printer to break up. Among peculiarities of diction or 
     slips occurred the "isle" of a church. Was this, as the Miss 
     Gaskell's thought, a printer's error, or was it a survival of 
     the old spelling, the latest example of which in the New 
     English Dictionary is dated 1836, twenty years earlier? As 
     to the existing grouping of the stories, Mr. Aitchison, for 
     many years manager to Smith, Elder, being appealed to, 
     remembered that "when the collected edition came into 
     being, the plates on which many of the stories were 
     printed were brought together from various publishers, 
     and they were rearranged more according to length than 
     to any thought of chronology. So that 'Wives and Daughters,' 
     which _was_ last, is first." 

-- ix --

     To the scheme as outlined by Reginald Smith's persuasive 
     pen, the Miss Gaskells gave a cordial consent, and promptly 
     offered to lend any pictures, drawings, MSS., or original 
     editions, among which they named a "rough sketch of the 
     plot of 'Mary Barton,' drawn out before a word of the book 
     was written, but strangely adhered to in the writing - a 
     water-colour drawing of a picturesque little farm in the 
     Green Hays Fields, the scene of its opening, etc." 
             "We would," Miss Gaskell added, "name the very few 
          _places_ which can be identified as having been described; 
          but we want to make a dead set against the tendency 
          to identify the _characters_ in my mother's books with 
          so-called 'originals'. The way in which, in spite of our 
          reiterated assurances, Knutsford claims to be the original 
          of 'Cranford' and pretends to recognise the originals of 
          all the characters in it, has annoyed us more than I can 
          say. It seems to belittle her genius and imagination. 
             "This tradition has now so firmly established (itself) 
          at Knutsford, that we have at length almost ceased trying 
          to overcome it" (May 1902) . 

        For the critical and biographical work it was impossible to 
     secure either Leslie Stephen, or Canon Ainger, to whom 
     merely abstract and impersonal criticism did not appeal, or 
     Mr. John Morley, who was approached as he came to the 
     end of his "Life of Gladstone." 
        Finally, Dr. (afterwards Sir) Adolphus Ward, of Peterhouse, 
     despite misgivings about the pressure of other work, 
     accepted the task at the end of 1903 . His long-standing 
     friendship with the Gaskell family and with his collaborator 
     added a special sympathy to his scholarly qualifications. 
        On the death of Mr. Arnold, Dr. Ward took over his 
     chronological list and his notes, so far as completed, on 
     the separate stories. For the edition he planned a duplex 
     chronological arrangement ; the long stories in right sequence 
     of date, and the short stories similarly, but interplaced among 
     the former series according to the exigencies of space. 
        Plans once settled, the correspondence shows Reginald 
     Smith constantly ready to lend help with his practical 
     judgment in literary details, such, for instance, as the 
     doubtful ascription to Mrs. Gaskell of "One of Our Legal 
     Fictions," which appeared anonymously in _Household Words_. 
     And Dr. Ward at the end of his difficult task, found "all 
     difficulties lightened by his confidence," and his "unfailing 
     kindness and consideration." 

-- x --

        As is generally the case with a special collected edition, 
     the question of a name took long to decide. A baker's dozen 
     of suggestions were considered, from the Biographical Edition 
     to the North and South, from the Cranford, which might 
     perhaps clash with the Cranford Series, to - Miss Gaskell's 
     prefercnce - either the Ward or the Queen's, a title recalling 
     the Queen's interest in "Mary Barton" and its social problems. 
        Finally came "a little Cinderella of an after-thought" - "there 
     is also the Knutsford Edition." The shoe fitted at last; 
     Cinderella was the instant elect of editor and publisher. *1* 

Ward's labours were more than editorial. He succeeded tactfully in 
producing, in his prefaces to the individual works, what is still a 
shrewd and enlightening critical commentary, based on a detailed 
knowledge of the period and an enviable range of miscellaneous 
information about Mrs. Gaskell's subjects and intentions. I have 
often gone back to see what Ward says on a particular point, and 
while I may not have agreed with him, I have always found him 
interesting and helpful. 

Certain items of the text I have checked against MSS., first editions 
and the original Smith, Elder edition in seven volumes of 1873. 
There are occasional differences, mainly in punctuation - for Mrs. 
Gaskell was liberal with her punctuation, as her letters show - but 
they are small and do not affect critical comment. I have touched on 
the question of serialization and book publication in the appropriate 
sections. But this does not set out in any way to be a textual study. 

The other collected edition is that edited by Clement Shorter for The 
World's Classics. It contains one or two of the minor items which are 
not in the Knutsford edition, and I have consulted the prefaces, but 
my major debt to Shorter's work is to the material, now in the 
Brotherton Library, that he collected towards a projected critical 
biography. I have also used _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ which he 
prepared for the Haworth edition. Both of the collected editions are 
out of print and hard to come by; individual works have been 
reprinted but there is need for 


*1* (Leonard Huxley), _The House of Smith, Elder_, printed for 
private circulation, 1923, pp. 205-7.

-- xi --

fresh edition if Mrs. Gaskell is to reach the reading public gain. 

There is no collected edition of her correspondence, although one is 
being made. Many of her letters are however available in print, and 
I have seen a number of holograph collections. 

I am grateful to Professor Geoffrey Tillotson for first suggesting ) 
me that Mrs. Gaskell would repay a detailed critical examination, 
and to his keen eye for error and infelicity. Mr. Charles Richards put 
his wide knowledge of Victorian literature and of theology at my 
disposal, together with a personal library hardly to be expected in 
Nairobi. To librarians in many places I am grateful for their 
courtesy and help. The University of Leeds, the Huntington Library, 
The University of California, Los Angeles, and the John Rylands 
Library have kindly permitted me to quote from material in their 
collections. Much of Chapter 7 first appeared in slightly modified 
form in _The Review of English Literature_, January 196S. My 
friends Mrs. Barbara Ratzeburg and Mrs. Eileen Bowman typed the 
drafts and produced order in them. My work was helped by a 
research grant from the University College, Nairobi. 

-- xii --

-- xiii --

_Abbreviated References_ 

The following abbreviated titles have been used for certain works. 

Chadwick - Ellis H. Chadwick, _Mrs. Gaskell: Haunts, Homes 
	and Stories_, Pitman, 1913.
Haldane - Elizabeth S. Haldane, _Mrs. Gaskell and Her 
	Friends_, Hodder and Stoughton, 1930.
Hopkins - Annette B. Hopkins, _Elizabeth Gaskell, Her Life and 
	Work_, John Lehmann, 1952. 
Letters - _Letters of Mrs. Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton, 
	1855-1865_, edited Jane Whitehill, O.U.P., 1932.
Rylands - _Letters Addressed to Mrs. Gaskell by Celebrated 
	Contemporaries_, edited R. D. Waller. Reprinted from 
	_The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library_, Vol. 19, 
	No. I, Jan. 1935.
Tillotson - Kathleen Tillotson, _Novels of the Eighteen-Forties_, 
	Oxford Paperbacks, 1961.

Reference to all work by Mrs. Gaskell, with the exception of the 
_Life_, are to the Knutsford edition, reprinted by John Murray 
1919-20, from the Smith, Elder first edition of 1906, and are given 
under the title of the particular volume in which they appear; e.g. a 
reference to 'Morton Hall' would be given to _Cranford_, the title 
story of the volume in which this story appears. 

I have abbreviated slightly the titles of the volumes. The 
abbreviations used, with the full titles, are given below. Other items 
in a volume are included in brackets. _Mary Barton_ contains also 
the editorial preface and a short bibliography. 

Mary Barton - _Mary Barton and Other Tales_ (Libbie Marsh's 
	Three Eras, The Sexton's Hero, Clopton House) 
Cranford - _Cranford and Other Tales_ (Christmas Storms and 
	Sunshines, Lizzie Leigh, The Well of Pen Morfa, The 
	Moorland Cottage, The Heart of John Middleton, 

-- xiv --

	Disappearances, The Old Nurse's Story, Morton Hall, 
	Traits and Stories of the Huguenots, My French Master, 
	The Squire's Story) 
Ruth - _Ruth and Other Tales, etc._ (Cumberland Sheep-Shearers, 
	Modern Greek Songs, Company Manners, Bessy's Troubles 
	at Home, Hand and Heart) 
North and South - _North and South_ 
My Lady Ludlow - _My Lady Ludlow and Other Tales_ (Round 
	the Sofa, An Accursed Race, The Doom of the Griffiths, 
	Half a Lifetime Ago, The Poor Clare, The Half-Brothers, 
	Mr. Harrison's Confessions, The Manchester Marriage) 
Sylvia's Lovers - _Sylvia's Lovers, etc._ (An Italian Institution) 
Cousin Phillis - _Cousin Phillis and Other Tales_ (Lois the Witch, 
	The Crooked Branch, Curious if True, Right at Last, The 
	Grey Woman, Six Weeks at Heppenheim, A Dark Night's 
	Work, The Shah's English Gardener, French Life, Crowley 
	Castle, Two Fragments of Ghost Stories) 
Wives and Daughters - _Wives and Daughters, an Every-Day 

References to _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ are to the Haworth 
edition, Smith, Elder, 1914, and are normally abbreviated to _Life_. 

-- 1 --



THERE has been relatively little serious examination of the works of 
Mrs. Gaskell, yet she is one of the most firmly 'placed' of all 
Victorian novelists I mean by that, that there is an almost 
unanimous expression of opinion, when it is necessary to say 
something about her, which stresses her simplicity and sense of 
compassion, admits that she had talent, is ready to admit also if 
pressed that some explanation must be found for the diverse nature 
of her production, and notes finally that because of certain books 
(the choice may vary within a limited range) she is definitely an 
important minor novelist. There is generally added a reference to 
her charm, femininity and some vague quality that is better felt 
than analysed. Yet any close reading of her work reveals qualities 
that merit closer attention, and should make us realize that until 
her art and mode of thought are given a closer examination we lack 
the criteria necessary for a reassessment. Because of the strength of 
what has become a traditional method of approach, one which is 
still current, it is wise to look at how this approach has become 
established before a detailed examination takes place. This is not to 
say that the accepted conclusions are always wrong, but they are 
almost certainly too limited in range. Current work on the Victorian 
novel, both in general and as regards individual authors, has given 
us more insight into and sympathy for the achievement of the 
Victorians and the methods they used, while Mrs. Gaskell's own 
powers of survival indicate that her achievement has been glossed 
over and simplified. The accepted opinions, and some idea of the 
reason for them, must be clearly seen before any reassessment can 
be made. One reason is undoubtedly that some of her novels have 
been too easily and conveniently labelled for extraneous reasons. 

-- 2 --

Barton_ for instance has long been the possession of the social 
historian, occasionally borrowed for exhibition in the 'social realism' 
or 'social reform' sections of the history of the novel. Its literary 
qualities have tended to receive a superficial examination and its 
relation to the other novels which fall outside of this category have 
been rather cursorily dealt with. Here we can trace a tradition 
dating from the time of publication of _Mary Barton_ when W. R. 
Greg, to take the best known example, concentrating on whether the 
picture of Manchester life was fair to all concerned, devoted the 
weight of his critique to exposing the misguided view of the 
industrial situation which he claimed it represented, noting that: 

     there was nothing in the extremity of their Manchester 
     destitution, which the Davenports, immigrants from 
     Buckinghamshire, are described as dreading so much, as 
     to be sent back to their rural home. *l* 

_Mary Barton_, _North and South_ and (linked with problems of 
moral decency) _Ruth_ became documents in the social reform 
struggle of the mid-Victorian period, taking their place with the 
novels of Kingsley and Disraeli. A result has been that her non-
controversial work has come to be considered mainly as a change of 
direction, although whether for better or worse depends on the 
importance given by any critic to the subject matter. Comments 
ranging from: 

     very imperfect as _Mary Barton_ (1848) and _North and 
     South_ (1855) are, it is on these novels that her reputation 
     mainly rests. *2* 


     . . . her later masterpieces, such as _Cousin Phillis_ and 
     _Wives and Daughters_ . . . Not itself [i.e. _Mary Barton_] a 
     great novel, it is the first novel of a great novelist . . .  *3* 

are found. And we may already note in passing the divergent views 
on Mrs. Gaskell's achievement. 

The change of direction - we can allow the phrase for the moment 
as a convenience - has itself been glossed over in rather 


*1* W. R. Greg, Review of 'Mary Barton', _Edinburgh Review_, vol. 1 
80, April 1849, P. 434. 
*2* Walter Allen, _The English Novel_, Penguin, 1958, p. 183. 
*3* _Tillotson_, p. 203. 

-- 3 --

simple terms. There is no argument but that Mrs. Gaskell does have 
impulses that pull in different directions; _Cranford_ and _Ruth_ 
were being written at the same time, while a powerful study of the 
supernatural, 'The Old Nurse's Story', was also produced in the same 
period. Any serious consideration of her art will need to consider 
the pattern into which works so apparently different in content, 
form and method can be fitted. We need to look for the unity 
behind the dissimilarity. The traditional approach has been to rest 
it solely on some criterion such as personality or sensibility, 
shrugging off any necessity to look very hard with the excuse that 
the carriage is not worth the labour. But if Mrs. Gaskell is a novelist 
worthy of serious consideration this attitude is no longer possible. 

Reference to _Cranford_ raises a particular point within the general 
issue of the unity of her work. _Cranford_ has undoubtedly been 
the most popular and the most consistently well known of all her 
novels, yet it is obviously of rather loose construction and is widely 
regarded as a series of episodes given a slenderly factitious 
structure though possessed of a pervasive 'tone'. A compromise 
view of her ability therefore develops which leads to her:

being regarded merely as a writer of social criticism in novel form, 
or t best as the author of _Cranford_. *4* 

and the attempt to see her as a serious novelist is further 
bedevilled by the esteem in which one early book is held. 

Changes in taste and fashion must also be taken into account. The 
changes in both theory and practice during the early part of the 
twentieth century have altered opinion about what a good novel 
should be, although the reaction against the wholesale acceptance 
of, for example, the Jamesian credo as the one and only Simon Pure 
is now setting in. As a result the Victorian novelists are being 
reassessed, and the validity of their methods can be more clearly 
understood. The question of taste is rather more important. After 
all, relatively few novel readers are much affected by rigid views of 
how a novel should be constructed, 


*4* G. D. Klingopulos, 'The Literary Scene', _The Pelican Guide to 
English Literature_, 1958, Vol. 6, p. 106. 

-- 4 --

Mrs. Gaskell whereas individual features may well strike them as 
distasteful. The authorial commentary for example is a convention, 
and as with most conventions we can get used to it. But the 
religious sentiment is no longer to the public taste; we are probably 
embarrassed when we meet with it and so become over-conscious 
of it. We do not stop to ask how much there is of it, or what its 
purpose is, let alone attempt to acquire the taste in order to find out 
how it balances or enhances other flavours. 

Biographical reference has also been less than helpful to Mrs. 
Gaskell's reputation because of the undertone so often present. 
What are we to expect of a writer who, we are told: 

     Apart from her writing . . . had a full life as the wife of 
     a Unitarian minister in Manchester and the mother of a 
     large family . . . *5* 

Such references, intentionally or not and irrespective of factual 
accuracy, are pejorative. The stereotype of the moderately cultured 
amateur with a nostalgic affection for childhood traditions and a 
talent for story-telling, when she could spare the time from 
maternity and good works, has been since her death a hindrance to 
a just appreciation of her work. This attitude has been coupled with 
an emphasis on her femininity, especially when she has been 
compared to George Eliot, or to Charlotte and Emily Bront‘, all of 
whom can be shown to be exceptional. So we get comments such as 

     In the placid dovecotes of Victorian womanhood, they 
     were eagles. But we have only to look at a portrait of Mrs. 
     Gaskell, soft-eyed, beneath her charming veil, to see that 
     she was a dove. *6* 

Too much of the critical reference to Mrs. Gaskell has tended to 
centre itself on the biographical material and to stress 
disproportionately the element in her work which draws on the 
early Knutsford days. The Life has cast its shadow over the Work, 
obscuring the literary qualities by which the autobiographical 
element quite as important in the work of George Eliot and the 
(Bront‘s) has been transmuted into fiction.  

If I seem to have stressed the superficiality of elements in the 


*5* Allen, op. cit., p. 182. 
*6* David Cecil, _Early Victorian Novelists_, Constable, 1935, pp. 

-- 5 --

critical opinion that has crystanized about Mrs. Gaskell, and in doing 
so to have neglected unfairly those critics who have demanded a 
revision of that attitude, it is because the conventional view is still 
deeply entrenched. One more quotation may show just how strong 
this generalized acceptance is, and how firmly Mrs. Gaskell has been 
bedded into the minor league of novelists. It is taken from a leading 
article in _The Times Literary Supplement_ (August 11th, 1961). 
The writer was dealing with the way in which some overseas critics 
have tried to prove the merits of their native literature by a 
comparison with accepted British authors, a method which: 

     took the form of asserting that Australian X was as good 
     as English Y . . . only minor English writers could be matched   
     - no one had the temerity to entice even Mrs. Gaskell or 
     Swinburne into the field . . . 

The 'even' speaks for itself; positions in the major and minor 
leagues are regarded as beyond argument. (One could wish 
Swinburne were alive to reply!) The mandarin rigidity of such a 
pronouncement is a warning of the extent to which we need to be 
aware of the persistent critical tradition and its influence. 

The interesting thing is that her contemporaries had no difficulty 
from the very beginning in recognizing her artistic merit, though 
admittedly the conventions of fiction and the primary moral 
assumptions were largely shared. Thackeray's daughter, Lady 
Ritchie, noted that : my own father, and Dickens, and Carlyle, and 
Kingsley, and all the leading critics of those days recognised her 
great gifts at once and with warm plaudits. *7* 

W. R. Greg in the same review in which he attacked the false 
economics and harmful attitude of _Mary Barton_ had no hesitation 
in beginning his article with praise for the unusually high literary 
merit of the anonymous author. Young Henry James, reviewing 
_Wives and Daughters_: 

     cannot help thinking the late Mrs. Gaskell has added to 
     the number of those works of fiction - of which we cannot 
     perhaps count more than 


*7* Quoted in Hopkins, p. 81.

-- 6 --

     a score as having been produced in our time - which will 
     outlast the duration of their novelty and continue for years 
     to come to be read and relished for a higher order of 
     merit. *8* 

     happily unaware that his own theories would play a part 
     in its later neglect: The collected editions of Ward and 
     Shorter show that down to the turn of the century her 
     quality was appreciated. Miss Hopkins does well to remind 
     us that: 

     A reconsideration of Mrs. Gaskell's place among the 
     Victorian writers of fiction which has been long overdue, 
     would do well to give weight to Gosse's observation that 
     _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and Daughters_ are among the 
     most faultlessly constructed novels in the language." *9* 

We need not go all the way with Gosse, but there is certainly an era 
of neglect to make up for. 

This summary view of the critical reputation of Mrs. Gaskell's 
novels will have made obvious the confusion of approach as well as 
the varying estimates not only of her work as a whole but of 
individual novels. The way out of the confusion, and towards a 
firmly based assessment of her achievement, can only be through a 
closer examination of what she actually wrote and of her methods 
as a novelist. Much of the preliminary work will be a clearing of the 
bush, but at least it will provide the chance for a clear view of the 
reality. The Chevalier Bunsen wrote of her, with reference to 

     I admire the courage as much as the genius of the 
     noble-minded authoress. *10*

The attempt must be made to reverse the terms of the proposition ; 
to admire her genius as much as her courage. 


*8* _Notes and Reviews by Henry James_, Dunster House, 
Cambridge, Mass., 1921, originally in _The Nation_, 22 Feb., 1866. 
*9* Hopkins, p. 332. 
*10* Quoted in Margaret J. Shaen, _Memorials of Two Sisters_, 
Longmans, 1908, p. 99. 

MISS HOPKINS concluded her biography of Mrs. Gaskell, published 
in 1952, with the claim that the time had come to revalue that 
writer's work. One response was the stimulating but one-sided 

-- 7 --


_The Basis or Reassessment_article by H. P. Collins, *1* but on the 
whole little was changed. When Mrs. Gaskell has been mentioned, 
the conventional judgement and approach have carried on. One or 
two good comments have appeared on special aspects of her 
writing, or on her relation to the social background of the period. 
*2* A break with conventional opinion occurred with the 
publication of Professor Kathleen Tillotson's _Novels of the Eighteen 
Forties_ in 1958, which contained a long criticism of _Mary Barton_ 
based on a detailed general introduction to the literary and social 
conditions of the time. And here once again, implicit in that 
criticism, is the belief that Mrs. Gaskell's novels will repay a closer 
critical attention than they have so far received. 

One reason for the lack of attention is undoubtedly that it is almost 
impossible to become excited by Mrs. Gaskell as an individual, while 
Miss Hopkins's biography has probably exhausted the biographical 
detail for a long time. The essential quietness, respectability and 
overt domesticity of her life leave hardly a crevice for any 
sensation other than moral approval to take root in; she would seem 
to defy even the wilder fringes of the psychoanalytical school. Most 
of the eminent Victorians were in the dust of public combat ; Mrs. 
Gaskell rarely was, and then unwillingly: a good many of the 
Victorians have private lives which are still being disinterred ; 
information about Mrs. Gaskell's was meticu-


*1* H. P. Collins. 'The Naked Sensibility', _Essays in Criticism_, Vol. 3, 
No. 1, Jan. 1953.
*2* e.g. Raymond Williams, _Culture and Society 1780-1950_, 
Penguin, 1961. See Part I, Chap. 5.

-- 8 --

lously destroyed (if it ever excitingly existed) by her daughters' 
obedience to her wish that she wanted no biography and no papers 
left hanging about. Even quiet Victorians could explode intellectual 
mines - who was quieter than Darwin? But Mrs. Gaskell is highly 
intelligent without being intellectual and is overshadowed in this 
respect by George Eliot, with whom she has a good deal in common. 

This is the accepted traditional view, repeated and reinforced by a 
century of criticism, and by the fact that her best known work is 
still _Cranford_. _Cranford_ has to quite an extent been responsible 
for the picture of Mrs. Gaskell as a dealer in charm, nostalgia and 
gentle humour. And the introductions to _Cranford_, as well as the 
references in standard histories of the novel, or of English 
Literature, add their further quota of information about Mrs. 
Gaskell as the Unitarian Minister's wife, the busy mother, etc. It is 
possibly unfortunate, from this point of view, that the only private 
diary (printed by Clement Shorter) turned out to be a record of the 
early years of her daughter Marianne. *3* Now it would be easy 
enough to show briefly, as Miss Hopkins has shown in detail, that 
this is an unbalanced picture. The controversies over _Mary 
Barton_, _Ruth_ and _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ (the two latter 
in particular) raised dust enough. The Minister's wife was a 
European traveller, the friend of the literary great of the time. She 
had a will of her own to underlie the charm. 

Still, if any genuine reassessment is to take place - and I am firmly 
convinced that it ought to - it must begin with her work; closer 
acquaintance with that will have its effect in turn on our view of 
the author. And here we have to take more particular note of two of 
the obstacles in the way. The first is the lack of comment by the 
author herself. She is not a literary critic, not much - in her 
surviving correspondence - of a self-critic. Yet there is, if we look 
for it, quite a lot of indication that she thought seriously about her 
work and was a conscious craftsman. The second point is that 
traditional criticism has set up its conventions 


*3* _My Diary_, privately printed 1923. The diary is, however, 
useful in explaining certain attitudes towards children and moral 
development which were held by Mrs. Gaskell and were part of the 
Victorian ethos. 

-- 9 --

about her work as much as about her character. The core of these is 
that she was an intuitive novelist who really began writing at a 
mature age (35 years - _Mary Barton_ was published in 1848 when 
she was 38 years old) and that although she displays a great 
variety of talent she doesn't really develop. She writes two or three 
novels of social reform, some charming and humorous novels of 
traditional small town or country life, a historical novel, some ghost 
stories, some articles. But there is no development in theme, style, 
etc., no essential unity can be discovered Other writers have begun 
writing, or begun publishing late. 

Other writers have written varied types of novel and article. 
Conrad, we note, also first published at the age of thirty-eight, 
wrote articles, sea stories, novels of social analysis, etc. (Admittedly 
Conrad had a romantic background and an exciting career, but if 
ever a writer was set in his opinions and mature in his attitudes 
before he published his first novel, Conrad was that man. The 
nature of his development as a _novelist_ is a different matter.) If 
then we can point to some line of development in Mrs. Gaskell's 
work, some evidence of maturing as a novelist and an observer 
perhaps, or the slow discovery of an essential direction for her 
thoughts and powers, we shall do two things: we shall help to 
eliminate a conventional judgement and we shall demonstrate the 
existence of at least one of the qualities that we expect to find in a 
novelist of stature. 

Development may be considered in several ways when a novelist is 
being discussed. In terms of attitude there may be a change that 
can be charted, or a growth of maturity - in itself a special form of 
change. Intellectual powers may grow or become more forceful, 
habits of analysis and depth of penetration may increase. Along 
with changes of attitude and intellectual development may go 
changes in general or specific interests. All the impacts of 
experience may play a part in modifying opinion and belief. As far 
as elements of craftsmanship are concerned, development or change 
of style, a growing ability to manipulate structure and to move 
more freely within the limits of a chosen form, these are now 
standard points of reference when the art of a novelist is under 
discussion. I shall choose two aspects, one broadly con-

-- 10 -- 

cerned with attitude and subject matter, the other more narrowly 
concerned with techniques, to demonstrate that Mrs. Gaskell's work 
can be seen to have a unity and a development. The first concerns 
her attitude to society, the second her growing skill in the handling 
of narrative techniques. 

Mrs. Gaskell is best considered, properly considered I would say, as 
a social novelist, but in using the term 'social novelist' I am far from 
thinking solely of her so-called novels of reform, those that 
Cazamian deals with under the title of 'L'Interventionnisme 
ChrŽtien'. *4* Mrs. Gaskell was always concerned with how people 
lived and the social structure that groups of them formed. Her 
range embraces two extremes, at one end the shifting fabric of 
society in the industrial England of the times, at the other end the 
traditional and stratified pattern of social classes which was still the 
accepted theory, and which existed in the country areas with little 
impact from industrialization . She knew both in terms of personal 
experience. Her childhood at Knutsford was spent in a completely 
stable, small country town in which every social group had its 
accustomed place and moved easily by custom within the social 
pattern. Her married life in Manchester gave her first-hand 
experience of the unease in society as new forces overcame caution; 
she was not so conscious of the political forces and economic 
theories as of the shift of population out of the customary social 
routine and of the formation of new social patterns on a large scale 
in which ease of communication between the sections had broken 
down and the sense of being part of a comfortably related whole no 
longer existed. The stable had given place to the unstable. We know 
that for her first novel she had considered, because of her 'deep 
relish and fond admiration for the country', writing a historical tale 
'the period of which was more than a century ago, and the place on 
the borders of Yorkshire', but that she had turned instead to 'the 
romance of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets 
of the town in which I resided.' *5* Collins has pointed out her 
reliance on her sensibility and her strong sympathy for human 
emotion and 


*4* L. Cazamian, _Le Roman social en Angleterre_ (1830-1850), vol. 
2, Didier, Paris, 1935.
*5* _Mary Barton_, p. lxxiii.

-- 11 --

affections; the point to which I wish to draw attention is the 
admission, in talking of her first novel, that she felt compelled to 
write of what was close to her and observable. It is in this sense - 
of observing human beings as they behaved and felt in the social 
scene - that she is a social novelist, and this interest is fundamental 
to all her serious work. _Mary Barton_, the novel in question, is a 
picture of one large social group in Manchester the mill workers. It 
does not try to give a comprehensive picture of Manchester society; 
the masters appear only as they are necessary to the plot, and the 
few pages devoted to their way of life - as seen in the household of 
the Carsons *6* - are almost a burlesque in the exaggeration that 
her unskilled pen produced for the sake of contrast. Other social 
groups are virtually absent. Though the influence of Carlyle is 
strong, *7* political and economic motivation is laboured by 
comparison with the sympathetic insight into the consequences for 
the individuals and the mill-hands as a class. The Chartist 
movement, when it is brought in, is introduced by a section that 
opens with a sort of newspaper cum blue-book rŽsumŽ whose style 
is out of key with the general tenor of the novel, and interest 
quickly moves to: 

     this feeling of alienation between the different classes of 
     society. *8* 

The demand for reform legislation, so prominent in Kingsley's 
_Alton Locke_, is quite lacking. The rare references to reform of 
working conditions - Jane Wilson's accident with unfenced 
machinery, a comment on child labour - are introduced without 
comment. *9* The whole emphasis of the novel is in its account of 
the way of life of one class and its feeling of insecurity and 
isolation. We must endorse, with certain reservations that will 
appear later, Professor Kathleen Tillotson's comment that: 

     It would be better then to remove from _Mary Barton_ the      
     old tag of 'novel with a purpose', implying social, 
     extra-artistic purpose. It w indeed, more perhaps than any 
     other of the time, a novel with a social _effect_, but Mrs. 
     Gaskell wrote, then as always, not with her eye on the effect, 
     but as one possessed with and drenched in her subject. *10*


*6* See especially Chap. 6. 
*7* See _Tillotson_, especially Introductory Section 20. Further 
examples can be found.
*8* _Mary Barton_, p. 95. 
*9* _ibid._, pp. 98 and 110.
*10* _Tillotson_, p. 222. 

-- 12 --

Her next novel, _Ruth_, is similarly a picture of a social group : this 
time with its limits slightly extended. Apart from the introductory 
material which introduces Ruth's background and the history of her 
seduction, we are confined to a cross-section of a small part of 
Eccleston society, the wealthy Unitarian tradesman's circle (the 
Bradshaw family and the Unitarian minister s household (the 
Bensons). It is the _mores_ and behaviour of these groups which 
are Mrs. Gaskell's interest, together with their relationship and the 
strains within each group. The conflicting standards within the 
Bradshaw finally get considerable attention on their own. As with 
_Mary Barton_, other social groups get little of this detailed 
attention, though a fair amount of _space_ is necessary for the 
aristocratic Bellingham because of his part in the plot. Once again 
we can note that he and his way of life are presented in an artificial 
manner ; as necessary contrasts and plot devices. 

While Ruth was being written _Cranford_ was appearing in 
periodical form in _Household Words_. *11* At first sight 
_Cranford_ would appear to have little in common with _Mary 
Barton_ and _Ruth_; in fact an essential element of the three is that 
they are based on familiar experience of a small social group. 
Because of its origins and methods of publication the apparent 
contrast of tone and content - small country town as against 
industrial city; gentle humour as against melodramatic seriousness - 
is reinforced by the difference in form. *12* Yet what we have in 
the three novels is in fact an exploration of the extremes mentioned 
earlier; the society and standards in flux at one extreme, the society 
and standards in stable and traditional form at the other. Mrs. 
Gaskell 'brackets' her objective, which is the social group with the 
standards of its , component smaller groups and individuals. The 
rest of her work is a ranging between these extremes as she 
develops her central interest in observing and analysing the various 
aspects of individual emotion and behaviour, as controlled by social 
custom and belief, that combine to form a unified or disorganized 
society. She never extends her bounds very far, but by the time her 


*11* A preliminary sketch, 'The Last Generation in England', was 
published in the U.S.A. in _Sartains Union Magazine_, July 1849. 
*12* Although, as the series continued, Mrs. Gaskell began to 
develop a plot structure and narrative links. 

-- 13 --

novel, _Wives and Daughters_, is written, she is able to take as her 
field a complete cross-section of a small society, from the 
aristocratic household in the Towers to the farm-1abourers of 
Squire Hamley. She can now operate from a central viewpoint, that 
of the country surgeon on good terms with all levels (Mr. Gibson 
and his household), taking in respectable villagers, yeoman 
gentility, governesses and estate agents. The range is still not very 
wide, but there is a confident handling of several groups within the 
total society and at last the feeling that symptoms of change can be 
absorbed by society without unsettling it unduly. 

I do not wish at this stage to do more than indicate the paths which 
lead from _Mary Barton_ and _Cranford_ to _Wives and Daughters_. 
It is obvious that Mrs. Gaskell is convinced of the need for all 
members of society to have beliefs and attitudes in common; these 
to her are something more than glues to stick society together, they 
are in the nature of a life-blood circulating through the body social 
and preserving its organic unity. Tradition, custom, tolerance, 
respect for the affections and, above all, religion are the main 
elements which she selects from her own experience, personal 
tastes and acquired attitudes as primary ingredients. These prove 
to have a good deal in common with each other, even while they act 
as correctives to undue emphasis on any one particular quality. We 
have noted _Mary Barton_ and _Cranford_ as extremes respectively 
of the fragmented and stable societies of the period; it is apparent 
also that while religion is the suggested cohesive agent in _Mary 
Barton_, tradition and custom are emphasized in _Cranford_. The 
reconciliation element which has been frequently commented on as 
the all too obvious climax of many Gaskell plots is an inevitable 
outcome of this feeling for unity and human brotherhood. But 
having recognized these ingredients we can look briefly and more 
closely at the paths which lead from Knutsford and Manchester. 

The line through _Cranford_ is fairly clear. 'The Moorland Cottage' 
and 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions', immediately precede it; Mrs. 
Browne and Maggie in 'The Moorland Cottage' are forerunners of 
Mrs. Kirkpatrick and Molly Gibson in _Wives and Daughters_ the 
relationship of Maggie to Frank Buxton fore-

-- 14 --

shadows that of Molly to Roger Hamley. _My Lady Ludlow_ is a 
large-scale and on the whole successful attempt (if one discounts 
the disastrous interpolated story of the French Revolution) to show 
what we may call the Cranford ethos facing up to the necessity of 
change as new beliefs and attitudes infiltrate. This was a significant 
advance. Another was that, whereas in _Cranford_ the life was 
observed and its ethos more or less left to be recognized by the 
reader, in _My Lady Ludlow_ an analysis of the various individual 
virtues which make a responsible member of society is attempted. 
These are summed up - using religion as a standard - through the 
eyes of three of the main characters, Mr. Horner, the family estate 
steward, Lady Ludlow herself and Mr. Gray, the new-style 
clergyman with a sense of personal and social (but not a muscular-
Christian) responsibility for his flock: 

     The answer in the Catechism that Mr. Horner was most 
     fond of calling upon a child to repeat, was that to, "What is 
     thy duty towards thy neighbour?" The answer Mr. Gray 
     liked best to hear repeated with unction was that to the 
     question, "What is the inward and spiritual grace?" The 
     reply to which Lady Ludlow bent her head the lowest, as 
     we said our Catechism to her on Sundays, was to, "What is 
     thy duty towards God?" *13* 

In the meantime _Mary Barton_ had been followed by _Ruth_ and 
then by _North and South_, accompanied by shorter stories such as 
'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' (before _Mary Barton_) and 'Lizzie 
Leigh'. All of these explored in one way or another the Manchester 
background, all of them contain injections of religious didacticism. 
Yet the element of 'message' steadily diminishes as the novelist of 
the individual and his relationships becomes more aware of her 
natural bent as a social observer. 

There is another probable reason for the diminution of the 'religious 
message element. Although the effects of industrialization and 
urbanization were growing, the fear of violent upheaval that 
permeated the 1840's was nearly dead. As it became obvious that 
social adjustments, however distasteful, would come naturally, so 
the compulsion to suggest means to mutual understanding 


*13* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 52. 

-- 15 --

diminished, and the capability of viewing change - and the 
resistance to change - with a more detached attitude became 
possible. It also became possible for the comic as well as the 
pathetic aspects of an over-rigid attitude to change to be exploited, 
fortunately for Mrs Gaskell's sense of humour. 

_The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ is vital in Mrs. Gaskell's development, 
for it forced her to concentrate on the individual, her surroundings 
and background in an objective manner. _My Lady Ludlow_ 
appears after it, a novel probably written in reaction to and as a 
relaxation from the intense strain which the rapid production of the 
_Life_ entailed. And we should note the reintroduction of the 
objective narrator, who recounts the events as a reminiscent and 
partly episodic biography. The effect was adventitiously helped by 
the controversy roused by the _Life_. After _Mary Barton_ and 
_Ruth_, each of which had provoked comment, the _Life_ was third 
time unlucky. Mrs Gaskell never again ventured on controversial 
ground, she stuck to observation and more and more allowed 
actions and characters to speak for themselves. 

While these aspects of two different experiences of social attitudes 
(Knutsford and Manchester) were being developed, a third 
miscellaneous group of stories and articles were being produced. 
Discounting the more obvious pot-boilers (Dickens was a demanding 
editor and _Household Words_ followed a well-defined 'party-1ine') 
we can see Mrs. Gaskell exploring small social situations and 
traditional behaviour in other areas, such as North Wales and 
France. She has a good deal of the zest and inquisitiveness of the 
sociologist and cultural anthropologist, whether discussing the 
_mores_ of salon etiquette or the temperament of the Cumberland 
statesman. *14* The objectivity and interests of the social historian 
are rapidly becoming dominant, as is apparent in her handling of 
the New England witchcraft trials in 'Lois the Witch', which 
appeared in 1859.

There is a long gap - five years - between _My Lady Ludlow_ and 
her next novel, _Sylvia's Lovers_, published in 1863. By now the 
social historian is in the ascendant. The story is set back sixty 


*14* 'Company Manners' and 'Half a Life-time Ago' are respectively 
examples of each.

-- 16 --

years, the social background carefully and skilfully depicted and 
though the final section contrives the religious element somewhat 
didactically again, this is now noticeably out of key with the tone 
and manner of the earlier powerful sections, and is at least partly 
attributable to the fact that her technique had still not finally 
resolved the problem of shaping a satisfactory plot conclusion. But 
by now she was prepared to forgo dramatic plots in her work. (Two 
more stories for Dickens in _All the Year Round_, which are still 
melodramatic, are well below her possible level and are obvious 
potboilers.) *15* With _Cousin Phillis_ Mrs. Gaskell emerges as the 
detached yet sympathetic observer of the small social group whose 
activities - and, in terms of plot, actions - spring naturally from 
character and social background. The time - near contemporary - is 
just sufficiently distanced to avoid irrelevant doubts about the 
validity of events or matters of transient interest; in settling finally 
for the country town and country setting she by-passes the more 
immediate political and economic problems of industrial change. Yet 
she can use the advent of the railway as the medium for hinting at 
change and, more importantly, for bringing in a 'modern' character 
- the engineer Holdsworth - as the disruptive element dropped 
among the more conservative, more strongly principled Holman 
family. Within this narrow compass, and with a native love of the 
background she describes, she can dispense with melodrama while 
watching the acutely observed reactions of the small group. 

The ground is prepared for _Wives and Daughters_, the extension to 
a large-scale work of this type of observation. The setting is now 
finally chosen, country rather than town, but with the outside world 
moving in and beginning to modify the local world of the 
Hollingford inhabitants. The Cranford type is represented, but is 
only a part - an eccentric, respected and loved but slightly absurd 
part - of the community. The aristocracy of the Towers has both the 
paternal outlook of Lady Ludlow in the parents, and the modern 
awareness of contemporary life represented by their 


*15* 'A Dark Night's Work' and 'Crowley Castle'. Mrs. Gaskell by this 
time was placating Dickens with occasional stories and reserving 
her good writing for the _Cornhill_, which allowed a free hand in 
composition and content. 

-- 17 --

children. The industrial world of Manchester exists only as a hint; it 
was impossible to regard it with the detachment necessary for the 
social observer but the experience gained in depicting its social 
groups and their interactions was used. The result is a fully 
conceived and executed study of a small society. Society is changing, 
for the surgeon's daughter will marry the squire s son, who is a 
scientist and a friend of the heir to The Towers, and she is herself 
on friendly and unpatronized, if not familiar, terms with the 
daughter of The Towers. The new generation is moving up behind 
the old, but not pushing it, not disturbing the essential stability of 
the social fabric or the principles which maintain it, only accepting 
the elements of change and weaving them into the tradition. And 
with this achieved ability to observe and analyse in a detached 
manner, the need to proselytize for religion has also disappeared. 
Change is to be expected, but fear for ultimate social stability has 
gone; the ironic as well as the sympathetic viewpoint is possible. 

The development of a novelist is just as much a matter of the 
growth of artistic control and powers and methods of expression as 
it is of the growth of imaginative insight and self-knowledge, or the 
gradual clarifying of aims and themes. Mrs. Gaskell was a fluent 
writer and natural story-teller from the beginning, but she began as 
an uncertain novelist. Much of the discussion about the gradual 
realization of her true bent and interests, and of her development 
to the mature social novelist of _Wives and Daughters_, has implied 
a necessary, parallel, artistic development. 

As far as style is concerned, Mrs. Gaskell had the natural gift of 
narrative ease and fluency - perhaps too much fluency. Her letters 
and her predilection for Mme. de SŽvigny can be produced in 
evidence. But she had also an ear for speech rhythms and a genuine 
interest in problems of narration. 'They knew, she says of Mme. de 
SablŽ's friends: 

     They knew how to narrate, too. Very simple, say you? I 
     say, no! I believe the art of telling a story is born with 
     some people, and these have it to perfection; but all 
     might acquire some expertness in it, and ought to do so, 
     before launching out into the muddled, complex, 
     hesitating, broken, disjointed, poor, bald, accounts of 
     events which 

-- 18 --

     have neither unity, nor colour, nor life, nor end in them, 
     that one sometimes hears. *16* 

Comments on the use of language abound in her stories - 'if I live in 
a factory town,' says Margaret Hale, 'I must speak factory language 
when I want it.' *17* And of course _Mary Barton_ is an early 
experiment in the serious use of dialect. A certain facility and 
abundant flow were never quite controlled, though she improved 
greatly. *18 * The experienced novelist's sense of taste - for the 
correct nuance, the correct detail - was slower in coming; there are 
unfortunate lapses, particularly in the areas of pathos and passion, 
until very late in her career. 

The control of a plot structure is in evidence from the beginning, 
but with a taste for melodrama and showing the influences of many 
conventions jumbled together. The shift to more precisely 
controlled and detailed character motivation, along with a 
concentration of the story line round fewer and more closely 
integrated sub-plots that have a direct bearing on the social theme, 
is another aspect of development. Mrs. Gaskell had also to learn to 
make her skill in narrating an episode subserve the needs of the 
novel as a whole ; I have already mentioned the digression in _My 
Lady Ludlow_. 

The most important development is probably in the gradual shift 
away from the use of authorial commentary. Recent critical works 
on Victorian novelists have drawn attention to the use and 
importance of this method in Victorian fiction. Mrs. Gaskell, when 
writing _Mary Barton_, accepted and used the convention to the full 
to expound her views about social and individual understanding as 
well as for narrative links, character analysis, and comment on 
action and emotion. But this method is unsuitable to the 
presentation of a community through the behaviour and speech of 
its members, particularly if behaviour and speech are themselves to 
carry ironic implications. She was by nature a 


*16* 'Company Manners', _Ruth_, p. 508. 
*17* _North and South_, p. 281. 
*18* The MSS. of Mrs. Gaskell that I have seen have all been 
remarkably clean and appear to have been written with an 
extraordinarily steady flow. It is possible that these were fair 
copies, but the MS. letters show the same fluency and command of 
detail, the same absence of correction or second thoughts. 

-- 19 --

descriptive writer, describing places and people, the society in its 
setting ; she concentrates more and more on letting the scene and 
its occupants speak for themselves, and on absorbing herself in the 
subject. The attempt to persuade, guide and influence her readers 
went against the grain of her natural abilities. She writes to Norton 
in 1858: 

     I _can_ not (it is not _will_ not) write at all if I ever think 
     of my readers, & what impression I am making on them. 
     'If they don't like me, they must _lump_ me' to use a 
     Lancashire proverb. It is from no despising my readers. 
     I am sure I don't do that, but if I ever let the thought 
     or consciousness of them come between me & my subject 
     I _could_ not write at all. *19* 

Authorial commentary demands, or is a product of, continual 
thinking about one's readers. Thackeray is an example. While 
writing the earlier 'novels with a purpose' Mrs. Gaskell had felt that 
it was necessary to explain both the background and her views 
about it, but this direct injection of a personal comment into the 
narrative was, I have suggested, unsatisfactory. Her real interest as 
a novelist was in the individuals and their background; the 
humanitarian gloss on them led on to lack of balance, particularly 
where it gave openings for the author's sensitivity to the emotional 
and the pathetic. 

In _Cranford_ however written for personal pleasure and to suit 
her own interests, such commentary is almost totally absent. 
Instead the device of the narrator/character speaking from within 
the scene is successfully employed and the society of Amazons is 
left to present itself, which it does very well as Mrs. Gaskell is 
thoroughly at home in its idioms and customs. Another device used 
in some of the shorter stories is to begin with the narrator 
describing a setting she knows, and then going on to recount a tale 
about the place ; this method again allows of impartiality and 
knowledge, though more liable to the occasional intrusion of 
authorial comment. *20* The short stories, mediocre as some of 
them are, are further important because in them Mrs. Gaskell is 
able to 


*19* _Letters_, p. 20. 10 May 1858. 
*20* e.g. 'The well of Pen Morfa', 'The Doom of the Griffiths'. 

-- 20 --

Mrs. Gaskell forget herself in the process of writing up an exciting 
or moving episode; the practice obtained over several years was 

By the time that _Sylvia's Lovers_ was written, the author as 
personal commentator, as distinct from the author as narrator, has 
more or less vanished from the scene, taking with her much of the 
pious and sentimental comment that modern taste finds 
unpalatable. Not all of it goes; even if the duty of bearing witness to 
God in public has now given place to the novelist's sense that it 
would 'come between me and my subject' there is still an element 
of explanation which the sociological spirit of Mrs. Gaskell is 
impelled to favour. Comparison between past and present can still 
bring her on to the stage with her pointer: 

     In looking back to the last century, it appears curious to 
     see how little our ancestors had the power of putting two 
     things together, and perceiving either the discord or 
     harmony thus produced. Is it because we are farther off 
     from those times, and have, consequently, a greater range 
     of vision? Will our descendants have a wonder about us,
     such as we have about the inconsistency of our forefathers, 
     or a surprise at our blindness . . . ? It is well for us that we 
     live at the present time, when everybody is logical and 
     consistent. *21* 

I have quoted the passage at some length for two reasons. In the 
first place it shows that the author is now appearing in person 
because the central theme - social contrast and individual contrast - 
is at issue. The second reason is that the author is taking her role as 
commentator less gravely; irony is contained in the body of 
comment while the conclusion turns the ironic gaze on to the 
present as well as the past. Mrs. Gaskell the novelist and ironical 
observer (she has not the sustained intensity of satire of a Jane 
Austen to qualify as a social satirist) - the essential Mrs. Gaskell of 
the novels, I have suggested - has moved into what is left of the 
commentator's chair. 

The author as omniscient narrator remains; Henry James was old 
enough to review _Wives and Daughters_ favourably but the 
Jamesian revolution was still to come. Yet even this narrator is far 
more retiring than in earlier novels; dialogue, internal thought 


* 21* _Sylvia's Lovers_, pp. 71-2. 

-- 21 --

and direct description have assumed far more importance; the story 
is carried along by the actions and comments of the people in it. 
Moral points and attitudes are now voiced by individuals; we are 
left to judge them by our knowledge of the character. 

The process is in fact a continuous one from _Mary Barton_ 
onwards; the development of control of structure grows along with 
concentration on the story itself and on its characters as vehicles of 
the author's attitude to replace the author's personal intrusion. And 
though one hesitates to talk about 'point of view at what is still an 
early stage in the development of the novel, there can be little 
doubt, from the internal narrative method of _Cranford_ and the 
'defined narrator' method of some of the other stories, that Mrs. 
Gaskell was aware of the problem. of narration. It was solved easily 
enough in the short story or episode, the three-volume novel 
demanded more handling. 

The story of the origin of Mrs. Gaskell's first novel is well enough 
known - that her husband suggested that she write something to 
take her mind off the death of their only son when still a baby. The 
suggestion was made to a natural story-teller; the first novel led to 
many others. It took Mrs. Gaskell time to bring into focus the things 
she really wanted to write about; yet having something she wanted 
to write about, she developed her technique as she sharpened the 
focus and discarded elements which, however important to her as a 
sincerely religious and humane woman, were irrelevant finally to 
her as a novelist, or could not be introduced in the raw state 
without upsetting the balance of the total novel. The necessary 
attitudes and opinions were absorbed into the characters of the 
books until she was able to stand aside and, having selected her 
central character, work through her to reflect the surrounding social 
scene. Form and content develop together. In _Mary Barton_, Mary 
is often considerably off-centre. Manchester is presented to us 
separately much of the time. By the time _Wives and Daughters_ is 
written we have a heroine - Molly Gibson - who is squarely and 
alertly at the centre; Hollingford and its characters emerge through 
her eyes end standards, yet distinct in their individual variation. 

Joyce Cary says of art in general that: 

-- 22 -- 

     the work of art as completely realised is the result of a 
     long and complex process of exploration, as well as 

and later adds that: 

     novelists discover new aspects of their theme, and also 
     new limitations of their technique, as they work. *22* 

The exploration of theme and technique go together. Where there is 
little or no exploration of theme, it is possible for a writer still to 
refine his technique, but I doubt whether it is in any way possible 
for technique to stand still while the 'complex process of 
exploration' of theme is carried on. Criticism of Mrs. Gaskell in the 
past has largely negleted to consider her technical artistry, and in 
neglecting it has ignored also a good deal that would give more 
insight into her aims and themes. Certainly the nature of her 
achievement has not yet been evaluated. There is evidence for 
believing that the view, still widely held, that she is an intuitive 
novelist, relying on her natural insight and a natural gift for story-
telling, is a very mistaken one. 


*22* Joyce Cary, _Art and Reality_, C.U.P., 1958, pp. 86-7. 

-- 23 --


_Religion and Purpose_

IN order to understand what a writer of fiction is achieving, or 
failing to achieve, it is necessary to grasp clearly the nature of the 
elements which go to make up the 'world' of his novels. It is related 
to reality yet not a copy of it; as Warren puts it:

     The great novelists all have such a world - recognizable 
     as overlapping the empirical world but distinct in its 
     self-coherent intelligibility. *1*

This world may be, as Warren goes on to point out, pre-eminently 
physical or spiritual; Hardy's Wessex or Graham Greene land; its 
characteristic is a quality which distinguishes the whole of a 
writer's output (or all that is important). We might add that the 
social world may also deserve recognition as a separate element. It 
is a useful starting point to realize that any novelist worth 
considering will impress us at one and the same time with the 
general validity of the standards of his world, and the individual 
nature of it as represented through viewpoint and the process of 
selection. We recognize common elements in the worlds of 
Thackeray and Dickens without ever confusing the two, for the 
contemporary empirical world is firmly shaped by the viewpoint 
and art of each. We need further to bear in mind that some 
elements of the past which have been blurred to recent critical 
vision by prejudice or ignorance may come to be seen more clearly 
as changes occur in awareness and taste. This is indeed what has 
been happening with the Victorian novelists; a redefinition of their 
empirical world is under way, with consequent adjustments to the 
distinct worlds of the novelists who interpret it. The redefinition 
embraces artistic methods and moral values.


*1* R. Wellek and A. Warren, _Theory of Literature_, Harvest Books, 
New York, 1960, p. 203.

-- 24 --

It becomes necessary then to see whether such a world is 
discoverable in Mrs. Gaskell's novels; a world in part shared with 
her fellow Victorians, in part shared only with those of her 
immediate society and background, and given a distinctive quality 
by her individual feelings, attitudes and talents.

The most superficial reading of her work shows that regional, social, 
and spiritual interests are each important, and we need to be clear 
about the nature of these. But we must also note that the balance 
and treatment of such interests alter, and that in the course of her 
career this shift of emphasis affects the nature of her work as has 
already been suggested in general terms. For our purpose it will 
suffice to examine in some detail certain of the key elements which 
throw light on her development as a novelist and which can be 
accepted as important enough - not merely in her work but in 
terms of general interest - to be of major significance for any 
reassessment. While pursuing this aim we should not forget, as 
strong presumptive evidence in her favour, the point made by Dr. 
Johnson in his _Preface to Shakespeare_:

     To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute 
     and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not 
     raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but 
     appealing wholly to observation and experience, no other 
     test can be applied than length of duration and continuance 
     of esteem. *2*

Before discussing the use which Mrs. Gaskell makes, as a novelist, of 
religion, it is necessary to know just what the term 'religion' means 
as far as her novels are concerned. There are two possible meanings 
concealed in it, each controlled by a number of factors:

     (_a_) There is the precise nature of the faith held by the 
          individual (which may in itself be a personal 
          interpretation of an accepted body of belief), 
          distinguishing it from other current faiths or 
          overlapping with them.
     (_b_) There is the field of influence or behaviour covered 
          by the term, i.e. the extent to which religion is not 
          confined to the notion of a specific faith but subsumes 
          areas of morals, ethics, etc.


*2* Walter Raleigh, _Johnson on Shakespeare_, O.U.P., 1931, p. 9.

-- 25 --

The distinction is not always easy to snake, and about as difficult as 
it can be in Mrs. Gaskell's case. She was a Unitarian, and 
Unitarianism is about as undogmatic a religion as Christianity 
allows, one which places its emphasis largely on ethics and conduct. 
At least, this was so of the leading Unitarians of the time when Mrs. 
Gaskell lived, and of the circle she moved in; it is this religion that I 
shall discuss, not the narrower, more fanatical versions that have 
also been seen.

It is extraordinarily difficult to give any precise definition of 
Unitarianism in the nineteenth century. As Holt points out, 'The 
older Unitarians prided themselves on being unsectarian and 
having no creed. The opening number of their weekly periodical 
_The Inquirer_ stated this point of view quite clearly in 1842.' *3* 
As its name implies, a belief in the unipersonality of the Godhead 
instead of the Trinity, and in Socinianism (a denial of Christ's 
divinity) were in the tradition of its foundation, but the old-
established English congregations had moved away from any 
doctrinal emphasis.

The importance of faith in God, the appeal to the individual heart 
and judgement, the ignoring of official elements, all show its roots 
to be in the nonconformist tradition. Its lack of sectarian bile is 
striking. Its great reliance on the Bible will become obvious when 
the novels are discussed, and the Bible's importance as providing an 
ethic and a code of conduct is fundamental.

In a sermon published a few years after his marriage, the Rev. 
William Gaskell preached against intolerance by Protestant 
theologians, and defended Unitarianism on the principle of liberty 
of interpretation of the Scriptures and on the grounds that no man 
can claim infallibility for his views. He sets out the task which he 

As liberal Christians, I should say, that the work to which we are 
more immediately called is . . . in labouring to bring them [our 
Protestant Brethren] to a fuller recognition of the great fundamental 
principles in which we all profess to be agreed. *4*


*3* Raymond V. Holt, _The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress 
in England_, Allen and Unwin, 1938, p. 339.
*4* _Protestant Practices Inconsistent with Protestant Principles_, R. 
Hunter, St. Paul's Churchyard, 1836, p. 8. The term 'liberal' to mean 
free from prejudice was current. (See _O.E.D._)
-- 26 --

and his view of the Gospel is that:

     It is simply the highest teacher of humanity. *5*

In a later sermon he argues that one cannot accept any particular 
view as correct. As a Unitarian he is not prepared to accept all bible 
interpretation as merely speculative, although he does not deny 
that good may exist outside of his own beliefs. His point is that 
error induces deterioration, and that errors of belief are bound 
finally to lead to errors of conduct. *6* In a still later sermon, with a 
title suggestive for a later stage of my argument, _Unitarians Called 
to Bear Witness to the Truth_, *7* while reaffirming his view that 
errors of interpretation need to be fought against, he points out that 
intelligent artisans reject stupid orthodoxy and religion altogether 
because of it. He then goes on to attack the popular interpretations 
which present a religion based on fear:

     It is a thing of gloom and terror, not of light and love; that 
     which is kept in view as a last resource, rather than 
     cherished as a constant presence of comfort and joy. *8*

The relevance of these comments to Mrs. Gaskell's work will be 
seen to be obvious. Their importance is twofold; they represent the 
official Unitarian view put by one of the leading Unitarian 
authorities, and they are at the same time the views of a husband 
who was also an adviser and critic for at least the earlier novels. 
Mrs. Gaskell was a Unitarian by birth and upbringing; these would 
have been views that she accepted. At the moment we can note 
certain points. These are briefly the playing down of sectarian 
differences and the stressing of general Christian principles; the 
importance of the Bible as the source of truth; the relation of belief 
to conduct; the stress on comfort and love as the chief attributes. 
The shrewd comment on 'the intelligent artisan' is more of a special 
reference to the Manchester experience, but it does denote a view 
that one's religion should be rationally as well as emotionally 
satisfying, its reasonableness residing in its connection with 
common sense and normally accepted decent


*5* ibid., p. 19.
*6* _Some Evil Tendencies of the Popular Theology_, West Riding 
Tracts, 1847.
*7* Published by Edward T. Whitfield, Strand, 1862.	
*8* ibid., p. 13.

-- 27 --

behaviour and feeling, not in intellectual subtleties or dogma. 'One 
God, no Hell and twenty shillings in the Pound,' as it was later 
summed up, *9* or as Darwin's grandfather had contemptuously 
called it, 'A feather-bed to catch a falling Christian'. *10*

It must be added that Unitarianism  was very far removed socially 
from the conventicles and bethels of Dissent. It was, when Mrs. 
Gaskell knew it, a religion rooted in a tradition that was partly 
Anglican, worshipping in churches that were often as venerable as 
many of the local Anglican ones. Its membership inclined to the 
solid middle-class or wealthier upper-class; manufacturers and 
professional men with some pretensions to taste and culture (the 
Wedgewoods, Darwins, Turners and Hollands were connected by 
marriages; Mrs. Gaskell's mother was a Holland), and such people 
mixed easily with the accepted social world at this level. There 
were poor Unitarians, as there were poor Anglicans, ministers and 
congregations; the modest circumstances of Mr. Benson are 
reputedly copied front those of the Newcastle minister, Mr. Turner, 
with whom Mrs. Gaskell had stayed, *11* but by and large her own 
experience of it was as a traditional and comfortable world. In 
Manchester itself the Unitarians were socially and culturally in the 
leading stratum, while the intellectual and independent quality of 
Unitarian training and teaching was well known. It is not badly 
summed up by J. A. Froude when he calls it 'that latest form of 
orthodoxy'. *12* There was nothing in this background to tempt 
towards thoughts of radically reforming the social or governmental 
structure - the Christian Socialism of Kingsley's novels is far more 
outspoken - or to the type of satire directed by social or political 
animus. Mrs. Gaskell was of the ruling party, at least in her realm of 
Manchester, nor


*9* Quoted in R. H. Mottram, _Portrait of an Unknown Victorian_, 
Hale, 1936, p. 269.
*10* Francis Darwin, _The Autobiography of Charles Darwin_, Dover 
(N.Y.), 1958, p. 213. For fuller accounts of Unitarian doctrine in the 
nineteenth century see K. Scott Latoutette, _Christianity in a 
Revolutionary Age_, Vol. 2, Chap. 28, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1960; 
L. F. Elliott-Binns, _Religion in the Victorian Era_, Lutterworth Press, 
2nd Ed., 1946; and S. C. Carpenter, _Church and People 1789-1889_, 
Vol. 3, S.P.C.K. Seraph Books, 1959. Articles in the _Oxford 
Dictionary of the Christian Church_, and the major Encyclopaedias 
are also useful. The impact of rationalism and biblical scholarship 
came too late to affect Mrs. Gaskell's version of Unitarianism.
*11* _Chadwick_, p. 103.
*12* W. H. Dunn, _James Anthony Froude: A Biography 1818-1876_, 
O.U.P., 1961, p. 99.

-- 28 --

was there any residue of bitterness from childhood or youth to be 
worked out of her system. We find instead that religion is regarded 
as a conciliating and stabilizing force, teaching acquiescence and 
patient endurance as well as a sense of human rights in matters of 
industrial and social conditions (though there is a growing 
realization, especially in the field of personal emotions that occupies 
her more and more, that cause and effect do not operate so 
demonstrably as the neat solutions of the earlier novels would 
suggest). Carlyle was an influence in her early work and Carlyle's 
broad unsectarian outlook did not clash with the tolerance of her 
own views.

Before going further we can place Mrs. Gaskell in her contemporary 
world. Behind the individual religion lies the general body of 
Victorian religiousness. Sectarian distinctions and squabbles merge 
into a larger whole of:

     the immensity of the effort made in the middle of the 
     century by religious Englishmen from every Church, 
     Dissenting Protestant, Roman Catholic and Church of 
     England, to evangelize and civilize those who seemed 
     to have been deprived of the Christian message by the 
     growth of the population, by the results of the wandering 
     of the people or the failures of the previous centuries. *13*

We are apt in thinking of Victorian England to recall, whether 
approvingly or not, its religious ambience; or at least to recall the 
'honest doubt' that troubled the mind of Clough and raged more 
hectically into the controversies of the time. But the religious census 
of 1851 showed statistically what many observers already knew 
from experience, that nearly half the population of England had 
little or no contact with religion at all. *14* The urban areas were 
particularly notorious. Disraeli's account of the see of the 'Bishop of 
Wodgate' where:

     No church there has yet raised its spire; and, as if the 
     jealous spirit of


*13* G. Kitson Clark, _The Making of Victorian England_, Methuen, 
1962, p. 176 To these factors We can add intellectual doubts from 
various causes, leading to attitudes ranging from Latitudinarianism 
to Atheism. Causes and attitudes are both to be found in Mrs. 
Gaskell's work.
*14* ibid., p. 149 and notes. A detailed analysis can be found in 
Elliott-Binns, op. cit.

-- 29 --

     Woden still haunted his ancient temple, even the 
     conventicle scarcely dares show its humble front in 
     some obscure corner. *15*

is echoed in Dickens's picture of a Coketown where the inhabitants

     lounged listlessly, gazing at all the church and chapel going 
     as a thing with which they had no manner of concern. *16*

The knowledge that much of England's population was more in need 
of the light than the so-called heathen added urgency to a general 
religious revival already given momentum by such forces as the 
Evangelical and Tractarian movements. And it united with the 
goadings of a tender and rapidly developing moral and social public 

It is against this background that a good deal of Mrs. Gaskell's work 
has to be seen. Even without considering what niceties of character 
and shades of belief prompted her to speak out - and she was a shy 
woman where making public statements was concerned *17* - we 
can see her as adding her contribution to the growing volume of 
protest about the condition of England. The question is, what 
particular aspect of the condition was she hoping to treat? The 
social or the religious?

The answer must be, I think, the religious. It would be futile to 
claim that she was unaware of the social problem in Manchester, 
just as it is important to bear in mind that religious, moral and 
social movements formed part of one larger movement in which the 
energies of all three united. To write about Manchester, for anyone 
possessed of a conscience and a sense of responsibility - let alone 
someone strongly influenced by Carlyle - meant inevitably writing 
about conditions in Manchester. My argument is that Mrs. Gaskell 
began writing with an awareness of the need to bring religion 
actively and purposefully into the lives of those who either lacked 
it or had been led to doubt it, or who only superficially professed it. 
The importance of religion could be dramatized in terms of a 
conflict that did in fact exist, between workers and employers; 
though the normally stated terms of the conflict


*15* B. Disraeli, _Sybil_, Penguin, 1954, p. 162.
*16* Charles Dickens, _Hard Times_, O.U.P. 1955, p. 23.
*17* See the letters to F. J. Furnival quoted on p. 241.
-- 30 --

were social and industrial. Mrs. Gaskell knew by experience quite 
enough about the conflict and its local setting to recognize a mass of 
material ready made for transformation into a novel. But her 
emphasis is on the need for religion, not for social reform; she sees 
the latter as one desirable outcome of the former when she begins 
to write. The essential change, in other words, has to be made in the 
souls and hearts of individuals.

The short preface to her first novel, _Mary Barton_, makes two 
main points. The first is that conditions of life in Manchester 
created bitterness between suffering workers and prosperous 
employers. The second is the need to do something to lessen the 
feeling of isolation that the workers felt. She concludes her 
comments on the first point by stating that:

     It is enough to say, that this belief of the injustice and 
     unkindness which they [the workers] endure from their 
     fellow-creatures taints what might be resignation to 
     God's will, and turns it to revenge in many of the poor 
     uneducated factory-workers of Manchester. *18*

Having thus made her point that religion is in danger (and that 
society is being endangered because of it; the final paragraph of the 
Preface refers to the 1848 revolutions) she briefly gives her 
suggestions on how to improve matters. But the matters she wishes 
to improve have little to do with the basic causes of the suffering. 
Her attitude in the Preface, and the novel bears it out, is that the 
greatest suffering is the sense of isolation, the feeling that nobody 

     the agony of suffering without the sympathy of the 
     happy, or of erroneously believing that such is the case. 

Consequently the remedy she proposes is to show the sufferers that 
people do care, and to try by public and private effort:

     to disabuse the workpeople of so miserable a 
     misapprehension. *20*

In this sense _Mary Barton_ originated as a moral deed, as the 
earnestly careful style of the Preface underlines. It was a task 
peculiarly suited to Mrs. Gaskell's sensitivity to individual feeling


*18* _Mary Barton_, pp. lxxiii-lxxiv.	
*19* ibid., p.1xxiv.	
*20* ibid., p. 8.

-- 31 --

and to the social nuances of the classes she knew. What she failed to 
realize at the time was that the moral duty, genuinely felt though it 
was, acted as a cloak in which the creative urge could assert itself 
Part of the history of her development as a novelist lies in her 
reluctance to discard the shelter of the cloak.

The concern for a stable society and sympathy between 'fellow 
creatures' - the phrase 'resignation to God's will' is appallingly 
informative - is what governs the emotional slant of the novel, and 
religion is the operating agent suggested. Barton's first outburst 
leads up to the comparison that:

     we are to live as separate as if we were in two worlds; 
     ay, as separate as Dives and Lazarus . . . 

putting the social grudge in biblical terms. The comparison is 
continued when Wilson waits at Carson's door for help, the poor 
man waiting for the crumbs of comfort, and the direct reference is 
repeated after Barton's return from the abortive Chartist march in 
London, 'Still at the old parable of Dives and Lazarus!' *21*

The main story in _Mary Barton_ is that of the honest, proud and 
intelligent working man so embittered by circumstances and lack of 
sympathy that he finally murders a mill-owner's son as an act of 
representative vengeance. In growing embittered he becomes as a 
natural consequence more isolated in his community; both 
humanity and faith lose their power to guide him. Mary Barton, his 
daughter, really loves Jem Wilson, who is arrested after having 
threatened the murdered man for trying to seduce Mary, and it is 
her efforts that produce the melodramatic last-minute
that saves him. John Barton, sick from self-imposed hardship and 
the pangs of hunger and conscience realizes how mistaken his 
attitude has been, and in a chapter fittingly (in later editions) 
entitled 'Forgive us our Trespasses' dies in the arms of the 
murdered man's father while Mary prays with them. Various 
subplots and sub-themes are worked into the fabric of the story.


*21* _Mary Barton_, p. 112. The 'Dives and Lazarus' treatment of 
the distinction between rich and poor is carried through the novel; 
see notably pp. 195 and 425. Disraeli's phrase 'the Two Nations' 
probably fathered the 'two worlds', though _Sybil_ does not appear 
to have been an influence on _Mary Barton_.
-- 32 --

These include a number of exemplary histories; those of Barton's 
sister-in-law Esther who is led by vanity through seduction into 
prostitution, of old Alice Wilson who keeps her simple faith and 
love in the hardest conditions, of her sailor nephew Will who falls in 
love with Margaret, Job Legh's niece, herself going blind but 
retaining her courage and hope. And constantly present as an 
essential setting for the characters and the complicated plot is 
Manchester, Carlyle's 'Sooty Manchester. . . built on the infinite 
Abysses;' *22* or in her own paraphrase:

     Ugly, smoky Manchester; dear, busy, earnest, 
     noble-working Manchester. . . where God had cast 
     their lives, and told them to work out their destiny. 

Organized religion does not exist in this world, is so remote that it 
does not even warrant comment. Although the characters are 
shown as living at times in such conditions that 'they only wanted a 
Dante to record their sufferings', *24* no priest or minister is ever 
mentioned. The very rare references to churches show that they 
exist vaguely in the background as buildings, but not as a force. A 
church clock strikes, the 'Oud Church' is used as a concert-hall or for 
getting married, the statement that a minor character has been to 
church turns out to be a method of drawing attention to the time 
scheme. *25* Only once in the whole book is religion linked to 
formal worship in any way. That is when old Alice is dying and her 
memory wanders back to childhood, far away from Manchester:

     with old scraps of ballads, or old snatches of primitive 
     versions of the Psalms (such as are sung in country 
     churches half draperied over with ivy, and where the 
     running brook, or the murmuring wind among the

*22* _Past and Present_, Book 3, Chap. 15, Chapman and Hall, 1905, 
p. 196. The whole chapter is an outburst against the confusion of 
religion with creed, and for that matter with reform. The comment, 
'Fancy a man, moreover, recommending his fellow men to believe in 
God . . . that the Manchester Operative be got to spin peaceably!' 
must have given Mrs. Gaskell pause.
*23* 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras', _Mary Barton_, p. 477.
*24* The reference is an echo of Carlyle's reference to the story of 
Ugolino in the proem to _Past and Present_. Pp. 94-6 of _Mary 
Barton_ which deal with the depression period of I839-41 owe a 
debt to the account in the proem of conditions in Stockport.
*25* _Mary Barton_. The page references are to 150, 53, 100 and 
315 respectively.

-- 33 --

     trees, makes fit accompaniment to the chorus of human 
     voices uttering praise and thanksgiving to their God) . . . *26*

Simpler times, rural communities, a natural life in natural 
surroundings, these are the suggested conditions in which a church 
could embody the religion of those who lived around it. Urban 
Manchester had no connexion with nature or with natural life, there 
was little enough to offer praise or thanksgiving for. But the 
impulse to religion, the true feeling in the individual heart, could 
still exist even though organized religion had by implication nothing 
to offer save its necessary conventions for marriage and death. Just 
as the opening chapter shows the impulse to get out into the 
country as being still a strong one, so that: 

     the artisan, deafened with the noise of tongues and 
     engines, may come to listen awhile to the delicious sounds 
     of rural life. *27*

so the purpose of the novel is to show that religion has a similar 
freshness and goodness to offer in the conditions of industrial life. 
It is the simplest essence of Christianity, the love of man for man 
within the love of God, that controls the feeling behind _Mary 
Barton_. It is expressed by Mrs. Wilson as she comforts Mary after 
her father's death; the cadences and echoes of the Bible adding 
force and authority to the personal statement:

     Thou'rt not alone; so donnot take on so. I'll say nought of 
     Him who's above, for thou knowest He is ever the orphan's 
     friend; but think on Jem! nay, Mary, dear, think on me! I'm 
     but a frabbit woman at times, but I've a heart within me 
     through all my temper, and thou shalt be as a daughter 
     henceforward, as mine own ewe-lamb. Jem shall not love 
     thee better in his way, than I will in mine; and thou'lt bear 
     with my turns, Mary, knowing that in my soul God sees the 
     love that shall ever be thine, if thou'lt take me for thy 
     mother, and speak no more of being alone.

To which the author adds her own comment:

     Mrs. Wilson was weeping herself long before she had 
     ended this speech, which was so different to all she had 
     planned to say, and from


*26* _Mary Barton_, p. 312. The description is of the Unitarian 
chapel in Knutsford. The influence of Knutsford recollections will be 
dealt with separately.
*27* ibid., p. 2.
-- 34 --

     all the formal piety she had laid in store for the visit; 
     for this was heart's piety, and needed no garnish of texts 
     to make it true religion, pure and undefiled. *28*

The primary appeal of religion is then through the 'heart's piety', in 
itself surely a verbal echo of Wordsworth's 'natural piety' and a 
reminder that the Wordsworthian ethos, as interpreted by the 
Victorians, is an influence to be reckoned along with that of Carlyle. 

It is important to note that in this, her first novel, the basic 
assumption of an inherent goodness in humanity that can be given 
direction and fortified by faith is the major principle. The theme 
that faith provides individual support and a sure guidance 
permeates _Mary Barton_. Davenport, the workman whose death 
from fever and starvation is made the peg for one of Mrs. Gaskell's 
most vivid descriptions of the horrifying conditions in which so 
many families lived, is shown as supported by his faith. Wilson 
recalls a letter Davenport wrote home when looking for work:

     It were as good as Bible-words; Ne'er a word o' repining; a' 
     about God being our Father, and that we mun bear patiently 
     whate'er He sends. *30*

and this reliance on God, with its accompanying duty to accept 
affliction and help others, is illustrated constantly throughout the 
novel as well as being reinforced by authorial comment.

But the crucial issue is John Barton's own loss of faith as he sees the 
disparity between the Christian ethic of common humanity and the 
daily facts of human selfishness and contrasting conditions:

     John Barton's overpowering thought, which was to work 
     out his fate on earth, was rich and poor; why are they so 
     separate, so distinct,


*28* ibid., p. 439.
*29* This influence is examined in Humphry House's 'Wordsworth's 
Fame', _English Critical Essays, Twentieth Century, Second Series_, 
O.U.P., 1958. Carlyle is influenced by Wordsworth, as Basil Willey 
shows in his _Nineteenth Century Studies_, Chatto and Windus, 
1949. Mrs. Gaskell was widely read in the Romantics and she quotes 
from Wordsworth. The descriptive influence is more immediately 
obvious, but compare her story 'The Crooked Branch' with 
Wordsworth's 'Michael' for a direct debt in theme and to some
extent plot.
*30* _Mary Barton_, p. 72.

-- 35 --

     when God has made them all? It is not His will that 
     their interests are so far apart. Whose doing is it? *31*

This comment receives its gloss in Barton's dying words:

     At last I gave it up in despair, trying to make folks' actions 
     square wi' th' Bible; and I thought I'd no longer labour at 
     following th' Bible mysel. I've said all this afore, maybe. 
     But from that time I've dropped down, down - down. *32*

What we have been reading, in other words, is the history of a man 
who in discarding his religion discarded the rules of conduct and 
sense of purpose which had sustained him in an otherwise grim 
environment where natural goodness and love for one's fellows 
were submerged in the struggle for existence, reducing man to the 
level of Tennyson's:

               dragons of the prime
     That tare each other in their slime.

As Mrs. Gaskell remarked, anticipating Hardy's memorable 
comment on the fate of Tess:

     Oh, Orestes! you would have made a very tolerable 
     Christian of the nineteenth century. *33*

Faith begets conduct but faith stands first. It is clear that in her 
first book Mrs. Gaskell was concerned with the importance of faith; 
not of any particular faith but of faith itself, and with its genuine 
lodgement in the individual heart rather than in its apparent 
manifestation through church attendance or religious authority. 
Faith equated with Christianity of some sort, faith in God implied 
acknowledging the spirit of Christianity. When Carson, father of the 
murdered man, imputes Barton's loss of faith to his being an 
Owenite, Job Legh ridicules the idea. The masters pay too much 
attention to sterile facts and not enough to Christianity:

     Now, to my thinking, them that is strong in any of God's 
     gifts is meant to help the weak, - be hanged to facts! *34*

The author's own conclusion, in which she draws the moral that 
many of the current reforms in Manchester sprang from the new


*31* _Mary Barton_, p. 195.	
*32* ibid., p. 431.	
*33* ibid., p. 247.	
*34* ibid., p. 448.

-- 36 --

attitude in Carson after his talk with Legh, is a straight summary of 
the argument as it affected the mill-owner:

     that the truth might be recognised that the interests of 
     one were the interests of all, and, as such, required the 
     consideration and deliberation of all; that hence it was 
     most desirable to have educated workers, capable of judging, 
     not mere machines of ignorant men; and to have them bound 
     to their employers by the ties of respect and affection, not by 
     mere money bargains alone; in short, to acknowledge the 
     Spirit of Christ as the regulating law between both parties. 

The judicious use of Benthamite commonplace to propound the 
Christian message does not disguise that Christianity is the all-
important factor, but is worth noting as supporting the view that 
'the interest of all' is best served by following the 'regulating law' of 
Christianity. As Professor Kathleen Tillotson points out, 'the hope of 
betterment lies not in this or that reform, but in the persistence, 
against all odds, of humanheartedness'. But it is not quite, as she 
goes on to suggest, 'as simple, and as remote from "political 
economy" as that'. *36* Mrs. Gaskell is shrewd enough (and 
probably employer enough) to see that she can strengthen her 
argument by suggesting that one of the end-products will be better 
relations with better work, just as she is Christian enough to reject 
the idea that suffering is necessarily a good incentive to religion. 
She realizes that humanheartedness itself needs support if it is to 

Her aim and method place her at the outset fairly in the stream of 
evangelicalism, in its broad, non-sectarian sense. It is in this light 
that she is to be seen as one of the voices of the moral conscience of 
mid-Victorian England; recognizing the connexion between the 
reform of men's hearts and their conditions, but insisting with the 
conviction born of faith that the soul is more important than the 
reason for beginning the task. She brings to the task all that was 
best in the Unitarian conscience that was at its influential and 
confident prime in mid-nineteenth century England.

Sectarian attitudes have no part in Mrs. Gaskell's work. The most 
religious character in _Mary Barton_ is Alice Wilson, who is


*35* _Mary Barton_, p. 451.	
*36* _Tillotson_, p. 212.

-- 37 --

Church of England; more important perhaps is the fact that the 
novel has no stated representative of nonconformity in it. It is true 
that in her next novel, _Ruth_, *37* the 'hero' and the one who sets 
the standard is a Dissenting minister, Thurstan Benson, who with 
his sister, Faith Benson, presents us with the example of the 
Christian in action. But the Pharisee of the story, the rich merchant 
Bradshaw, is also a Dissenter, while Ruth herself is the grand-
daughter of a poor curate in Norfolk. If it is a fair presumption that 
she adopts the religion of her rescuer when she is taken into the 
Benson family, no specific reference is made to it. Sally, the 
Benson's faithful maid and the type of crusty warm-heartedness, is 
belligerently orthodox in her belief, proudly proclaiming:

     I'm a parish-clerk's daughter, and could never demean 
     myself to dissenting fashions.

(note the implication of snobbery) though she excludes Benson from 
her comic derogation of dissenting habits of prayer, and 
significantly adds:

     God forbid I should speak disrespectful of Master Thurstan 
     and Miss Faith, though; I never think on them as Church or 
     Dissenters, but just as Christians. *38*

It is not what people call themselves but how they behave that is 
the criterion of real Christianity. So witch-hunting Puritans are the 
background to 'Lois the Witch', Cagot-persecuting Roman Catholics 
provide the material for 'An Accursed Race', a sycophantic Church 
of England clergyman is satirized in _My Lady Ludlow_.


*37* _Ruth_ was published in January, 1853, by Chapman and Hall. 
It tells the story of an orphan seduced by the aristocratic 
Bellingham, abandoned, and finding a home with the Bensons who 
protect her and her child by saying that she is a widow. Ruth is 
offered work as a companion in Mr. Bradshaw's house until, after 
five years, her secret is discovered. The Bensons stand by her and 
her child, Leonard. Bellingham returns but Ruth refuses him. She 
finally becomes a heroine nursing the victims of a cholera outbreak, 
catches the cholera from Bellingham whose life she saves, and dies 
'redeemed'. A secondary plot concerns the Bradshaws and their 
children; the spoilt son embezzles Benson's money.
     The book was bitterly attacked, even burnt by outraged 
moralists. Mrs. Gaskell fell ill from the angry criticism.
     The title may have been taken from the same tale, Crabbe's 
'Ruth', that she used for _Sylvia's Lovers_. Its heroine is left 
pregnant and defenceless.
*38* _Ruth_, p. 165.
-- 38 --

Examples of sympathetic treatment of the three religions can 
equally be found, for example, in _Ruth_ as we have seen, in 
_Wives and Daughters_ and in _My Lady_ Ludlow again. But to 
catalogue instances of Mrs. Gaskell's fairness of treatment and lack 
of prejudice would be wearisome. If any further proof is wanted it 
may be found in the _Life_, not merely in the account of Charlotte 
herself, whose rather rigid Anglicanism made an exception of Mrs. 
Gaskell for the sake of friendship, but in the handling of Charlotte's 
husband, the Rev. Mr. Nicholls, to whom Dissent was anathema and 
who was prepared to break the friendship. All shades of belief find 
their place in her work and receive judgement of praise or blame in 
so far as the individual practice can be equated to the generally 
accepted principles of Christianity.

An amusing sidelight on this attitude is given by an anecdote Mrs. 
Gaskell repeats in 'French Life', the published version of the diary 
she kept on a holiday in 1862. The anecdote, capped with a flick at 
one of the bastions of orthodoxy in England, is worth quoting, 
though it is too long to give in full. It concerns a young aide-de-
camp after the Napoleonic wars, who has refused to stay in the 
room given to him because it had once belonged to Madame de 

          "Pardon me, sir; but it appears to me that you forget 
     that Madame de SŽvignŽ was a Jansenist, and that I am 
     a Montmorenci, of the family of the first Baron of 

To which Mrs. Gaskell adds:

     The young man was afraid of the contamination of heresy 
     that might be lingering in the air of the room. There are old 
     rooms in certain houses shut up since the days of the Great 
     Plague, which are not to be opened for the world. I hope 
     that certain Fellows' rooms in Balliol may be hermetically 
     sealed, when their present occupants leave them, lest a 
     worse thing than the plague may infect the place. *39*


*39* _Cousin Phillis_, p.646. She knew Jowett of course, and what 
he had to put up with because of his views. The refusal to give him 
a worth-while salary as Professor of Greek was well known, as was 
the bitterness directed against him for his writing, especially after 
_Essays and Reviews_ in 186o. She wrote to Norton about Oxford's 
refusal to give him permission to marry, and Norton replied that 
'Mr. Jowett may congratulate himself that he lives three centuries 
too late to be burned.' _Letters_, p. 60.

-- 39 --

It will be realized that much of the writing, fiction and nonfiction, 
already mentioned deals with historical and not contemporary 
religion. Her historical sense and wide general reading were further 
important in reinforcing the sense of tradition and enabling her to 
see individual religions calmly and in perspective, aware of the 
good and bad in the history of each. This aspect will be dealt with in 
more detail when her interest in history and social customs is 

It is hardly surprising to find that the work of an author steeped in 
and alive to the traditions of Dissent should reveal a marked 
preference for individual judgement and conscience, or that the 
manner in which this preference is expressed shows clearly how 
integrity of principle is placed before accepted convention. Job 
Legh, the intelligent artisan of _Mary Barton_, is a portrayal of non-
dogmatic integrity, but the aristocratic Anglicanism of Lady Ludlow 
and the desperately sincere Evangelicalism of Mr. Grey in _My Lady 
Ludlow_, are both in contrast to Legh's approach yet presented with 
equal sympathy. Those who earn Mrs. Gaskell's scorn are those 
whose principles are elastically accommodated to circumstance, 
whatever their creed. _My Lady Ludlow_ is in every way a useful 
exponent of this attitude. It contains the sharply told anecdote of 
the flattering family chaplain made to eat a tough old rook and 
enjoy it, and it deals lightly yet pointedly with the current 
prejudice against Dissent:

     Why can't they believe as we do? It's very wrong. Besides, 
     it's schism and heresy and, you know, the Bible says that's 
     as bad as witchcraft. *40*

says Lady Ludlow about Brooke, the retired baker and successful 
farmer. But by the end of the story her agent has married his 
daughter and the Brookes have had an invitation to the Hall. We 
may note in passing that Mrs. Gaskell seems to have felt it 
necessary to play down, to some extent, any direct praise of 
Unitarianism or Dissent. She often refers jokingly to prejudice 
against it, but praise is indirect, by showing praiseworthy conduct, 
as in the case of Minister Holman and his family in _Cousin Phillis_. 
And this is a further, if minor, incentive to placing the focus of 


*40* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 209.

-- 40 --

on conduct rather than on belief, a development which is of major 
importance in her work.

There is, however, a conflict inherent in this view of religion, the 
eternal one between good intentions and doctrine on the one hand, 
human weakness and affection on the other. Christianity may be 
claimed as 'heart's piety' but this will not necessarily coincide with 
normal standards of piety, and may clash with fundamental 
principles. Mrs. Gaskell is too honest to avoid the issue and a good 
enough novelist to take advantage of its potential. She uses as a plot 
mechanism the well-intentioned action contradicting a fundamental 
principle; Benson's invention of a fictitious husband for Ruth, and 
Philip Hepburn's concealment of the fact that Kinraid is still alive in 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ are two variations. It is a sign of Mrs. Gaskell's 
realism as well as of her sensibility that she recognizes the futility 
of attempting to control or circumscribe natural goodness in favour 
of any theoretical virtue (she does, of course, deal with the 
necessity of disciplining it and refining it). She had on the whole, as 
Collins comments, 'no faculty for distortion.' *41* When it comes to 
the push it is the human impulse to love and feel affection that is 
important. So Lady Ludlow, when she hears of the death of her last 
surviving son, is deaf to the injunction of Mr. Gray that 'The Lord 
gave and the Lord taketh away.

          But my poor lady could not echo the words. He was the 
     last remaining child. *42*

When the two fellow ministers similarly come to console Holman as 
his only daughter is apparently dying, they quote Abraham's 
willingness to sacrifice Isaac:

     "Take example by him, Brother Holman. Let us hear you 
     say, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be 
     the name of the Lord!'
          There was a pause of expectancy. I verily believe the 
     minister tried to feel it; but he could not. Heart of flesh was 
     too strong. Heart of stone he had not. .


*41* op. cit., p. 61.	
*42* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 167.

-- 41 --

and Holman adds shortly afterwards:

     "I hold with Christ that afflictions are not sent by God in 
     wrath as penalties for sin."
          "Is that orthodox, Brother Robinson?" asked the third 
     minister, in a deferential note of inquiry. *43*

The question is not answered, but the answer is implicit.

The problem is as old as religion itself. It is posed in the 
_Antigone_, by Sophocles, who carries the dilemma to its ultimate 
stage by putting the laws of God and the laws of man in conflict. 
Mrs. Gaskell does not carry the dilemma to its extreme, though she 
touches on it in _Sylvia's Lovers_ when old Daniel Robson is hanged 
for rioting. There is no condemnation of the law, but all the force of 
the narrative is in sympathy with Robson. To deal openly with such 
a problem would have carried her into the realms of tragedy, and 
she is not a tragic writer. Nor did her view of life, based on 
optimism and love, allow of it. The most that she can do is to 
indicate that had she ever to make a decision on the issue she might 
have put the laws of man in second place. The vicar who preaches 
the sermon at the funeral of the sailor killed defying the Press Gang 
stutters into silence:

     . . . the discord between the laws of man and the laws of 
     Christ stood before him; and he gave up the attempt to do 
     more than he was doing, as beyond his power. *44*

The Bible is the central and essential, if often unmentioned, guide to 
faith and to conduct; it is read, referred to, quoted and preferred as 
guide, philosopher, friend and spiritual authority throughout Mrs. 
Gaskell's work. It enabled the author to maintain a steady view of 
society and its morals over eighteen years of authorship, and to 
condemn, if not the laws of man, certain unchristian unwritten laws 
of Victorian society such as the one that damned the fallen woman 
without hope. It is seen as the necessary element of daily life, not 
as the weekly exhortation from the pulpit reserved for a different, 
Sabbath way of life. It is more particularly, in Mrs. Gaskell's work, 
the New Testament with its

*43* _Cousin Phillis_, pp. 104-5.	
*44* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 71.
-- 42 --

message of forgiveness and love, and its figure of Christ as the 
supreme example of human conduct. *45* This aspect is 
conveniently shown in a short story, 'The Heart of John Middleton', 
a rather deliberately moral Christmas story written for Dickens's 
_Household Words_ in 1850.

It is the story of a rough and ignorant mill-hand who owes his 
salvation to falling in love with a gentle girl. She helps him to learn, 
he becomes acquainted with the Bible, by precept and example a 
moral regeneration is begun. But the girl is injured by the mill-
owner's son, who has always been his enemy. Middleton marries 
her but nurses revenge, and the chance finally offers itself when 
the enemy, now an escaped convict, unwittingly takes refuge in his 
house. It is actually a better story than the sketch of the 
melodramatic plot suggests, well written and with insight into the 
type of mentality she is describing. Through it runs the thread of 
John Middleton's moral education. It begins with hearing about God 
and learning to read the Bible. So far, so good, but he still has a 
revengeful nature. When he learns about Christ's life and death:

     I longed to have been there, to have avenged Him on the 
     wicked Jews . . . But I got the Bible myself, and read the 
     mighty act of God's vengeance, in the Old Testament, with 
     a kind of triumphant faith that, sooner or later, He would 
     take my cause in hand, and revenge me on mine enemy. 

The persuasion of his wife, with lessons of hunger and suffering, 
soften him a little, but the thought of his wrongs still has the power 
to harden his heart:

     I took Nelly's Bible, and turned, not to the gracious story 
     of the Saviour's birth, but to the records of the former 
     days, when the Jews took such wild revenge upon all their 
     opponents. *47*

It needs further suffering and the plea of his dying wife, carried 
through the appropriate storm when his enemy is at his mercy, to 
change him. The result is final peace for the soul:


*45* Unitarians do not regard the doctrine of the Trinity as 
essential, and the view that Christ was human (Socinianism) was 
widely held.
*46* _Cranford_, p. 395.	
*47* ibid., p. 398.

-- 43 --

     . . . what I teach is, how Christ lived and died, and what 
     was Nelly's faith of love. *48*

We have already seen that Mrs. Gaskell views religion as coinciding 
as far as possible with natural feeling. Where feeling requires 
guidance, it is towards cultivating the love which is present, even if 
only as a seed, in every soul. This attitude receives powerful 
support from the New Testament emphasis, and the selection from 
it of the doctrine of love as the key one. The individual, as has been 
pointed out, is seen as the arbiter of his own conscience and 
responsible directly for his own faith. The Bible is there to sustain 
him, but when precepts for conduct and standpoint are concerned, 
the Old Testament is rejected as dangerous. Mrs. Gaskell's world is 
not merely a Christian one, it is a selectively New Testament one, 
discarding the Hebraic element which gave religion much of its 
authority in the Victorian period. Furthermore, a religion of love is 
necessarily a religion that must rely heavily on example and 
influence; the emphasis is again thrown on conduct. Such a point of 
view will tend naturally to themes and plots involving 
reconciliation, which is what we find in her novels.

The tendency of Mrs. Gaskell's beliefs is then to attract her 
attention to individual conduct, and we can now enlarge the idea of 
'conduct' to social behaviour, conduct in relation to the society one 
lives in. My contention is that Mrs. Gaskell is primarily a social 
novelist, concerned however not with society at large but with 
small communities in which individual conduct and feeling are 
important, and which will serve at the same time to illustrate 
universal standards. The corollary is that her work develops to 
demonstrate this. A long look at her religion and the expression of it 
has been necessary because of the degree to which it supplied the 
moral system by which she worked, and because it was a religion 
that reinforced her bent as a novelist. The behaviour of her 
characters and the comments that guide the reader's attitude to 
that behaviour cannot be fully understood without realizing the 
extent to which conduct, even when not overtly religious, is


*48* _Cranford_, p. 409.
-- 44 --

nevertheless an aspect of the 'good' man, who is basically the 
religious man as she understood him. He is also, I must emphasize, 
something very different from the 'pious man.

Yet it is the behaviour more than the religion which really interests 
the novelist in her, and we can now expand a little on the earlier 
comment that her work shows a progressive falling-off of direct 
interest in religion as such, accompanied by an increasing difficulty 
in integrating it successfully in the development of plot and 
character. The treatment of the religious element as a component of 
her work changes. I am not suggesting that she became
herself less immediately concerned with religion, though one could 
infer from her work that she became less zealously so; the
concern here is with the writer. Much of the evidence on this aspect 
overlaps with discussion of technique and with the analysis of the 
social element, but certain comments are necessary now.

The early work contains a good deal of direct exhortation, much of 
it mediated through the comments of characters but supported also 
by direct comment. The plots have as an essential element the 
transformation of the main character under the influence of 
religion; religion itself being for all practical purposes the guidance 
and teaching of whoever causes the change, with the Bible as the 
ever-present support. Examples are the influence of the preacher 
David Hughes on the embittered Nest Gwynn in 'The Well of Pen 
Morfa'; the reclamation of the prostitute Lizzie Leigh by her mother 
('Thou hast not forgot thy Bible, I'll be bound, for thou wert always 
a scholar,') *49* and the earlier, more obviously sentimental 'Libbie 
Marsh's Three Eras' and 'The Sexton's Hero'. These carry the same 
pattern as is contained in the larger treatment of _Mary Barton_ or 
the more tightly concentrated narrative line of _Ruth_.

With _North and South_ the centre of interest has definitely shifted. 
It now lies squarely in the conflict and contrast of social 
relationships and conventions at various levels, linked with 
individual feelings caught up in patterns of behaviour and opinion. 
The evangelized character still appears - Nicholas Higgins, the 
intelligent and agnostic artisan - but he is a secondary figure. The


*49* _Cranford_, p. 239.

-- 45 --

saintly figure is also there - his daughter Bessie - but peripheral to 
the story, and endowed with a stock pathos and frenetic piety quite 
out of keeping with the more controlled and deeper studies of the 
main characters. The effect is of a tract straying into the narrative, 
and this is virtually what has happened. The felt duty to testify to 
religion has failed to accommodate itself happily to the more 
objective study of behaviour.

The short stories of this period show the same sort of pattern. The 
powerful tale 'Half a Lifetime Ago', for example, concentrates 
successfully on the background and character of the Westmorland 
'stateswoman' Susan Dixon. Religious reference has no part in it, the 
story depends solely on the accurate description of scenes, events 
and character, and on the highly dramatic but factually presented 
theme of the emotions involved when a woman renounces her lover 
to care for an idiot brother. But - and this is the point to note - the 
_patterns_ of the conduct, the moral standards and the principles 
involved are those subsumed in the direct religious reference of the 
earlier stories, and inferred in:

     the grave, solid books brought round by the pedlars (such 
     as "Paradise Lost" and "Regained," "The Death of Abel," 
     "The Spiritual Quixote," and "The Pilgrim's Progress"), which 
     were to be found in nearly every house. *50*

The outcome, however, is a study in practical Christianity. Susan 
obeys 'God's will' in her mother's dying request, and follows the 
biblical precept 'Nought but death shall part thee and me! - the only 
direct connexions made between precept and practice.

In between _North and South_ (1855) and _Sylvia's Lovers_ 
occurred a relatively non-productive period, the major effort going 
into the biography of Charlotte Bront‘ which occupied the first two 
years of it. The _Life_ forced her to examine closely the individual 
conduct of a narrowly Anglican woman in an area which contained 
a population divided between the Church of England and various 
dissenting sects. And, of course, she was constantly studying the 
thoughts and methods of a writer of genius who herself


*50* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 280.

-- 46 --

had tackled problems of feelings and conduct boldly, honestly and 
with some unconventionality. Only one aspect of this influence 
concerns us here. Mrs. Gaskell was led to study diverse views and 
attitudes to religion in action, to see religion not as some ideal 
solvent of social and personal problems, or as some higher and 
transfiguring influence, but as an ingredient in the total pattern of 
life. To come across a statement such as:

     Certainly, the _soi-disant_ Christians who forcibly ejected 
     Mr. Redhead at Haworth ten or twelve years before, held 
     a very heathen brotherhood with the _soi-disant_ Christians 
     of Heckmondwike, though the one set might be called 
     members of the Church of England and the other 
     Dissenters . . . *51*

is to be made to realize how far she had travelled from the 
relatively idealized view of religion presented in _Mary Barton_. 
The germ of this sort of comparison was always there, witness the 
comment on Orestes and the later satirical sketches of hypocrisy 
that have been referred to. But this is comment on conduct without 
any saving gloss, with comparison of religions added as a secondary 
feature. It would seem more than coincidence that the work of the 
following two years produced, as the only other important items, 
two stories (_My Lady Ludlow_ and 'Lois the Witch') which are also 
to some extent comparative studies dealing directly with religion as 
a function of social conduct.

In _Sylvia's Lovers_ (1863) the dilemma facing Mrs. Gaskell is 
clearly revealed. The didactic element springing from the desire to 
do something for religion, or do something for people through 
religion, militates against the interest in people and conduct for 
their own sakes which has developed as the legitimate material for 
the novelist. Technically, she is still a little insecure, and having 
chosen a subject that does not arise from within her own experience 
she is unable to follow the conduct of her characters through 
naturally to the end. The result is that she brings in religion as a 
solution not only to the problems of the characters but to the 
technical problems of the novel itself. Every critic who has 
commented on this novel, for good or for bad, has had to


*51* _Life_, p. 116.

-- 47 --

admit that the final section, with its repentances and excessive 
piety, is false to the manner of the rest. Some of the difficulty is 
created by the fact that she is still exploring, in the characters of 
the Hepburn group, the inconsistencies between belief and conduct, 
though the novel turns more decidedly to the problem of the 
conflict between feeling and principle. It is therefore necessary that 
Philip Hepburn, the main character after Sylvia herself, should talk 
in the terms of and with the direct references to religion that are 
natural to a professing Quaker. As Pollard says of one of his 
speeches on forgiveness:

     In isolation this may seem very pointedly didactic. It 
     springs, however, from the serious religious feeling 
     which pervades the book . . . *52*

The difficulty was to allow this feeling to pervade the novel while 
preventing it from spilling over into the over-emphatic or didactic, 
which shows up in terms of contrived conduct.

The concluding stage in Mrs. Gaskell's development is the dropping 
of the didactic element. If we compare _Ruth_ with _Cousin Phillis_ 
as novels both of which have ministers as the central character, and 
in both of which we may therefore expect to find religion as a 
necessary ingredient of normal life and dialogue, we find that in 
_Ruth_ the didactic element is so strong as to be a primary force, in 
_Cousin Phillis_ we do not think about didacticism at all. Our 
concern is with the characters and their feelings.

This change can be equated with the technical one of a move away 
from authorial comment. The dropping of such comment means that 
the reader is not going to be buttonholed by the author, a 
proceeding which can make a reader aware - if only through 
annoyance - of the subject of the commentary. But a growing 
interest in exploring and presenting situations and social 
relationships will diminish the desire to gloss events from a 
religious or moral viewpoint. And we find in fact that the type of 
comment made by the characters themselves shows this trend 
equally. The religious content of Mrs. Gaskell's work is a dimin-


*52* Arthur Pollard, 'The Novels of Mrs. Gaskell', _Bulletin of the 
John Rylands Library_, Vol. 43, No. 2, March 1961, p. 418.
-- 48 --

ishing quantity, and in her last novel, _Wives and Daughters_, the 
life we enter is as free from religiosity as is normal life itself. Let us 
be clear on this point. What has vanished is surface reference. The 
behaviour of the characters is as Christian as could be desired, or is 
wrong or superficial by Christian moral standards. But we are in a 
world which is the normal world of daily life, in which the human 
being is not always pulling his principles and beliefs out of his 
pocket to refer to them; he knows them by heart. There is a time 
and a place. Minister Holman himself upholds this view when he 
refuses to interrupt people doing their work in order to call on 
them officially:

     . . . they are all at their business, their shops, or their 
     warehouses; they ought to be there. I have no fault to find 
     with them... I judge them by myself If there are clouds in 
     the sky, and I am getting in the hay just ready for loading, 
     and rain sure to come in the night, I should look ill upon 
     Brother Robinson if he came into the field to speak about 
     serious things. *53*

A fuller treatment of the religious element in Mrs. Gaskell's work 
would have to note other points. It is, for example, grossly unfair to 
a writer with such a delicate observation of the irony and comedy 
in daily life to give the impression that the world of her novels is a 
deadly serious one. It is fundamentally serious, but the humour is 
always there. The principles are never in doubt. But religion is 
manifested in conduct, conduct results from people, and people and 
conduct are the material (given the viewpoint) for social comedy. 
Her treatment of clergymen, to take one instance, is not basically so 
very different from that of Jane Austen. They are characters 
holding a place in society and living by certain standards in that 
society; they are not regarded as set apart from social pressures or 
human weaknesses. The result differs from Jane Austen's partly 
because Mrs. Gaskell writes of a different order of society, and of a 
different pattern of clergyman in society. Leaving aside differences 
in technique and temperament, between the two writers lie the 
evangelical revival and the troubles of the Forties; it has become 
impossible - as Trollope's


*53* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 29.

-- 49 --

novels show - for a clergyman to be written about as though his 
religion could be ignored. The type of clergyman had changed; so 
had the type of reader.

Many of Mrs. Gaskell's novels therefore contain 'religion' 
automatically because the characters are consciously religious or 
are clergymen. It is probably true to say that her ministers are 
somewhat idealized, at least when they are main characters, 
although the context of situation in which they are placed becomes 
steadily more personal and less 'professional'. A Chadband or a 
Slope would be unthinkable in her environment; the possibility that 
such an attitude to religion could exist would be a threat to religion 
itself. I suspect that Mrs. Gaskell is held back from becoming a 
major satirist in the Jane Austen sense because she cannot accept 
hypocrisy beyond a certain degree as comic. Her world is less 
mundane, more morally strenuous and conscious of a duty to God as 
well as society, though not in any way attempting deliberately to 
oppose the two.

Such an attitude has its compensations for the novelist. The 
presentation of good behaviour comes more naturally and credibly 
to Mrs. Gaskell than to almost any other novelist; it retains its 
humanity, its humour and its standards without effort. When 
Thackeray for example puts an emotional crisis in Amelia Sedley's 
way - her parting with her son, George - the occasion is highlighted 
and solemnified by the introduction of conventional piety as she 
reads the Bible story of the parting of Hannah from Samuel to him. 
The reader is meant to be conscious that this is rather a special 
occasion. When Mr. Holman is faced with a crisis, the probable 
death of his daughter, his religion and his humanity are so much a 
part of each other that he can reject conventional piety, as has been 
shown, without the reader feeling that there has been any loss of 
either; indeed, the touch of the ridiculous in the behaviour of his 
fellow ministers adds to the genuineness of the emotions involved. 
Mrs. Gaskell is at ease with religion, Thackeray is not.

It will be possible to look more closely at the implications of some 
of the points that have been raised when other facets of her work 
and development are examined. For we come back to the

-- 50 --

thesis that the change in treatment of and emphasis on religion is a 
function of Mrs. Gaskell's development as a novelist, though we can 
now see that the fundamental premises of her religion do not alter. 
It is first necessary to look at other salient features of her world; an 
easier task now that its basis in religion is clear.

-- 51 --


_Family and Stability_

WHEN Mr. Gibson marries again he does so to carry out a duty. 
Molly at seventeen needs a type of guidance and an orderly 
domestic background which he feels he cannot fully take care of. 
Much of the irony of the novel lies in the fact that his choice is 
unfortunate. Mrs. Kirkpatrick's principles are too frivolous, her 
understanding too superficial, to provide the right sort of influence; 
her concern is with outward behaviour. We are shown in the end 
that it is the training Molly received from her father which finally 
carries her through her trials. In addition Mr. Gibson himself 
acquires a step-daughter nearly ruined by the way she has been 
brought up. We are in the world of comedy, so although the ill-
effects of neglect and poor example can never be completely 
remedied, a reasonable salvage is possible. And Cynthia recognizes 
this when she blurts out to Mr. Gibson:

     Oh, sir! I think, if I had been differently brought up, I 
     shouldn't have had the sore angry heart I have now.

though Mrs. Gaskell is wise enough to let her continue:

     . . . I should always have wanted admiration and worship, 
     and men's good opinion. *1*

Looking at Cynthia's outburst in another way we can note that it is 
her 'heart' that is sore and angry; her nature has been successfully 
appealed to by means of the sympathy and affection which her own 
mother had failed to give her. We can turn for comment on this to 
Ruth's position when first her beloved mother


*1* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 638.

-- 52 --

and then her feckless but amiable father died. She is left to the care 
of a guardian who was:

     a sensible, hard-headed man of the world; having a very 
     fair proportion of conscience as consciences go . . . *2*

but who looks at the business of doing the best for Ruth as a matter 
of common sense and rational investment. Her scanty capital is used 
to apprentice her to a reputable milliner, and:

     Ruth's loving disposition, continually sending forth fibres 
     in search of nutriment, found no other object for regard 
     among those of her daily life to compensate for the want of 
     natural ties. *3*

The connexion between love and goodness is a close one in Mrs. 
Gaskell's world. We have seen that love in one of its aspects is to be 
considered by the very nature of her underlying faith as an active 
moral principle. A corollary is that it becomes an essential 
ingredient in matters of sound upbringing. The question of 
upbringing is thus linked directly with character and behaviour. But 
more is involved than this.

If we look at the families which provide the main characters in 
_Wives and Daughters_ a peculiar pattern emerges. The Gibson 
family consists of father and daughter. The Kirkpatrick family is 
mother and daughter. The Hamleys to begin with have mother, 
father and two sons, but the mother is a delicate invalid who dies 
fairly early in the proceedings, leaving Squire Hamley with the 
feeling of being adrift. Of the two sons, one is secretly married and 
finally dies, leaving in turn a widow and a baby. We find in fact 
that the pattern 'family' in Mrs. Gaskell's novels bears little relation 
to the stereotype of the Victorian family that we - perhaps wrongly 
- normally think of It is the one Frederick is so conscious of in 
_North and South_ when he says to his sister Margaret, 'we are 
curiously bare of relations.' *4* There is no hint of the swarming life 
that continuously bursts through in Dickens's novels; the Toodles, 
the Cratchits, ('we're thtrong in the Fairy business and the Nurthery 
dodge' as Mr. Sleary says of his Circus

*2* _Ruth_, p. 37.	
*3* ibid., p. 38.	
*4* _North and South_, p. 211.

-- 53 --

and its families); *5* all, in fact, that House summed up as 'the 
careless fertility of his women'. *6* Hers is the very minimal family 
unit and subject to calamity, it is the family on the verge of 
dissolution, or with its ties and affections made more intense by the 
realization that only the one parent or child exists; indeed it 
sometimes appears only as a reference, not as an actuality; a tender 
memory of a happiness that existed before the story begins its 
existence in time. The typical heroine of Mrs. Gaskell's novels and 
stories (and we need to bear in mind that it is the heroine rather 
than the hero who is her main interest) is the only child of an only 
surviving parent, or a complete orphan. There are variations within 
the framework; parents may die in the course of the story, there 
may be a brother who has left the family group, but to all intents 
and purposes the pattern is impressively dominant. *7*

Before dealing with the significance of this pattern it is necessary to 
note as a fact that Mrs. Gaskell is repeating in her novels the 
pattern of her own life. Her mother died when the daughter was 
thirteen months old. Her father married again, but she went to her 
Aunt Lumb and was brought up by her. Mrs. Gaskell rarely saw her 
father before his final illness and we know that she disliked her 
stepmother. Although she was one of eight children, only one 
brother survived childhood, and he disappeared mysteriously at sea 
while she was still young. The extent to which the family situations 
she portrays are variations on her own experience is immediately 
obvious, but certain caveats have to be introduced. As far as we 
know her own childhood and


*5* Dickens, _Hard Times_, p. 280.
*6* Humphry House, _The Dickens World_, Oxford Paperbacks, 
1960, p. 76.
*7* How striking and dominant it is may be judged from a brief 
analysis of the heroine's situation in her major work: all the 
heroines are only children. _Mary Barton_: Mother dies early, father 
left; _Ruth_: Orphan; _North and South_: Mother and father die 
before the end; 'Lois the Witch': Orphan; _Sylvia's Lovers_: Father 
and later mother die by half way; _Wives and Daughters_: Father 
only. The only family with any resistance to mortality is in _Cousin 
Phillis_; Phillis herself is an only child. _Cranford_'s heroine is 
elderly, but Miss Matty is an orphan whose 'mother-figure' sister 
dies after the first episode. (Her brother Peter finally returns after 
having vanished for about forty years. Margaret Hale in _North and 
South_ also has a brother who is permanently abroad.) This pattern 
dominates the slighter stories as well. The only exception of any 
importance to this pattern apart from _Cousin Phillis_ is possibly 
the Cumnor family in _Wives and Daughters_ and the Bradshaw 
family in _Ruth_. They are not at the centre of the plot, although 
they have their own significance. Otherwise even the background 
families share this parental inability to survive.

-- 54 --

youth was a happy period, spent in an atmosphere of affection, 
comfort and security. Her own marriage was again, as far as we 
know, a happy one, with four children growing up in an atmosphere 
of cheerful domesticity, although these children were daughters, the 
only son dying before he was a year old. The manner in which the 
pattern emerges in her novels, however, suggests that the sense of 
deprivation was far stronger than she ever admitted; in particular 
the stress which is laid on the father-daughter relationship from 
the beginning (_Mary Barton_) to the end (_Cousin Phillis_ and 
_Wives and Daughters_) of her writing career suggests that the 
sense of deprivation in this respect was exceptionally strong.

Our concern however must be with the imaginative use to which 
the experience was put, and what emerges is the overwhelming 
emphasis on the part played in upbringing by the absence of that 
sense of security and affection which a complete and well-
principled family life alone can give. She takes therefore, as her 
range, the various situations in which this sense of security is frail, 
may be endangered or is absent, and concentrates her attention on 
the ways in which the behaviour of her characters is affected by 
the upbringing they have received. The result is to link the whole 
problem of moral standards and social behaviour with parental 
duty - and one might add that not the least important part of that 
duty would appear to be the duty to survive. The basis for stability 
which we have seen is fundamentally a matter of individual belief 
and principle, character is regarded as dependent to a degree on the 
immediate social unit of the family, which is itself part of the larger 
concept of society. Mrs. Gaskell assumes without demur the 
proposition that 'The greater and better part of English society 
accepted the social structure and moral objective of the nation, as a 
community of families . . .' *8* What distinguishes her as a novelist 
is the instinct with which she fastens on the cases where the 
structure is weak, and the skill with which she examines the 
possible consequences, working from the effect on the individual 
and his relationship to the society around. To a novelist concerned 
with the interplay of characters and


*8* G. M. Young, _Portrait of an Age_, O.U.P., 1953, p. 13.

-- 55 --

emotions and the training of the development of character, these 
are fruitful circumstances. *9*

Stability of character is, then, linked with emotional stability and 
social stability in the family unit, it is a conflation that suits Mrs. 
Gaskell's interests admirably and whose use she develops steadily. 
The early work relies a good deal on personal experience because 
the amateur novelist will normally turn to such experience. _Mary 
Barton_ is in every way as personal a book, in this sense, as 
_Cranford_; its details and reminiscences draw heavily on her past. 
But the contemporary setting and the sense of purpose have tended 
to obscure this quality, while the Cranford scene and content throw 
it into relief. Yet _Mary Barton_ is shot through with references to 
the importance of the family element. We can take only a few 

We have seen John Barton explain his downfall by his loss of faith. 
But he is also shown as a man whose roots are being cut away. His 
only boy has died as a baby, *10* his wife's sister Esther has run off 
with a lover, shortly afterwards his wife dies in labour:

     One of the ties which bound him down to the gentle 
     humanities of earth was loosened, and henceforward 
     the neighbours all remarked he was a changed man. 

He still has his daughter, Mary, but too many of his affections have 
withered or turned sour on him. While this one tie is still strong he 
is capable of responding to other appeals, as when he helps the 
Davenports. But circumstances in general combine to embitter him, 
and Mary is not dependent enough on him nor close enough to his 
confidence to supply the sufficiency of love and sense of parental 
duty which could have pulled him away from the fatal 
preoccupation with his bitterness. Conversely, Mary lacks the 
continuing guidance which would have prevented her from ever 
listening to the seductive temptations of Henry Carson, although


*9* The abundance of widows, widowers and orphans may also 
reflect an aspect of Victorian life as common as fertility - the 
mortality rate.
*10* This emotional echo of the death of her owls son - an echo 
often repeated - is one Instance of personal experience being 
brought in to supply emotional realism in support of the social 
realism which was absorbed into her fiction. But see Chapters XI 
and XII.
*11* _Mary Barton_, p. 22.

-- 56 --

she has been sufficiently well brought up (we see her, one Sunday 
afternoon, alternating between watching passers-by from behind 
the window blind 'in the intervals of reading her Bible, which lay 
open before her') *12* to wrench herself free before she falls into 
the trap which snared the misguided and wilful Esther. Barton has 
unconsciously wriggled out of much of his duty by apprenticing 
Mary to a dressmaker; the existence of this alternate authority, not 
based on affection, inevitably slackens the tie. Similarly Ruth's 
guidance is handed over on a contract basis.

The comparison between this father-daughter relationship and that 
of Mr. Gibson and Molly hardly needs pointing out, although 
detailed discussion of the way in which Mrs. Gaskell varies the 
handling of basically similar themes must properly be left until 
later. The tie of affection between Mr. Gibson and Molly is strong 
and continuous, and there are no social or economic worries to cloud 
the domestic scene. (One of the strongest elements in the social 
aspect of _Mary Barton_ is found in the passionately felt and 
emotionally described scenes which show how family life and 
family affections suffer and deteriorate in poverty.) When Molly 
learns of her father's approaching remarriage, the threatened 
intrusion of a stranger to interrupt the long and easy pattern of 
affection is shattering; all Mrs. Gaskell's feelings about the reliance 
of a child on the security of its parents' affections are concentrated 
in the comment she makes:

     It was as if the piece of solid ground on which she stood 
     had broken from the shore, and she was drifting out into 
     the infinite sea alone. *13*

Upbringing is the key to a stable character, and the weaker the 
character the more the need of a stable domestic environment to 
supply the example and training and to bring love in to support 
principle. We have seen that Mrs. Gaskell believes in the existence 
of some good in every heart; she is aware as we have noted that 
material circumstances may affect it, but her concern is primarily 
with the moral environment. Even Sally Leadbitter, the loose-
principled girl who acts as pander to Henry Carson, has


*12* _Mary Barton_, p. 92.
*13* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 125-6.

-- 57 --

'this seed of the future soul', which shows in her care for a 
bedridden mother:

     But the mother was lightly principled like Sally 
     herself, *14*

we are told, and the failure by the parent to provide moral example 
and training is rubbed in, while Henry Carson's own failings - and 
by implication his death - can be traced to his being spoilt. Similarly 
Richard Bradshaw's lapse into feeble crime is attributed directly to 
poor upbringing; this time because he is tainted by the hypocrisy 
underlying his father's stern profession of principles, and reacts 
against the lack of any affection to accompany them. He is expected 
to be perfect and his father makes no allowance for humanity. *15* 
Bellingham succeeds in seducing Ruth because he can take 
advantage of her na•vety when she has no-one to support her own 
prompting to escape. He is himself another example of the character 
whose viciousness is due to a spoilt upbringing, this time to his 
mother's capricious use of her wealth instead of genuine love and 
training to hold his affection.

The story of Sylvia's home life in _Sylvia's Lovers_ shows clearly 
the influence of the home and the example of the parents. Sylvia 
Robson is the only child (there is the almost inevitable mention of 
an infant son who died) and is spoilt by her parents, in particular 
by her father Daniel. The opening scenes in which we first meet 
Sylvia show how Mrs. Gaskell prepares for the development of 
major events from slight beginnings. Sylvia is shown as a high-
spirited and impetuous girl, forgetting to sell the butter in the 
excitement of watching the first whaler of the season return; 
choosing the showy red material for her cloak against the advice


*14* _Mary Barton_, p. 102
*15* Dickens seems to have drawn on the episode of Bradshaw and 
his son's forgery for _Hard Times_. Just as Bradshaw's rigid 
principles and lack of affection and humanity drive Richard to the 
secret pursuit of pleasure, and so into debt and finally into forgery, 
Gradgrind's doctrinaire methods drive Tom along the same road and 
to the same end. In both cases an essentially weak character is 
given the wrong twist because he cannot act naturally and under 
sympathetic guidance. It is symptomatic of the different views held 
by Mrs. Gaskell and Dickens that she gives us an ending in 
reconciliation and optimism with the hope of a reunited family 
(prosecution is avoided) whereas Dickens lets Tom be driven abroad 
and, though ultimately repentant, die on his way home again. 
Dickens also seems to have used the elder Bradshaw as a model for 

-- 58 --

of her more sober cousin and the known wishes of her mother. It is 
an attractive and natural picture, one designed to gain the 
sympathy of the reader. But the hints of insufficient control are 
there. Sylvia is too used to getting her own way, almost too secure 
in the admiration and affection of parents, and she gets round her 
mother's disappointment at her choice of material with a kiss:

     at the end of which her mother had adjusted her cap 
     with a "There! there! ha' done wi' thee," but had had 
     no more heart to show her disapprobation. *16*

As life in the farm-house is developed, we see that her father 
Daniel is, if kind-hearted and generous, obstinate and capricious; 
not properly educated, easy-going, occasionally drunk, averse to 
any controls on his own pleasures. Religion is as may be imagined, 
only superficially present. Mrs. Gaskell has shown what is the daily 
example of authority and conduct. Episode after episode shows his 
want of depth of character; there is no evil, simply no positive 
striving to be better. His wife, Bell, is the stronger character but 
inclined to spoil her only child. Sylvia's education is neglected - she 
cannot read or write - and when Philip Hepburn tries to teach her 
they give in to her pleas that the work is too difficult and 
unnecessary. How important her 'education' is to be we shall see. So 
when the catastrophe occurs, with Daniel hanged for rioting, Bell 
become 'dateless' and the farm allowed to be sold, Sylvia is adrift; 
without the necessary moral and religious training which would 
have guided her, she is unfitted to face adversity or to distinguish 
right action. No question of evil is raised here, except in so far as 
the consequences produce their own evil. Sylvia's character is 
naturally a good one, and her parents are by normal standards good 
people. Mrs. Gaskell's implied point is that though they are good 
people they are bad parents. When the stability of family life is 
shattered, there is no preparation for individual character to take 
the strain. In particular Mrs. Gaskell presses home her point as she 
traces Sylvia's progress in adversity. She finds immediate security 
by marrying her cousin Philip, although she loves the missing 
Kinraid. In his


*16* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 43.

-- 59 --

family she is first brought into close and prolonged contact with 
religious people and we realize that she is ignorant of any real 
knowledge of religion. Her education is significantly linked with her 
gradual realization of religious standards and belief in God by the 
device of having the Bible used as the primer in which she learns to 
read. (We may compare Sylvia with Lois Barclay, whose home and 
security vanish just as completely, but who faces jealousy, 
persecution and finally death with her faith and her confidence 
unbroken.) Mrs. Gaskell is, however, too good an observer of human 
nature - and she develops into too good a novelist - to rely on an 
easy formula that equates good upbringing with religion. It is an 
essential basis, which comes out with painful obviousness in the 
two tracts she wrote for the Sunday School Penny Magazine *17* or 
in such an early story as 'The Sexton's Hero', in which the youth 
who refuses to fight reveals his true bravery when drowned saving 
his rival's life, and whose Bible proved to contain:

     many a text in the Gospel, marked broad with his 
     carpenter's pencil, which more than bore him out in his 
     refusal to fight. *18*

But, as I have stated, the religious element is kept out of _Wives 
and Daughters_, and Phillis's recovery in _Cousin Phillis_ is based 
on the essential soundness and affection of her background rather 
than on any suggestion of especial piety because her father is a 

Types of upbringing account for certain types of behaviour. For 
example, with Bellingham and Richard Bradshaw we may class 
Benjamin Huntroyd in 'The Crooked Branch' and Edward Wilkins in 
'A Dark Night's Work', of whom Mrs. Gaskell comments that he was:

     not one to be spoilt by the course of indulgence he had 
     passed through; at least, if it had done him an injury, the 
     effects were at present hidden from view. *19*

Nest Gwynn in 'The Well of Pen Morfa' is another spoilt girl. There 
are those who, like Philip Hepburn or the Puritans in 'Lois


*17* 'Hand and Heart' and 'Bessy's Troubles at Home'.	
*18* _Mary Barton_, p. 500.
*19* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 406.
-- 60 --

the Witch', have had the moral upbringing but have lacked the 
necessary accompaniment of humane and sympathetic affection. 
The desirable balance between affection and moral training is 
sometimes shown by a reversal of position, when the child who has 
suffered becomes in turn the parent who has learnt the lesson. 
Ruth's regeneration is bound up with the rearing of her child, so is 

Part of the increasing subtlety in presentation of the effects of 
upbringing must be related to Mrs. Gaskell's ability to learn from 
watching the growth of her own daughters. In the brief diary in 
which she recorded the early years of her own children she notes 
how cast down she is by Marianne's wrong doing. This relates to the 
behaviour of a two-year-old child! Her common sense and humour 
quickly squashed such naive thinking, although Dickens's portrayal 
of the Murdstones and, much later, Kipling's account of his own 
childhood as recorded in _Something of Myself_ and 'Baa-baa Black 
Sheep' are a warning that such thinking was all too common and 
could have scarifying results. But the fundamental seriousness with 
which she regarded this aspect of family duty is never in doubt. 
Years later she wrote to Charles Eliot Norton about her newly 
married daughter and her son-in-law:

     My only fear is literally that he should spoil Florence; 
     he is pretty strict and self-denying towards himself but if 
     he could dress her in diamonds and feed her on gold, and 
     give her the moon to play with, _and she wished for them_ 
     I don't think he would question the wisdom of indulging 
     her. I hope bye and bye he will lift her up into the 
     standard of high goodness of which she is thoroughly 
     capable. But she is very young for her age, and as yet 
     requires the daily elevation of her thoughts and aims. *20*

The training is not yet completed; the parent passes the duty on to 
the husband with the new kind of affection.

Love and security, the necessary environment for passing on and 
learning the moral standards and concepts of duty which enable a 
child to grow up and face the world; it would not be unfair to Mrs. 
Gaskell to summarize briefly in such a manner her view


*20* _Letters_, p. 110.

-- 61 --

of what the family stood for, though it would be unfair not to 
mention at the same time the complex permutations and subtleties 
of feeling and conduct which she recognizes in practice. We have 
already had to comment on her angry realization of how poverty 
can destroy family life, and it is an essential feature of Mrs. 
Gaskell's outlook that she is well aware of the hard knocks that the 
world can deliver. The emphasis placed on stability and security is 
itself an admission that although the family unit acts as a shock-
absorber between the individual and the world at large, 
nevertheless the family is neither an insulated nor an isolated unit. 
Nor is its function necessarily restricted to the literal family. Ruth 
finally finds her home with the Bensons, her own child adding the 
element of continuity while receiving the stable background, which 
is particularly important as he is that most insecure and 'de-
familied' of all Victorian characters - a bastard. Cynthia Kirkpatrick 
finds a settled home after years of being pushed off to visit 
relatives or be cheaply finished out of the way abroad. Lady 
Ludlow undertakes the creation of a 'family' as a vocation. When 
her poor relative Mrs. Dawson loses her husband and applies for 
help, she replies:

     You say you are left with nine children. I too should have 
     had nine, if mine had all lived. I have none left but 
     Rudolph, the present Lord Ludlow. He is married, and 
     lives, for the most part, in London. But I entertain six 
     young gentlewomen at my house at Connington, who 
     are to me as daughters . . . These young persons - all of 
     condition, though out of mean - are my constant 
     companions, and I strive to do my duty as a Christian 
     lady towards them. *21*

and her conception of the maternal duty includes marriage dowry 
and a legacy in her will. Margaret Dawson leaves her own mother 
and family but finds another. It is a natural transition from this


*21* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 11. This passage provides an interesting 
gloss on Mrs. Gaskell's penchant for the minimal family. It is one of 
the very rare occasions when the large family is mentioned, and it 
shows how little reliability Mrs. Gaskell placed on numbers as a 
basis for security. In the novel she quickly reverts to what is, for all 
practical purposes, the one parent/one child situation. The adoption 
of Margaret by Lady Ludlow is also given a parallel in the adoption 
of Harry Greg by Mr. Homer and later by Mr. Gray. The adoption by 
Miss Galindo of her lover's illegitimate child introduces another 
familiar element.
-- 62 --

realization of the family as something more than mere blood-
relationship to the idea of the larger unit of a society composed of 
similar families who extend the sense of 'family' duty to other 
families in the neighbourhood or social group. At this stage the 
precepts of Christian conduct assume a more direct importance, 
merging into standards of behaviour to one's neighbours and so out 
finally to humanity at large. The various families who make up the 
working-class society which is the milieu of _Mary Barton_ dissolve 
into a larger communal group. The inhabitants of Cranford rally 
round Miss Matty to such an extent after she loses her money that 
she finds her home, complete with servant, virtually unchanged 
until her long-vanished brother Peter can be miraculously 
recovered to provide a closer relationship; in terms of stability, 
security and affection Miss Matty's calamity is no calamity at all. 
But the juxtaposition of families provides the opportunity for the 
contrast of different standards of upbringing and conduct. In _Mary 
Barton_ this is used in an exaggerated way to suggest a contrast of 
social standards; the brief account of Mr. Carson's household is a 
caricature to exemplify the Dives and Lazarus theme. But the 
contrasts between households of similar status, primarily the 
Wilsons, the Bartons and the Leghs (Job Legh and his 
granddaughter are another variation of the single parent and 
orphan) give us the beginnings of the analysis of a social group in 
terms of family constituents. This type of analysis is steadily 

It is inevitable that when the family is seen as the medium for 
passing on standards of conduct, it becomes impossible to overlook 
social standards. This is recognized in _North and South_, although 
the emphasis there is more on the difference in types of society 
which can be regarded as on the whole socially equal, wealth being 
balanced against gentility and the individual pretensions of each 
examined. (In _Cranford_ we already have the genteel society, 
though on one level.) By _Wives and Daughters_ the families 
represent also strata of society, each family training its children in 
the position of its own class as well as in common principles of 

The acceptance of a class structure is inherent in one further

-- 63 --

aspect of the family as a unit which must be briefly mentioned. 
From _Cranford_ onwards the family includes as an integral part 
the family servant; a miniature social hierarchy exists. When 
Martha nudges Jem into marrying her so that they can take over 
Miss Matty's house and so arrange for Miss Matty to remain in it, 
Miss Matty becomes nominally 'the lodger'. In fact she remains the 
mistress; Martha is so aware of the real continuity of the old ways 
that she is afraid to announce the approaching baby in case Miss 
Matty might feel:

     that the new claimant would require attentions from 
     its mother that it would be faithless treason to Miss 
     Matty to render. *22*

The family servant, very much part of the family yet very much 
aware of the difference in rank, becomes a main feature of Mrs. 
Gaskell's work; Sally in _Ruth_, Dixon in _North and South_, and 
Kester in _Sylvia's Lovers_ and another Dixon in 'A Dark Night's 
Work', are examples. There is of course a long tradition of the 
honest and outspoken servant in literature, of whom the employer 
can say as Lady Capulet did to the Nurse, 'I have remembered me, 
thou's hear our counsel'. Such figures have an accepted function as 
commentators on life, society and people, as well as providing the 
possibility of comedy. In Mrs. Gaskell's world they also stand out as 
preservers of the old, stable order of things. When Dixon in _North 
and South_ protests too much, however, she is sternly put in her 
place by Margaret; while it is a significant mark of the total change 
in Mr. Gibson's life - as well as, possibly, a sign that Mrs. Gaskell can 
now manage social observation without using the convention of the 
trusted retainer - that he agrees to dismiss Betty, or rather to 
accept her notice after another brush with the new Mrs. Gibson. 
After all, he says:

     Betty has been with us sixteen years - a sort of service of 
     the antique world. But the woman may be happier 
     elsewhere. *23*

There is little doubt where the trouble lies, yet no doubt at all about 
supporting a proper order of respect.

We may notice finally in this brief account of Mrs. Gaskell's


*22* _Cranford_, p. 177.	
*23* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 201.
-- 64 --

view of the family, that her _Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ gives great 
weight to Charlotte's background and upbringing. In many ways the 
_Life_ is written as a novel, it is shaped and shaded to give a curve 
of interest and development that has much in common with her 
other works. And it selects in particular the interplay between 
character, family and background, with its subsequent springs of 
action and principles of conduct that marks her fictional lives. The 
affect of background, 'the peculiar forms of population and society', 
*24* we shall deal with shortly. But she announces early:

     I do not pretend to be able to harmonise points of 
     character, and account for them, and bring them all 
     into one consistent and intelligible whole. The family 
     with whom I have now to do shot their roots down 
     deeper than I can penetrate. I cannot measure them, 
     much less is it for me to judge them. I have named 
     these instances of eccentricity in the father because 
     I hold the knowledge of them to be necessary for a 
     right understanding of the life of his daughter. *25*

The biography includes considered comments on the effects of 
Charlotte's mode of life on her imaginative development (p. 91), on 
the results of a motherless upbringing (p. 202), and on the way 
character can be perverted by being spoilt. It applies the lesson to 
Branwell (p. 184) and ascribes the 'coarse' elements in Charlotte's 
work to the circumstances of her upbringing (pp. 599-600). Mrs. 
Gaskell in her own novels has the artist's prerogative of 
omniscience and selection to provide fuller consistency and 
intelligibility; we should not however be blind to the manner in 
which her own reading of life has influenced the manner of 
presenting Charlotte Bront‘'s life. One final quotation we may use to 
indicate how strongly Mrs. Gaskell held the view of the family as 
the repository of all that is most important in life, emotionally and 
as the guardian of essential truth. After Charlotte's marriage she 
gives only the barest outline of events, she refuses to intrude 
through 'the sacred doors of home'. *26*

This attitude, which affirmed the sanctity of family life, was a 
commonplace of Mrs. Gaskell's time. Many reasons lie behind it. 
Religion is a powerful force, marriages are made in heaven and

*24* _Life_, p. 11.	
*25* ibid., p. 55.	
*26* ibid., p. 633.

-- 65 --

heaven can be deduced as having a hand in the resultant family. 
*27* But other factors - the example of Victoria's court, the sensed 
need for a stable unit in insecure times, the settled hierarchy of 
classes, the pressures of tradition - are all part of a complex growth. 
It is an attitude naturally reflected in the novels of the period; 
there are few exceptions - one thinks of Dickens's _Dombey and 
Son_, Anne Bront‘'s _The Tenant of Wildfell Hall_, George Eliot's 
_Scenes of Clerical Life_ - to protest that heaven also implies hell, 
and hell may find its way into family life. Professor Kathleen 
Tillotson, tracing the growth of the novel concerned with 'everyday 
domestic and social behaviour' makes the point, '"_home_ is the 
element and trial of a Christian" . . . [home] that is, family life, 
parents and children, brothers and sisters, in a secure and specified 
setting'. *28* In other words, the family, as individuals, face the 
trials and misfortunes of life with a sense of support, of belonging 
by ties of affection and blood - and incidentally by being welded 
together by the formidable pressure of convention - to a close-knit 
unit which will close its ranks to help a member. At the same time, 
within the group there is scope for an individual's own principles to 
be put to the test in his conduct; he can be guided, corrected, 
punished or rewarded by the family; as an individual he will have 
to account for himself if he strays very far from the accepted view 
of how a member of a family behaves.

But what if the family is not 'a secure and specified setting'? We 
know that Mrs. Gaskell originally accepted this view of the family, 
as she accepted the conventional attitude to wives and mothers:

     How all a woman's life, at least so it seems to me 
     now, ought to have a reference to the period when 
     she will be fulfilling one of her greatest and highest 
     duties, those of a mother. *29*


*27* The attitude to Small children is also important. The 
'Immortality Ode' view of small children as heavenly visitors lasted 
a long time, reinforced by the useful (to men) belief that 
motherhood was a divine vocation. Blake's version of the baby 'Like 
a fiend hid in a cloud' had to await the advent of psychology for 
*28* _Tillotson_, p. 135. Her argument is that the atmosphere of 
religious controversy sparked off analysis of doctrines, in terms of 
analysis of states of mind and motive in novels. But discussion of 
doctrines became indelicate. The habit of analysis remained, 
transferred to conduct (which ought to be inspired by beliefs).
*29* _Diary_, p. 10.

-- 66 --

and although she modified the balance of priorities when she later 
had to fit the needs of a writer into the domestic scene, she never 
altered the basic viewpoint. Yet we have seen that 'home' for the 
Gaskellian heroine may answer very dubiously to the description, 
such secure homes (they are never populous) being presented as 
intimations or reminiscences of an ideal. They are still the end to be 
wished; Mary Barton marries Jem and we last see her in a home of 
her own, with husband, children and grandmother around, in an 
idealized setting. But even such idealizations, which are also 
conventions of the happy ending, fade out of her novels. The 
relationships remain either in the prospect of marriage, or the 
consolidation of the remaining family.
It has been observed that Mrs. Gaskell is to some extent reflecting a 
truth drawn from her own background, that all children may not 
have such a stable and full background. But we have to ask why, as 
a novelist, she rejects the whole area of experience which included 
her own married life and that of many friends. One reason has been 
suggested, that the 'diminished' family can reflect her feelings 
about security or its absence. Another, how conscious it is difficult 
to say, is that it enables her to twist the emotional screw tighter. By 
concentrating the forces of family feeling into, say, the single 
relationship between mother and child, the emotional content is 
enormously heightened. Trollope certainly knew it:
     . . . there is a wife whose husband is a brute to her, who 
     loses an only child - his heir - and who is rebuked by her lord 
     because the boy dies. Her sorrow is, I think, pathetic. *30*

the writer detaching himself professionally from the emotions 
which, as an individual, he shares.
There are, however, two more points which may be briefly 
mentioned at this stage. One is her integrity, which prevented her 
from disregarding the rather obtrusive realities near her 
Manchester doorstep. She remained an optimist as regards her view 
of the essential goodness of the human soul, but she never allowed 
this particular optimism to cloud her perception of the fact that

*30* Anthony Trollope, _Autobiography_, O.U.P. (World's Classics), 
1941, p. 180. He is discussing _The Claverings_.

-- 67 --

life could be, and often was, harsh and cruel. She quickly stopped 
writing about the details of local misery, but seems to have 
accepted always the general view that life is hard as often as not.
More important probably is the fact that the diminished family 
links up with her interest in the individual and in basic standards. 
When the setting is not secure, when family affection and guidance 
are not available as a buffer between the individual and society at 
large, the individual is liable to be thrown on to his own resources. 
At the same time such periods of trial or temptation are those 
which most require sympathetic loyalty and above all affection to 
confide in. The orphan is resourceless - we think of Ruth wishing to 
run for help to the old family servant and afraid to try; the single 
parent may well be too busy, or too overwhelmed, or too selfish to 
care properly; the only child has no brother or sister to confide in. 
It is in this particular complex of test of character, minimal ties of 
affection, and emotional stress that Mrs. Gaskell sets her work and 
draws her conclusions.
There is a direct correlation between Mrs. Gaskell's treatment of 
this situation and the tone of her novels. Her comedies, from 'Mr. 
Harrison's Confessions' to _Wives and Daughters_, have as their 
main setting a background of security. 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions' 
has it is true the exceptional figure of a happy orphan as its hero, 
but the story is carefully set as a reminiscence in a family frame. 
The opening paragraph:

     The fire was burning gaily. My wife had just gone 
     upstairs to put baby to bed. *31*

sets the tone, particularly as we are told within a few lines that this 
domesticated husband is the hero of the comedy which follows. The 
darkening of the scene in _Sylvia's Lovers_ occurs with the break-
up of the Robson family. And in _Wives and Daughters_ we notice 
that there is a movement away from the diminishing family. Set in 
the background, and representing all the power, stability and 
tradition of the landed aristocracy in its domain, is the Cumnor 
family, happy, united and numerous. The internal movement of the 
novel is also towards cohesion, away from dis-


*31* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 405.
-- 68 --

integration. Mr. Gibson marries and completes his family. Cynthia 
gains an affectionate parent and sister to confide in. The new Mrs. 
Gibson gains security and, for all her superficiality, does provide the 
guidance and affection within her limited capacity which the 
adolescent Molly has lacked. Even in the Hamley family, which 
follows the pattern we have learned to expect, the two brothers 
confide in and support each other. In this respect, as in others, the 
shift towards stability is marked. This view of the individual life as 
mirroring a movement between instability and stability sets a 
pattern which controls the structure of Mrs. Gaskell's novels and 
stories, reinforced by the urge to reconciliation which has 
previously been noted as fundamental to her beliefs. It links up 
also with her feeling for tradition, which she sees in one way as an 
element of continuity in a changing world, and with her gradual 
abandonment of the Manchester background as she escapes to 
scenes and circumstances where the rapidly shifting patterns of a 
changing society can be distanced if not ignored.

It is useful to pause at this stage for consideration of a special 
feature of Mrs. Gaskell's earlier work, her treatment of seduction, 
prostitutes and bastards. The 'fallen woman' was no novelty in 
fiction when she was writing, nor was there any lack of sympathy:

     Hood's 'Bridge of Sighs' and Mrs. Gaskell's _Mary Barton_ 
     in the 'forties, provide familiar examples of this concern 
     for the Fallen Woman, which recurs in many novels of the 
     period; Mrs. Gaskell returned to the theme several times, 
     and it was taken up by Kingsley, George Eliot, Wilkie 
     Collins, Trollope and others, down to Hardy's defiant 
     presentation of 'A Pure Woman' in the 1890s. All these 
     invited the reader to regard with more understanding 
     and forgiveness 'these tarnished and battered images of 
     God'. Some of them indicated how the unfortunate girls 
     might be restored to a decent place in society, usually 
     through private rather than institutional benevolence. 

My reason for dealing with the matter here is that it is germane to 
Mrs. Gaskell's ideas on family and society (though the subject has


*32* Philip Collins, _Dickens and Crime_, Macmillan, 1962, p. 94.

-- 69 --

wider implications); in particular it is necessary to modify a wrong 
emphasis that seems to have been given to critical consideration of 
Mrs. Gaskell deals with the problem in _Mary Barton_ (1848), in 
'Lizzie Leigh' (1850), twice in _Ruth_ (1853), and in _My Lady 
Ludlow_ (1858); in addition 'The Manchester Marriage' (1858) has 
oblique implications. In all of these except _Mary Barton_ the 
centre of the situation is quite clearly what Miss Hopkins calls 'the 
problem of the unmarried mother'. *33* It will be easier therefore 
to deal with the case of Esther in _Mary Barton_ first as she is the 
only one of the group who is fully conceived of as a prostitute. 
Qualification is still necessary, for Esther is shown to have followed 
the miserable pattern of the girl who is seduced and betrayed; she 
took to prostitution when abandoned in order to provide for her 
sick baby and talks wildly to Jem of her little girl, who was "like a 
little angel . . . 'Blessed are the pure'." *34*
Esther is not vicious, she gets no sexual pleasure from prostitution 
and has to dull her senses with drink to carry on. She is shown as 
an outcast, rejected by family and society, and is drawn in the 
unloveliest physical light. The 'Seed of Holiness' still survives, as her 
action to save Mary from a similar fate and her fears about not 
seeing her dead child in Heaven go to show, but nowhere is any hint 
of a possible reconciliation with society given. She might have been 
saved - the possibility is rhetorically hinted at but not developed - 
if Jem had been quicker when she first talked to him about Mary, 
but Jem's thoughts are elsewhere and it is too late when he 
considers that:

     He had not done enough to save her. One more effort, 
     and she might have come. *35*

but this 'saving' refers to the soul and personal life. As it is she is 
left literally homeless, sleeping in the streets. But if society fails to 
receive her living, it makes its gesture as she is dying, and she dies 
repentant, forgiven by the family, with a soul reverting to 

*33* _Hopkins_, p. 89.	
*34* _Mary Barton_, p. 186.	
*35* ibid., p. 190.

-- 70 --

     She held the locket containing her child's hair still in her 
     hand, and once or twice she kissed it with a long soft kiss. 

Mrs. Gaskell is quite plain about the miseries of Esther's profession, 
and nowhere in her work is there any suggestion that sexual 
passion provides pleasure or profit in itself But even in this, her 
only forthright treatment of prostitution, Esther is seen as a mother 
manquŽe; it proves impossible to discuss her without coming back 
to this point.
'Lizzie Leigh' makes the same point even more clearly. Lizzie hovers 
round the house where she has abandoned her child *37* but she is 
luckier than Esther; her mother finds her. There is no social 
forgiveness, the pair retire to live in deep isolation quietly doing 
good, but Lizzie has been allowed to remake the closest family tie 
and it is implied that she is forgiven, at a distance, by her brother 
and his wife, the girl who had taken in the abandoned baby. The 
problem of the child is still avoided however, the novelist has to 
arrange an accidental death for it in order to side-step any real 
solution. And although we see the beginnings of Lizzie's public 
regeneration in the blessings of the remote poor to whom she 
dedicates her life, the embargo on the child still persists:

     They dared not lay her by the stern grandfather in 
     Milne Row churchyard, but they bore her to a lone 
     moorland graveyard . . . *38*

A further step was needed to show that the claim to a position in 
society as well as to maternal love were rights that society could 
think about respecting.
In _Ruth_ there is no question of prostitution. Ruth is a seduced 
innocent and is reclaimed by her adopted family, the Bensons. By 
now Mrs. Gaskell has come out openly in favour of the view that the 
fallen woman - not a prostitute - can earn reacceptance into normal 
life, but a powerful and hardly subsidiary theme is the right of the 
illegitimate child Leonard to a proper home and a place in society. 
By the time of Betty in _My Lady Ludlow_ the


*36* _Mary Barton_, p. 456.
*37* The suggestion that Lizzie should not abandon the child 
completely came from Dickens, but even without the amended 
climax of her return the nexus of the mother-child interest is clear.        
*38* _Cranford_, p. 240.

-- 71 --

unmarried mother is already dead; Miss Galindo adopts the 
daughter (Betty) and she eventually marries the reclaimed urchin 
Harry Gregson, who has become a respected schoolmaster and is 
another outcast finally accepted by society. *39*
The progression is a clear one. The interest in the child and its 
freedom from any taint is present from the beginning, grows 
stronger and finally dominates. (In 'The Manchester Marriage' 
where accidental bigamy is the theme - which Tennyson took up in 
'Enoch Arden' - the returned castaway drowns himself after 
realizing that his wife has children by the second marriage.) The 
problem of the fallen woman is not stressed as primarily one of sin, 
while the pressure of poverty is seen working on maternal love for 
a starving child rather than on selfish interests. Where a child is 
concerned, the right to a family life is more important than any 
question of propriety.
To return to _Ruth_ briefly. Mrs. Gaskell spends a good deal of time 
describing the effect on Leonard of the circumstances of his birth. 
The first stage covers his upbringing before the secret is discovered, 
a model upbringing by Mrs. Gaskell's standards. The household is a 
God-fearing yet humane one, he has affection without being spoilt, 
he is well educated and his character is given a solid foundation. 
When the secret is revealed, the effects of the discovery fall with 
most impact on him, and only the security of home enables him to 
survive the trial. The climax to his own story is when he is adopted 
again, after Ruth has died in an almost holy glory, by the local 
doctor who reveals that he too is illegitimate, yet is now married 
and universally respected. The addition of this artificially contrived 
ending as a descant on the theme is further evidence that to 
consider _Ruth_ merely as a treatment of the 'fallen woman' is to 
overlook the equally important theme of the family and upbringing 
which encloses it. To say as much is not to deny the obvious 
importance placed on the declared aim of inducing the public to 
modify its ideas about sin as related to the 'fallen


*39* Mrs. Browning, in _Aurora Leigh_, had set a kind of precedent 
by making Romney Leigh propose to Marian Erle. Even if the 
marriage does not take place, the characters and situation are 
treated seriously. But it is useful to recall that Jane Austen in 
_Emma_ had created a novel whose plot revolves round Emma's 
plans to make a bastard, Harriet, marry a gentleman.

-- 72 --

woman', although as Greg pointed out in 'The False Morality of Lady 
Novelists' her arguments were contradictory; if Ruth was so pure 
then it was false morality to require her to die in the process of 
redemption. One suspects that Mrs. Gaskell was aware of the 
necessity of reconciling moral principles with the realities of social 

     Ruth _must needs_ perish, but atoned and glorified. That 
     is required by man's sense of the Eternal Laws of the 
     World's-order. *40*

I have already commented on the theme of reconciliation as a 
logical consequence of the nature of Mrs. Gaskell's religious belief. 
Reconciliation implies some form of conflict between individuals or 
between social groups, or between both, and _North and South_ is 
an example of a novel quite deliberately structured to engineer a 
complex of such conflicts. Bunsen's comment touches on this point, 
that the conflict lies between 'laws' and individual principles. It is 
this awareness of and sensitivity to the conflict that is one of the 
elements helping to raise Mrs. Gaskell's work above the common 
run. We have seen the foundations on which the individual 
standards were raised; it is next necessary to examine two other 
aspects which are of major importance to a right understanding of 
her work, her attitude to tradition and her interest in the behaviour 
of individuals and communities. The two have much in common.

*40* Letter of the Chevalier Bunsen to Susannah Winkworth quoted 
in Shaen, op. cit., p. 99. Mrs. Gaskell knew that this sort of 
judgement need not be correct; in the introduction to 'The Well of 
Pen Morfa' (1850) she relates a true story of a woman who earned 
the respect of her neighbours by her care of her crippled 
illegitimate child. The death of Ruth is an uneasy gesture - the 
melodrama and style reveal it - to public and social Convention, and 
was rightly attacked by discerning critics.

-- 73 --


_Tradition and Transformation_

     By the eighteen-sixties the wrench is past; the 
     'antediluvians', the 'patriarchs', in a decreasing 
     minority, 'mumble their old stories' of a vanished 
     world - of their Dorlecote Mills and their Hollingfords, 
     and their Dullboroughs. The two worlds are by then 
     at least separate and distinct . . . *1*

The 'wrench' is from the old pre-railway England to the new post-
railway era. It created a contrast of the two worlds that was as 
important for the Englishman of the time as was the existence of 
Disraeli's two nations:

     Changes in the landscape of town and country, 
     movements of population, changes in social habits, all 
     were abrupt, disconcerting, immediately evident. *1*

It was a change that Arnold symbolized in 'Thyrsis' by the search 
for the signal elm in a landscape which:

     Hath since our day put by
     The coronals of that forgotten time.
     Down each green bank hath gone the ploughboy's team . . . *2*

For Mrs. Gaskell, brought up in a traditional and self-contained 
community where the neighbouring railroad 'had been vehemently 
petitioned against' as 'obnoxious', *3* then translated by marriage 
to the industrial centre of England (yet only fifteen miles away) 
whose society had early realized:

     what great future lay concealed in that rude model 
     of Sir Richard Arkwright's. *4*


*1* _Tillotton_, p. 107.
*2* Matthew Arnold, _The Poetical Works_, O.U.P., 1942, p. 389.
*3* _Cranford_, p. 4.	
*4* _North and South_, p. 95.
-- 74 --

the fact of change was sharply and continuously brought home as a 
social and technological phenomenon. Her novels derive energy and 
depth from her apprehension of this situation, they reflect in many 
ways the desire to find a basis of stability in the shifting pattern of 
the age she lived in.
We have so far examined two 'stable' elements, those of religion 
and of the family and its affections. Both of these may be primarily 
regarded as individual matters; ultimately they affect society 
powerfully, but they are seen from the first as private concerns and 
confirmed at the last by private experience and judgement. *5* For 
Mrs. Gaskell they provide the basis on which the individual can 
adjust his own character to the world around him. They also reflect 
the importance which she attached to individual feelings, to the 
emotions rather than to the intellect.
But important as these feelings were to her, she was exercised 
equally by the idea of change in the relationships between different 
groups. She realized, and not simply intuitively, that the forces at 
work were such as to destroy the social attitudes and beliefs 
previously shared by all sections of society and which had provided 
a sense of communal unity cutting across distinctions of class and 
wealth. The physical change in the world around her she could take 
in her stride; however much she preferred the country to the new 
industrial town she had no sentimental feeling about old things 
simply because they were old (a different matter from feelings 
about things which carried sentimental associations or social 
values). She notes with obvious approval the growth of Keighley as 
a manufacturing centre:

     Keighley is in process of transformation from a populous 
     old-fashioned village into a still more populous and 
     flourishing town. It is evident to the stranger that, as 
     the gable-ended houses, which obtrude themselves 
     corner-wise on the widening street, fall vacant, they are 
     pulled down to allow of greater space for traffic and a 
     more modern style of


*5* 'Not that I merely owe this Title Christian to the Font, my 
Education, or the clime wherein I was born (as being bred up either 
to confirm those Principles my Parent, instilled into my unwary 
Understanding, or by a general Consent proceed in the Religion of 
my Country;) but having in my riper years and confirmed 
Judgement seen and examined all . . .' Sit Thomas Browne, _Religio 
Medici_, Everyman, 1940, p. 3.

-- 75 --

     architecture. The quaint and narrow shop-windows 
     of fifty years ago are giving way to large panes and 
     plate-glass. . . nothing can be more opposed than the 
     state of society, the modes of thinking, the standards 
     of reference on all points of morality, manners, and 
     even politics and religion, in such a new manufacturing 
     place as Keighley in the north, and any stately, sleepy, 
     picturesque, cathedral town in the south. Yet the aspect 
     of Keighley promises well for future stateliness, if not 
     picturesqueness. *6*

This seems very far from being the voice of the narrator of 
_Cranford_; it is very like the narrator of _North and South_, and it 
is the voice of Mrs. Gaskell 'in propria persona' commenting on the 
changing scene. It is also, we may note in passing, the thematic 
structure of _North and South_ being carried over for use in the 
biography, a part of the shaping process to which the _Life_ was 
subjected. Picturesqueness is put quietly in its place where the 
needs of progress are concerned, as well as having its inconvenience 
noted: 'There is no painted wood to require continual beautifying, or 
else present a shabby aspect', she notes in the passage from which I 
have quoted. The reference to the state of society in the new 
industrial centre is particularly illuminating. It is not made 
pejoratively, just noted as a key to any understanding of the area, 
while the manner of its insertion represents a quiet stressing of a 
comparison which Mrs. Gaskell makes because these matters are to 
her of primary significance, even though her immediate aim is 
introductory description.
Yet the tone of _Cranford_ is one that re-emerges, modified and 
capable of greater range, in the final and most successful work, and 
is present as an undertone even in _North and South_; it is a 
reflection of her feeling for tradition. This is not simply a matter of 
realizing the importance of continuity in an age of change, nor of 
noting with regret the passing of manners and customs to which 
memory and affection cling, though both these aspects are present. 
There is also the sense in which tradition is the family group writ 
large, society as an organic growth handing down its values through 
the generations and ensuring that within the changing environment 
society retains a cohesion of manners and


*6* _Life_, pp. 1-2.

-- 76 --

values. Yet tradition is itself liable to change, Hollingford is not 
_Cranford_. Nor are individual traditions considered necessarily to 
be good in themselves. Mrs. Gaskell inserts a telling episode into the 
closing chapters of _North and South_ when Margaret revisits her 
old home, the pretty southern village of Helstone still remote from 
the railway, and encounters the incident of a cat being roasted alive 
to bring about fulfilment of a wish. Tradition which implies squalor 
and ignorance is not to be cloaked under sentimental attitudes, such 
as those expressed by her conservative godfather Mr. Bell about the 
supposedly gentle, natural influences of home training and Bible 
reading. Education is part of the change and must be used to 
eliminate what is outworn or wrong:

     I own I am wrong about schooling. Anything rather 
     than have that child brought up in such practical 
     paganism. *7*

as Mr. Bell hurriedly admits, and schooling implies the influence of 
society upon society to supplement and where necessary correct the 
narrower range and vision of family life. It is a theme she expanded 
in _My Lady Ludlow_.
In this sense 'Tradition' is a wide concept which has to be 
distinguished from any wholesale respect for 'traditions', for it 
embraces major issues of continuity, order and the transmission of 
standards in society at large. Within this concept the values of the 
present can be shown in relation to the values of the past by using 
examples; _Cranford_ is itself a symbol of moral and social virtues 
and an attitude to life which is worth preserving even if the 
detailed life is anachronistic. Miss Matty's shouldering of personal 
responsibility for her shares in the bank which failed gives us the 
Mrs. Gaskell, in spite of her awareness of the necessity for change, 
regards tradition as a value in its own right, giving weight and a 
spiritual authority to those sections of life it touches. For this is the 
point; certain sections of life - they can be thought of in general 
terms as the ones contained in the new forms of society - are by 
virtue of their newness untraditional, they are both the agents and 
representatives of change. But other sections


*7* _North and South_, p. 467.

-- 77 --

- largely those concerned with relationships between individuals
 - have a tradition based on accepted values. In conditions of 
change the pressure on traditional values increases because the 
social forms which have in the past adapted themselves to contain 
and transmit these values may no longer be available. We have 
noted how Mrs. Gaskell seizes on this issue within the narrow range 
of the family, dwelling on the dangers involved when the family 
unit is threatened. The same situation applies in the larger context 
of society when it has to reorganize itself to meet new demands 
after some of its roots with tradition are severed. This happens in 
_Mary Barton_ and _North and South_ because of industrialization; 
it also happens in 'Lois the Witch' when a community is 
transplanted and has to put down fresh roots in a changed 
environment. In each case there is a process of adaptation during 
which these beliefs and standards which Mrs. Gaskell regarded as 
vitally important are endangered.
In order to be able to carry the argument further we must return to 
show the ways in which tradition appears in her work. It will be 
found as widely diffused and as integral as religion, ranging from 
religion itself, through class distinctions and environment down to 
delight in the quirks and peculiarities of local customs and amateur 
antiquarianism. For the sake of convenience this range can be 
considered under a few headings, but the distinctions will 
necessarily be arbitrary in so far as they represent facets of one 
At the beginning of December '8S7 Mrs. Gaskell wrote a long 
chronicle letter to Norton, its main theme being the delight in 
finally achieving her desire to see Oxford and in sharing for a few 
days its special life and historical associations. She exclaims, in a 
passage which has been often used for explaining its author:
     . . . I like dearly to call up pictures, - and thoughts 
     suggested by so utterly different a life to Manchester. 
     I believe I _am_ Mediaeval, and _un_ Manchester, and 
     _un_ American. I do like associations . . . I like Kings and 
     Queens, and nightingales and mignonettes and roses. *8*


*8* _Letters_, p. 16.

-- 78 --

and later on, deploring the possible lack of appreciation in America 
of all that Christmas means, she sends her greeting to the ballad 
historian, Child, for:

     I believe he likes old things and customs enough to 
     understand me. *9*

Her comments reveal a mind that turns naturally and with pleasure 
to 'old things and customs', as well as revealing a reaction against 
those features of modernity that Manchester and America stood for; 
they further indicate a romantic rather than a historical view of the 
past, which the emphasis on 'associations' stresses. This interest in 
the past is an interest in its own right, irrespective of the ideas and 
significances that accrete round episodes, and it crops up 
throughout her writing. Her earliest published work was the letter 
on Clopton House which she contributed when still at school to 
William Howitt's _Visits to Remarkable Places_, while her non-
fictional work reveals her constant delight in curious customs and 
historical incidents, the human interest being an essential element 
in them. The past excites her curiosity while leading on to a 
consideration of human interests and behaviour.
She is not, however, as she claims under the heady influence of 
Oxford, 'mediaeval'; she seems to be largely unaffected by the 
mediaevalizing of the period and only in one episode does she 
perpetrate anything that seems to fall in with that particular 
fashion. This is the unconvincing scene in _Sylvia's Lovers_ in which 
the sick and weary Philip temporarily becomes a Bedesman in the 
old charitable hospital of St. Sepulchre on his way home from war 
to his wife. But what does occur frequently is detail about past 
custom and about things to which she can attribute associations, 
actual or imagined. These include the customs and stories which fill 
_Cranford_, old Alice's knowledge of herbs in _Mary Barton_, the 
long digression in the _Life_ about the guild of crossbow-men who 
once lived at the Pensionnat HŽger, the frequent references to old 
traditions about flowers; one could extend the list indefinitely. Very 
rarely one comes across an almost Hardy-like leap of the 
imagination, as in the description of the gargoyle which symbolizes 
for Ruth a hope and a peace:


*9* _Letters_, p. 18.

-- 79 --

     If mortal gaze had never sought its meaning before, 
     in the deep shadow where it had been placed long 
     centuries ago, yet Ruth's did now. *10*

She could reconstruct the lives and manners of the past to some 
extent, as in _Sylvia's Lovers_, and was prepared to go to 
considerable pains in such a case to achieve a reasonable 
authenticity of background and event. But she is not a historian or a 
historical novelist, her interest stops short at the extension of her 
knowledge for sheer love of history or further insight. Her approach 
is indicated when she states:

     I have always been interested in the conversation of 
     any one who could tell me anything about the Huguenots; 
     and, little by little, I have picked up many fragments of 
     information respecting them. . . . I have now told all I know 
     about the Huguenots. I pass the mark to some one else. *11*

These first and last sentences from her article 'Traits and Stories of 
the Huguenots' are, with the tide itself, not unfairly representative 
of her historical method. Her too ready acceptance of highly 
coloured stories about Charlotte Bront‘'s father, and of the 
supposed affair between Branwell and his employer's wife (Mrs. 
Robinson) will also be recalled.
The demonstration of this interest in 'old customs and things' - it 
cannot really be called an antiquarian interest - can be briefly dealt 
with, for we are not discussing a novelist who, like Scott, is actively 
appealing through detail and reference to our historical imagination. 
Several of her shorter stories are re-workings or embroidering of 
local tales or events, and a favourite way of beginning a story is by 
some sentence such as:

     I have always been much interested by the traditions 
     which are scattered up and down North Wales relating 
     to Owen Glendower . . . *12*

Such Stories come fluently and complete, rather too fluently and 
complete for the good of artistic self-control and quality. Much of 
this work, for example 'The Squire's Story' which retells the history 
of a local highwayman who set up as a gentleman, or


*10* _Ruth_, p. 280.	
*11* _Cranford_, pp. 490 and 505.
*12* Introduction to 'The Doom of the Griffiths', _My Lady Ludlow_, 
p. 237.
-- 80 --

'Morton Hall' with its elaborate three-phased historical narrative 
woven melodramatically round the history of a house and the 
theme of reconciliation, is deliberate hack-work. It came easily, and 
also provided an outlet for another strain in Mrs. Gaskell's nature, 
the not unusual combination of an interest in the supernatural with 
a streak of morbidity. It was a mixture which admirably suited 
Dickens as the editor of _Household Words_ and _All the Year 
Round_, and Mrs. Gaskell knew that she could place such work 
without any great difficulty. There are signs that she was aware of 
the level at which these stories operated and recognized the 
dangers to an artist in producing for such a market. Certainly the 
attempt to have 'Lois the Witch' published elsewhere, and her 
disappointment at failing, are clear enough. Even allowing for Mrs. 
Gaskell's antipathy to Dickens' editorial methods, and for the 
strained relationship which had occurred for a period because of 
them, there is no getting away from the dismissive force of the 
epithet 'Dickensy' when she writes to Norton of her failure to place 
'Lois the Witch' away from _All the Year Round_:

     I _know_ it is fated to go into this new Dickensy periodical 
     and I did so hope to escape it. *13*

In fairness one must add that she was still contented to carry on 
using the despised journal as an outlet for pocket-money work, and 
that although she placed her best work of the later period with 
Thackeray in the _Cornhill_, she also produced some material for 
Thackeray (e.g. 'Curious if True') which might have made Dickens 
This use of tradition, the passing on of tales and episodes with little 
trouble other than that of providing a reasonable polish and some 
structural tightening, has small concern with the more complex 
question of changing values. The stories provide vehicles for the 
demonstration of personal standards in action, but for the most part 
they lack depth, which is, one assumes, why she wanted to present 
'Lois the Witch' in a more substantial literary environment. They do 
however show her receptivity for such material,

*13* Quoted in _Hopkins_, p. 154. Only a part of this letter of 9 
March 1859, is given in the _Letters_.

-- 81 --

although if Mrs. Gaskell's reputation were to depend on them there 
would be little more to be said about her as a writer. But she was 
also able to appreciate the deeper and wider reaching significance 
of tradition in terms of individual and social tension; personal 
experience and individual sympathy providing her with a way in. 
This receptivity for traditional material is therefore important as 
marking both the existence of the sympathy and an awareness that 
it can be significant, just as these features are important for George 
Eliot and Hardy; the use made of this knowledge and insight is the 
measure of Mrs. Gaskell's limitations and particular excellences. She 
has neither the intellectual sweep, the visionary and imaginative 
power nor the sense of history which George Eliot and Hardy in 
their own ways control. Her strength lies in the quality of intimate 
sympathy and shrewd observation; she works with an immediacy 
of apprehension within her narrower range of the conduct and 
values of ordinary society, yet she has sufficient imaginative 
awareness of the tensions of insecurity as they were affecting the 
lower levels for her to register something more than an emotional 
response. She does not at any stage make the complete synthesis 
that, for example, Dickens produces in _Bleak House_, when with 
one symbolic simile he unites the local incident to a sudden 
universal vision:

     From the village school of Chesney Wold, intact as it is 
     this minute, to the whole framework of society: from the 
     whole framework of society, to the aforesaid framework,      
     receiving tremendous cracks in consequence of people 
     (ironmasters, lead-mistresses and what not) not minding 
     their catechism, and getting out of the station unto which 
     they are called . . . and so obliterating the landmarks, and 
     opening the floodgates, and all the rest of it; - this is the 
     swift progress of the Dedlock mind. *14*

She stays within the framework, or the juxtaposition of 
frameworks, that she knows, making only one attempt, which will 
be looked at later, to handle the process of change on a more 
general basis, yet sensitive to the feeling of instability that 
permeated down to small communities and cross-sections of society 
and of which Sir Leicester Dedlock is the indignant spokesman.


*14* _Bleak House_, O.U.P. 1951, p. 397.
-- 82 --

The immediate debt to local tradition and custom is often 
acknowledged. Many stories contain a sort of preface giving the 
circumstances behind their acquisition and showing Mrs. Gaskell as 
an amateur folk-lorist and sociologist, an aspect of her method that 
will also need to be considered. Other episodes similarly acquired 
are embedded in her novels; sometimes at the expense of a drastic 
straining of the structure as with the story of Cl‘ment, a sixty-five 
page melodrama forced into the quiet narration of _My Lady 
Ludlow_, sometimes woven in more skilfully as is Sally's account of 
her wooing which she tells to amuse Ruth. Mrs. Gaskell was one of 
those who find it difficult to resist a digression; to this extent her 
fondness for reminiscence and local tales affects the mechanics of 
her art as well as the tautness of her style.
What sparks Mrs. Gaskell's imagination is some aspect of the past - 
custom, legend, monument - which still has life or to which 
associations can be connected. Being of a character inclined by 
nature and upbringing to the traditional, she was intuitively 
susceptible to the enrichment and force which custom could 
provide. Her affection for her religion is a case in point, she was 
hardly moved by the niceties of doctrinal matters but emotionally 
stirred by the traditions of the sect to which she belonged, the 
antiquity of the chapels at which she worshipped and the memory 
of the priests who had suffered for their principles during the Great 
Ejectment of 1662. The Unitarians could claim common ancestry 
with the established church, with a touch of martyrdom to boot; 
they certainly felt no inferiority. It is this spirit of an independence' 
and pride upheld by tradition which supports Thurston Benson and 
gives meaning to the closely detailed description of the chapel 'built 
about the time of Matthew and Philip Henry' of which he is 
minister. *15* Mr. Hale, nerving himself to renounce his 
membership of the Established Church and

*15* _Ruth_, p. 150. The Henrys were two of the two thousand 
priests who suffered under the Act of Uniformity. Matthew Henry's 
commentaries were a standard reference work for the Unitarians. 
Knutsford chapel, described in _Ruth_, was built in 1689 and was 
the centre of the Cheshire association of which Matthew Henry was 
often moderator.
     One can only he astonished at the sheer bad taste of Henry 
James's cheap sneer in _The Portrait of a Lady_:
          He at least knew now that she had no traditions! It 
          had not been in his prevision of things that she should 
          reveal such flatness; her sentiments were worthy of a 

-- 83 --

his living, tries to strengthen his resolution by thinking of the two 
thousand and:

trying to steal some of their bravery; but it is of no use - no use - I 
cannot help feeling it acutely. *16*

The pull of the two traditions leaves him irresolute, suitably so for a 
novel whose theme is the reconciliation of old and new (though this 
particular problem is shelved, as Mrs. Gaskell does not meddle with 
doctrine, and Mr. Hale's doubts are used to manipulate the move 
from South to North more than to discuss religion).
This sense of the living energy of the past complements, if it is not 
part of; her feeling that the present is an unknown quantity to 
which it is difficult to assign values; at the same time it sets an 
involuntary limit to the period she covers. Mrs. Gaskell mainly 
confines herself; as has been noted, to the immediate or not too 
remote past, where associations can operate from personal memory 
or from traditions still active and which lead out to known and 
secure standards of conduct. She once put her consciousness of 
uncertainty about the new England into words, when dealing with 
criticism of _Mary Barton_. Having noted that the views she 
attributes to working men are correct within her knowledge, - 'I 
have personal evidence,' she says - she goes on to put the problem:

I do think that we must all acknowledge that there are duties 
connected with the manufacturing system not fully understood as 
yet, and evils existing in relation to it which may be remedied in 
some degree, although we as yet do not see how; but surely there is 
no harm in directing the attention to the existence of such evils. 

To set against this awareness of a new type of society still groping 
for the social laws which would give it cohesion and a common 
sense of purpose, there is the picture of the unified society which is 
developed in _Cranford_. It is as though Mrs. Gaskell, frightened by 
the analysis she had felt it her duty to


          newspaper or of a Unitarian preacher . . . he despised 
          her; she had no traditions, and the moral horizon of a 
          Unitarian minister.
               Houghton Mifflin and Co., N.Y., 1891, pp. 378-9.
He knew and admired Mrs. Gaskell; he knew the New England 
Unitarians who included Emerson and Norton.        
*16* _North and South_, p. 36.
*17* Letter from Mrs. Gaskell to Miss Ewart, quoted in _Haldane_, p. 
-- 84 --

attempt, reverted instinctively to the security of the older system 
which co-existed with the new. For _Cranford_ society is quite 
specifically presented as a system. 'There were rules and 
regulations for visiting and calls.' The ladies of _Cranford_ can cope 
with all contingencies - the opening paragraph lists these in all their 
bewildering variety from chasing geese out of gardens to running 
the parish - while the narrator is led to conclude that many of the 
consequences arising from the _Cranford_ pattern of life 'might be 
introduced into many circles of society to their great improvement'. 
The fact that the society presented is a limited one only serves to 
emphasize the point that everyone moved comfortably within an 
accepted social framework. Individual life is not cramped by such 
an existence; on the contrary each has her own individuality, not to 
say eccentricity, pretty strongly developed', and these 
'individualities' are used as the matter of the book. But in social 
relationships the individuals become 'we', ('we' and 'us' are the 
standard pronouns), in spite of differences of wealth 'we were all 
aristocrats' and had 'esprit de corps'; any peculiarity had its 
accepted place 'as the most natural thing in the world' and society 
rested on the fact that 'she knew, and we knew, and she knew that 
we knew, and we knew that she knew that we knew.' *18* These 
opening pages of _Cranford_, for all their apparent ingenuousness 
and simplicity, explain nevertheless why when trouble does enter 
the _Cranford_ world it can be so effectively dealt with. The chapter 
is called, we should note, 'Our Society'. The major trouble which 
does arise, the closure of the bank, is a manifestation of the 
insecurity of the new industrial world; Miss Matty meets it as an 
individual by acting on personal standards, but she is then 
supported by a social structure which appreciates and shares those 
standards, understands its duties and has evolved patterns of 
behaviour to support the individual as a member of the community. 
Moreover all ranks, from servant and labourer to aristocracy, 
acquiesce in the structure; where change has to be faced, as when 
Lady Glenmire marries Mr. Hoggins, the society is able to embrace 
the change by an adjustment that allows for moral and individual 
values and yet preserves the framework.


*18* These quotations all occur in the introductory pages 1-4.

-- 85 --
The introduction to _Ruth_ shows Mrs. Gaskell still consciously 
trying to get to grips with the relationship between old and new 
conventions, and the tension arising when some particular problem 
places individual conduct at variance with what is normally 
accepted. The passage must be quoted at length; it follows an 
introductory paragraph which describes carefully the appearance of 
an old country town and conjures up a brief scene by day and night:
     The traditions of those bygone times, even to the smallest 
     social particular, enable one to understand more clearly the 
     circumstances which contributed to the formation of 
     character. The daily life into which people are born, and 
     into which they are absorbed before they are well aware, 
     forms chains which only one in a hundred has moral 
     strength enough to despise, and to break when the right 
     time comes - when an inward necessity for independent      
     individual action arises, which is superior to all outward 
     conventionalities. Therefore, it is well to know what were 
     the chains of daily domestic habit, which were the natural 
     leading-strings of our forefathers before they learnt to go 
          The picturesqueness of those ancient streets has 
     departed now. The Astleys, the Dunstans, the Waverhams - 
     names of power in that distnct - go up duly to London in 
     the season, and have sold their residences in the county 
     town fifty years ago, or more. And when the county town 
     lost its attraction for the Astleys, the Dunstans, the 
     Waverhams, how could it be supposed that the Domvilles, 
     the Bextons, and the Wildes would continue to go and 
     winter there in their second-rate houses, and with their 
     increased expenditure? So the grand old houses stood 
     empty awhile; and then speculators ventured to 
     purchase, and to turn the deserted mansions into many 
     smaller dwellings, fitted for professional men, or even 
     (bend your ear lower, lest the shade of Marmaduke, first 
     Baron Waverham, hear) into shops!
          Even that was not so very bad, compared with the 
     next innovation on the old glories. The shopkeepers 
     found out that the once fashionable street was dark, and 
     that the dingy light did not show off their goods to 
     advantage; the surgeon could not see to draw his 
     patients' teeth; the lawyer had to ring for candles an 
     hour earlier than he was accustomed to do when living 
     in a more plebeian street. In short, by mutual consent, 
     the whole front of one side of the street was pulled 
     down, and rebuilt in the flat, mean, unrelieved style 
     of George the Third. *19*


*19* _Ruth_, pp. 2-3.
-- 86 --
The complicated relationship which is traced between tradition and 
conduct takes in environment, upbringing and character before 
pointing to the necessity of tension between tradition, in its form of 
convention, and moral integrity, for the expression 'when the right 
time comes' indicates an inherent inevitability. The fact of change is 
stated, as it is in the previously quoted extract from the _Life_, in 
terms of a description of change visibly in action in a community, 
although in this case the change is regarded more as a process of 
decline. Both in _Ruth_ and in the _Life_ attention is focused on the 
encroachment of commerce and the professions; in the former we 
see also a shrewd eye cast on the ecology of social classes.
But the interesting feature is that the introduction promises far 
more than the novel performs. _Ruth_ does deal with the defiance 
of convention, but there is little or no attempt made in it to portray 
the links with the past, while the descriptive passages amplifying 
the theory turn out to have little function other than to serve as a 
rather grandiose preliminary to the setting of the milliner's 
workroom in which we first see Ruth.
It is almost as if the problem was felt so urgently that Mrs. Gaskell 
composed a preliminary justification for the position when she was 
not in fact ready to deal with it, not that the social problem novel 
was ever the genre to which she was really suited. _Ruth_ narrows 
down to the one theme, important enough admittedly, of the 
conflict between 'moral strength' and 'outward conventionalities', 
but the vaster theme of the gradual dissolution of old traditions and 
the rise of new forms of society, which is adumbrated in the 
gradual transfiguration of the old buildings, is hardly touched on. 
The Bellingham family, which was presumably meant to represent 
the old aristocratic tradition, is diminished in importance, as far as 
appearance in the novel goes, to supplying stock figures for the plot; 
there is the haughty aristocratic mother and the weak aristocratic 
seducer of a son who both act according to the clich‘s of class 
privilege. The action still rests on individual values, mainly those 
that have been discussed in the previous sections.
The deliberate attempt to write such a novel as the first few

-- 87 --

pages of _Ruth_ seem to presage was never made in fact. Mrs. 
Gaskell's nearest attempt to it was in _North and South_, which 
represents her supreme effort to write the novel of social change. It 
was a failure; it was bound to be one. However genuinely and 
rationally she could welcome the good points of the new order and 
of individuals who represented it, her imagination was not seized 
by the prospect of 'Progress' as was Dickens's or Tennyson's. She 
reflects a different patterning of values seen from a different angle, 
and as she is both an honest and a sensitive observer this is part of 
her importance. _North and South_ reached its conclusions by a 
mechanical process of equating values; it fulfilled the moral duty 
she felt as a novelist and which, as she had confided to Miss Ewart, 
was part of her reason for choosing the subject matter of _Mary 
Barton_. She could go no further, for her inclinations and 
sympathies were against this approach. She turned back to examine 
the traditions and social order which represented the stability she 
knew. In doing so she paid more attention to two aspects which had 
always been present in her work, but which now assumed a greater 
prominence: the values inherent in the life of the country as 
opposed to the life of the town, and the acceptance of a social 
hierarchy. These have now to be considered.

-- 88 --


The World of Manchester

MRS. GASKELL is a regional novelist, but she is at home in more 
than one region. It is this sense of familiarity, the feeling of being 
'at home', that is one of the qualities of her better work and gives 
some tint of naturalness even to the Penny Magazine tracts. She has 
been regarded as the novelist of Knutsford and Manchester. Yvonne 
ffrench stated in 1949 that:

     For at least two decades after her death she was 
     popularly identified as "the author of _Mary Barton_". 
     Three generations later, by a process of readjustment, 
     she is established for good as the author of _Cranford_. *1*

With the passage of another fifteen years the author of _Mary 
Barton_ is still known, with _Ruth_ and _North and South_ also in 
the reckoning, while the creator of _Cranford_ has had her 
reputation enhanced by the recognition belatedly given to _Wives 
and Daughters_ and _Cousin Phillis_. Yet the antithesis of Knutsford 
and Manchester is a basic one and must be understood, although as 
an explanation of her work it is too simple, and makes little 
allowance for the range and subtlety of her observations. It tends to 
support by inference the view that Mrs. Gaskell is either a 
reminiscent or a reform novelist. At the same time it fails to make 
clear that her development stems from both sides, and these sides 
contain values which she finds elsewhere as well, although most 
prominently and conveniently in her two 'homes'. However, once 
we realize that her range of reference and experience is wider, 
Knutsford and Manchester are convenient symbols to use, while as 
areas of reference and social background they are very important.
In one sense she may be regarded as the novelist of a single region, 
that of North-West England in the middle of the nine-


*1* _Mrs. Gaskell_, Home and Van Thal, 1949, p. 43.

-- 89 --

teenth century. The area she knows and writes of is geographically 
a compact one, from Denbighshire in North Wales (Ruth adopts the 
pseudonym of Mrs. Denbigh) to the Lake District. She can move 
outside it, as Hardy occasionally moved outside of Wessex, but on 
the whole she stays within. But whereas Hardy's Wessex is a 
spiritual and social as well as a geographical unit, Mrs. Gaskell's 
region was one of violent contrasts of every sort. For Hardy the 
division between town and country does not exist, as the famous 
description of Casterbridge makes clear:

     Casterbridge was the complement of the rural life around; 
     not its urban opposite. Bees and butterflies in the 
     corn-fields at the top of the town, who desired to get 
     to the meads at the bottom, took no circuitous course, 
     but flew straight down High Street without any apparent 
     consciousness that they were traversing strange latitudes. 

and in his untouched countryside man's nature is measured starkly 
against the long perspective of historical and evolutionary time. But 
for Mrs. Gaskell the town stood out as something alien to the 

     A low grey cloud was the first sign of Eccleston; it was the 
     smoke of the town hanging over the plain. *3*

and the inhabitants of the town formed a society that had little in 
common with the countryside around it. The landmarks of Nature 
had been obliterated, and visible history stretched back at most a 
couple of hundred years, marked by a house or a chapel. Town is in 
contrast with country, the country on the whole preserving 
traditions that the town had destroyed. Their contrasts and 
oppositions dominate Mrs. Gaskell's work: she had made her home 
in each and her development involves the gradual process of choice 
between the standards and feelings which each invoked, together 
with some attempt to reconcile the good she found in each.
There are a number of stories and articles that deal with life and 
events outside of this area. The chief of these, the novel _Sylvia's 
Lovers_, can perhaps be regarded as an extension (the Whitby area


*2* Thomas Hardy, _The Mayor of Casterbridge_, Macmillan, 1920, 
p. 68.
*3* _Ruth_, p. 132.
-- 90 --

of Yorkshire, where she went on holiday) of the Lancashire 
background, and is distinctive rather for being an historical novel, a 
peculiarity it shares with 'Lois the Witch' and some short stories. 
Another influence derives from her travels in Europe, notably from 
the interest she developed in France. The European experience is 
responsible for several stories and articles, as well as for episodes 
and detail such as the holiday in Rome and the misfortunes of the 
voyage home which occur in 'A Dark Night's Work'. In most of the 
articles and stories which do handle historical material one can also 
trace that type of interest which is not so much historical as a lively 
curiosity about strange, novel, or old customs and the people 
affected by them.

Besides _Mary Barton_ there appeared in 1848 a small volume 
called _Life in Manchester_ which contained three short stories. 
These were 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras', 'The Sexton's Hero', and 
'Christmas Storms and Sunshines', written and originally published 
in _Howitt's Journal_ under the pseudonym of Cotton Mather Mills 
in the latter half of 1847 and the beginning of 1848. The second 
and third stories are moral anecdotes which have negligible 
reference to Manchester itself. The second, a story of quiet heroism, 
has a well described setting on the Lancashire coast supporting a 
dramatic and pathetic local story. The third is a Dickensian type of 
lower middle-class domestic sketch, attempted in the Dickens vein 
of descriptive humorous characterization and pathos. Mrs. Gaskell is 
not at home with lower class gentility nor with Dickens's humorous 
method, and she wisely does not repeat this attempt at life in the 
Todgers manner. But the other story, though trite and moralizing, 
has its interest for her development. It is the first of a series of 
tales and novels by Mrs. Gaskell which had Manchester as a setting 
and which continued until, with the appearance of _North and 
South_ in 1855, Manchester abruptly vanished from Mrs. Gaskell's 
scene. *4* From these stories we may understand what Manchester 
stood for in her work.
In 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' interest as far as the story goes is
*4* 'The Manchester Marriage' (1858) has nothing to do with 
Manchester apart from its opening paragraphs, which are discussed 
later. See p. 267 for the link between 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' 
and _Mary Barton_.

-- 91 --

focused on Libbie herself, the plain girl who finds happiness in 
helping a sick child and then in comforting the embittered mother 
when the child dies. The attitude is based firmly on conceptions of 
individual belief and duty, pointed by the moral (it is called that) 
which concludes the tale: 'She has a purpose in life; and that 
purpose is a holy one.' *5* But a further interest is provided by the 
method of narration. The construction is in three episodes which are 
used to sketch in aspects of working-class life as they affect two 
groups of characters; the careless extravagance of a family with 
some security and relative wealth being opposed to the struggles 
and misfortunes of a less prosperous one. The eye for detail based 
on intimate knowledge is already at work, and the background is at 
least as interesting as the plot, while avoiding too much sentiment. 
Manchester emerges out of three scenes, to which she gives the 
titles Valentine's Day, Whitsuntide, and Michaelmas. By choosing 
local holidays for the episodes she is able to include a variety of 
local customs and traditions as well as to provide herself with an 
easy device for dealing with the time element, but it is the central 
episode rather than the general technique that requires our 
attention here. It describes the customary Whitsuntide outing to the 
country, and in it we find Mrs. Gaskell's first presentation of 
Manchester as ugliness and dirt, a condition of life automatically 
precluding anything gracious or satisfying to the senses, an 
environment calculated to degrade and depress. She sees its 
inhabitants as nevertheless responsive to the influence of Nature 
when given the chance, and takes the narrator's privilege of 
commenting on it in a Wordsworthian and rather patronizing way. 
(This hint of the patronizing soon disappears from her work.)

     Depend upon it, this complete sylvan repose, this 
     accessible quiet, this lapping the soul in green images 
     of the country, forms the most complete contrast to a 
     town's-person, and consequently has over such the 
     greatest power of charm. *6*

Charm is one asset Manchester never has for Mrs. Gaskell. It 
possesses the moral virtues, as she interpreted them, and is


*5* _Mary Barton_, p. 489.
*6* ibid., p. 474. The style is unfortunate, but this is beginner's 
-- 92 --

eminently an arena for their display; the story is meant to illustrate 
that these virtues - supported by religion - are part of the nature of 
man. But Manchester was also an inescapable fact, for her as well as 
for her characters; the turning away from it that marks the later 
stages of her career owes a good deal to personal antipathy, 
although it is never the attempt to turn back the clock that William 
Morris later proposed. Nor does she make the mistake of equating 
the hard life of the mill hand with inevitable drabness and the 
debasement of the intelligence and the emotions. If she shows 
amply enough how this could happen, and a main purpose was to 
show that it did happen, she was also to show a love of beauty and 
a lively intellectual curiosity as capable of coexisting with squalor 
and poverty. We touch on one of the essentials in her view of the 
'Manchester' way of life when dealing with this aspect of charm. 
She would have agreed in this one respect with Morris; man does 
not live by bread alone, yet the Manchester she depicts offered 
little to the spirit. It was 'ugly, smoky Manchester' even though in 
the same breath it was also 'dear busy, earnest, noble-working 
Manchester', *7* and much as she praised its virtues and recognized 
the individual qualities of those who lived in it, she was 
temperamentally averse to living there herself.
Mrs. Gaskell's letters and her life itself support this view. The 
letters contain frequent descriptions of the countryside or of places 
of interest but Manchester is hardly ever mentioned without a 
groan. This desire to get away from Manchester has been referred 
to already in the general context of traditions and associations, but 
a positive dislike is also present. 'I should like to be going 
tomorrow', she wrote to Norton about a trip she proposed:

*7* _Mary Barton_, p. 477. The influence of Carlyle at this stage is 
obvious, hot Manchester by now had become the symbol of the new 
age. Disraeli, responsive as always to the feeling of the times, had 
expressed it in suitably dramatic terms in 1844:
          "Ah! hot the Mediterranean!" exclaimed Coningsby "What 
     would I not give to see Athens!"
          "I have seen it," said the stranger, slightly shrugging 
     his shoulders, "and more wonderful things. Phantoms and 
     spectres. The Age of Ruins is past. Have you seen 
               _Coningsby_, Hughenden edition, 1882, pp. 114-15.

-- 93 --

     and out of this misty foggy Manchester, which gives 
     me a perpetual headache very hard to bear. *8*

and later she mentions:

     one of my bad head aches; which I am afraid are 
     produced by the air of Manchester, as I hardly ever 
     have them - certainly not anything like so violently; 
     anywhere else. *9*

It is difficult not to connect Mrs. Gaskell's bad health with a mental 
as well as a physical reaction to her environment, or to avoid 
drawing conclusions from the fact that as she earned more money 
from her' writing she spent longer periods away from the city. The 
purchase of the house at Alton in Hampshire, with the purpose of 
inducing her husband to retire and live there, was the final effort. 
She died at Alton when her plans were made but before she was 
able to try inducing her husband to make the break. The attempt 
would certainly have failed for the Rev. Mr. Gaskell enjoyed his 
work and his surroundings. Paradoxically, domestic ties, which she 
held in such high regard, were themselves an obstacle to her 
Manchester was not merely a depressing place to live in, it 
represented also a burden of duties which her character and 
position compelled her to accept, and we have seen that she was not 
at all clear what those duties ought to be. So the anxiety over the 
lack of a precise sense of purpose, which was a direct result of 
strange and changing conditions, was added to her distaste for the 
city itself. It influenced her later decision to concentrate as a 
novelist on communities and patterns of behaviour which she could 
interpret with a confidence derived from being fully and 
affectionately aware of the social forces at work.
One type of help, the duty of the Christian towards his fellow men, 
was plain enough, and Mrs. Gaskell grasped at this certainty while 
exploring the context within which the duties were supposed to 
operate. We must note here another important point about her 
'Manchester', it is fully as limited in its social range as _Cranford_, 
and to the same purpose. The 'amazons' of _Cranford_ represented 
in essence its moral core and energy; the mill-

*8* _Letters_, p. 44.	
*9* ibid., p. 53.

-- 94 --

working community symbolized for her the driving force of 
Manchester. Her own social world of the cultured professional and 
manufacturing class does not appear, neither do the important 
shopkeeping and professional communities. Another major omission 
is reference to the Irish immigrants who constituted a sizeable 
proportion of the population and were its dregs. One reason for this 
omission was undoubtedly religious, for tolerant as she was Mrs. 
Gaskell must have realized that any appeal to society through 
religion in general terms could not at that time have included 
Roman Catholicism, nor would her duties as a dissenting minister's 
wife have brought her into any close touch with it. She was aware 
of them as a group and as part of the complex social problem. In 
_Ruth_ she correctly traces the origins of the cholera epidemic to 
'the low Irish lodging houses' and acknowledges their priests as the 
first to give warning, while Thornton in _North and South_ imports 
Irish labour as strike breakers. But a view of the city as a whole, 
embracing it with affectionate comprehension for all its blemishes 
in the manner with which Dickens treats his London, was never 
attempted, and was probably beyond her ability or sympathy. It 
was certainly beyond her purpose.
Both the range of society and the physical aspects of Manchester 
presented in _Mary Barton_ are little less limited than in the 
preceding story. We are given a generalized working-class area, 
ranging from the worst type of slum to neat cheerfulness, but there 
is no naming of streets, districts and relationships. When we do get 
a rare detail, as in Barton's shopping along the prosperous London 
Road after pawning his clothes to buy food for the Davenports, the 
road is used as an excuse for moral apothegms. When Wilson walks 
to the Carsons to get Davenport an infirmary order we only know 
that he had:

     about two miles to walk before he reached Mr. Carson's 
     house, which was almost in the country. *10*

This is not Manchester the city but Manchester the symbol of a type 
of background for living. The detail enters with individual


*10* _Mary Barton_. p. 73

-- 95 --

homes, and in this early novel the descriptions are often set pieces. 
It is well done and tellingly done; we are left convinced that 
Manchester stands for conditions that affront the dignity of life and 
starve the senses. Even when wealth is shown, as at Carson's house, 
the same ugliness and tastelessness are observed, made 
comfortable and rather gross with money. Against this setting we 
see individuals, families, the social group which it concerns, fighting 
or succumbing to the external influence according to the strength of 
their moral natures and the integrity of the human heart.
The social range is equally limited, rarely moving beyond the world 
of the mills and more particularly of the mill workers. The mill 
owners necessarily appear in the plot because of the theme of 
reconciliation and understanding between masters and men, but we 
see them only as the local variant of Dives to the working Lazarus. 
The one exaggerated, almost caricatured scene of domestic life in a 
master's home is drawn less with an eye to reality than with the 
aim of shocking after the slum scene which precedes it. We get a 
small amount of variety in the working background; Mary herself is 
a seamstress and Alice a dealer in herbs. But the total effect is one 
of almost claustrophobic narrowness in the way of life. Mrs. 
Gaskell's achievement is to bring home the extent to which life was 
cramped and conditioned by the physical, social and mental 
environment of the new technologies.
It is within this narrow compass that Mrs. Gaskell begins to look at 
the complexity of the social problem, and her starting point is that 
the human being is an individual soul. The term 'soul' is imprecisely 
used; its connotations cluster round religion but extend in aesthetic, 
social and emotional directions, though she often reserves the term 
'heart' for matters more exclusively dealing with emotions and 
affections. The earlier quotation from 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' 
gives us the inclusive use in the reference to 'this lapping the soul 
in green images of the country and _Mary Barton_, with its opening 
scene of the same type of holiday excursion, repeats the point that 
these influences are normally excluded. It is notable that Alice 
Wilson, the gentlest and most
-- 96 --

patiently enduring character in the book, is sustained by her early 
memories of the countryside and by her trade as a herbalist which 
keeps her in touch with nature. The ending of the novel is also 
significant. The main characters emigrate, and Raymond Williams 
has suggested *11* that this is the author's way out from finding a 
genuine solution. There is some truth in this, but equally important 
is the life they have escaped to. Although Jem is an engineer he has 
contrived to settle in a setting of rustic simplicity. The Manchester 
family have emigrated spiritually as well, back to Nature:
     I see a long, low, wooden house, with room enough and to 
     spare. The old primeval trees are felled and gone for many 
     a mile around; one alone remains to overshadow the 
     gable-end of the cottage. There is a garden around the 
     dwelling, and far beyond that stretches an orchard. The 
     glory of an Indian summer is over all, making the heart 
     leap at the sight of its gorgeous beauty. *12*

Not to wild, untamed nature, a town is nearby, but at least back 
within the influence of the 'charm' which Manchester lacked.
There are other outlets for the soul. Job Legh's interest in natural 
history and his granddaughter's love of music are examples of 
intellectual and artistic escape from the immediate environment. So 
in their own way are the bright colours and garish tastes that Mrs. 
Gaskell draws attention to: Barton's 'one gay red-and-yellow silk 
pocket-handkerchief' which he pawns; *13* the 'bright green 
japanned tea-tray, having a couple of scarlet lovers embracing in 
the middle', which 'gave a richness of colouring' to the Barton home; 
*14* Esther's love of tawdry finery foreshadowing her eventual 
flight. These things represent the imagination and the senses 
fighting against the negative forces of drabness and dreariness. Mrs. 
Gaskell shared in this experience and in the sense of frustration 
that had always to be mastered. She wrote to Norton in the spring 
of 1859:

     We are always full of hope and of plans in the flower-line, 
     just about this time of year. But the east winds and the 
     smoke always come; only one cannot live without hoping. 


*11* op. cit., Part I, Chap. 5. 
*12* _Mary Barton_, p. 457.	
*13* ibid., p. 66.
*14* ibid., p. 13.
*15* _Letters_, p. 32.

-- 97 --
Yet for all the drabness and rootlessness, fostered by circumstances 
ranging from 'honest, decent poverty' to 'grinding squalid misery' 
*16* she had been forced to recognize a strength and vigour, a 
sense of purpose in Manchester. She realized that a new power was 
thrusting through, and that the individual suffering that distressed 
her was in some way part of the inevitable change. In searching for 
an explanation that would enable her to reconcile her beliefs and 
humanity with the harsh effects of the change, it was natural that 
she should turn first to religion, in the manner of Job Legh's final 

     It's true it was a sore time for the hand-loom weavers 
     when power-looms came in: them new-fangled things 
     make a man's life like a lottery; and yet I'll never 
     misdoubt that power-looms, and railways, and all 
     such-like inventions, are the gifts of God. I have lived 
     long enough, too, to see that it is a part of His plan to 
     send suffering to bring out a higher good . . . *17*

He goes on to explain to Mr. Carson, in the passage that was 
previously quoted in part, the duty of the fortunate to help the less 
fortunate. But the religious answer was a palliative, and not a very 
successful one. If there was an appropriate answer, it had to be 
found in terms of the new power itself and the moral energy it 
Her perception of the new energy and its achievement is apparent 
in numerous small details. She comments on:

     an acuteness and intelligence of countenance, which 
     has often been noticed in a manufacturing population
     . . . *18*

and there is pride in the way she talks of the firm for whom Jem 
Wilson worked:

     one of the great firms of engineers, who send from out 
     their towns of workshops engines and machinery to the 
     dominions of the Czar and the Sultan. *19*


*16* _Mary Barton_, p. 429.	
*17* ibid., p. 448.	
*18* ibid., p. 3.
*19* ibid., p. 29. Dickens speaks with similar pride about Daniel 
Doyce in _Little Dorrit_, but the Great Exhibition had by then 
produced public awareness of British engineering supremacy. It is 
ironical that Mrs. Gaskell's only account of the export of British skill 
covered the farcical visit of a gardener to Persia in 'The Shah's 
English Gardener'.
-- 98 --
as there is also in the way she refers the reader to the life of Sir J. E. 
Smith for an account of the scientific reputation earned by working-
class amateurs in the industrial cities, of whom Job Legh is a type. 
Such explicit comments are, however, infrequent at this stage and 
can be interpreted also, though not wholly, as a salute to the human 
spirit and intelligence which refused to be dominated by its new 
surroundings. Her real tribute to the representatives of the new 
spirit only comes after she has decided her own attitude to these 
problems. In _Cousin Phillis_ she is able to give the fine and 
unsentimental account (based, according to Mrs. Haldane, on James 
Nasmyth) of Paul Manning's father, and present him as a worthy 
counterpart to the farmer-minister Holman. The attempt to give 
just praise and recognition to the spirit of industrial progress had in 
the meantime to be made, and is to be found in _North and South_. 
Until that novel was written the use made of Manchester or of 
factory life involves no deeper awareness, the author concentrating 
on the individual predicament and individual moral duty. But 
before _North and South_ can be fully understood it becomes 
necessary to deal with two further points. The first, which can be 
briefly handled, is that 'Manchester' does not stand for town life in 
general as opposed to country life. The second requires fuller 
treatment; it concerns the position that the Knutsford world and the 
country hold in relation to the ideas and the emotions which 
'Manchester' evoked.
In one obvious sense Manchester does of course stand for 'city' as 
against 'country'; we have already remarked on its divorce from 
Nature. (That word will itself need more definition later. It covers 
the elements of country and of what is natural; and regards love of 
the country as one aspect of the natural.) In other ways it - or the 
manufacturing town of the particular novel or story - is regarded in 
the conventional way as the place where country people go wrong, 
adrift from the moral and customary restraints of their closely knit 
communities. Girls are seduced there, weak young men become 
criminal there. I have remarked that in the industrial world we are 
always conscious of an air of


*20* _Mary Barton_, Chap. 5.

-- 99 --

moral strenuousness and a sense of purpose activating industrial 
life. But the 'town', when it is the place where youth goes wrong, 
lacks these qualities. It is also the distant place, somewhere 'away'; 
we mainly see or hear of it from the vantage point of home. Edward 
Browne in 'The Moorland Cottage', Leonard Bradshaw in _Ruth_, and 
Benjamin Huntroyd in 'The Crooked Branch' are three varied and 
varyingly effective treatments of this theme of being cut off from 
family influence and control, with some comments on billiards, 
play-going, and undesirable companions to suggest the necessary 
London is the 'city' in this sense, the centre where energy has been 
sapped, standards weakened, and where people concern themselves 
with trivialities. Mrs. Gaskell knew it well and after the success of 
_Mary Barton_ visited it frequently, yet it occurs in her work only 
as a distant, fashionable and rather heartless contrast to 
Manchester. In 'The Manchester Marriage' she gave a detailed 
statement of how London appeared to a Mancunian - and to a great 
extent still does!:

     he had an odd, shrewd contempt for the inhabitants; 
     whom he always pictured to himself as fine, lazy people; 
     caring nothing but for fashion and aristocracy, and 
     lounging away their days in Bond Street and such places; 
     ruining good English, and ready in their turn to despise 
     him as a provincial. The hours that the men of business 
     kept in the city scandalised him, too, accustomed as he 
     was to the early dinners of Manchester folk and the 
     consequently far longer evenings. Still, he was pleased 
     to go to London; though he would not for the world have 
     confessed it, even to himself. . . he might have been 
     justified in taking a much larger house than the one he 
     did, had he not thought himself bound to set an example 
     to Londoners of how little a Manchester man of business 
     cared for show. Inside, however, he furnished it with an 
     unusual degree of comfort . . . Moreover, his northern 
     sense of hospitality was such, that, if he were at home, 
     he could hardly suffer a visitor to leave the house 
     without forcing meat and drink upon him. Every servant 
     in the house was well warmed, well fed, and kindly 
     treated . . . he amused himself by following out all his 
     accustomed habits and individual ways, in defiance of 
     what any of his new neighbours might think. *21*


*21* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 492-3

-- 100 --
London was strange in ways and looks. Manchester was large 
enough and growing, but could still be regarded as relatively 
compact and as a community of sorts in purpose, while London was 
too vast for that, it was 'that big mass o' a place', *22* a lonely place 
where neighbourliness was not the habit. It produced self-centred 
characters, attracted there by ambition or brought up in its 
atmosphere of snobbery and vanity. At best they are like Mr. 
Kirkpatrick 'struggling on in his profession' until:

     the comparative table-land of Q.C.-dom gained . . . 
     Mr. Kirkpatrick had leisure for family feeling . . . *23*

At worst they are like Henry Lennox in _North and South_ or Ralph 
Corbett in 'A Dark Night's Work', completely sacrificing affection 
and the honesty of their emotions to ambition. London mocks the 
provincialism and poverty of the Chartist delegates, and kills off 
Margaret's parents in _Mary Barton_, Job Legh leaving them:

     in a big, crowded, lonely churchyard in London. I were 
     loath to leave them there, as I thought, when they rose 
     again, they'd feel so strange at first away fra' Manchester, 
     and all old friends . . . *24*

We are given one side of London; quite deliberately, let us do Mrs. 
Gaskell justice in this. In the _Life_ she explains the attraction of 
the capital for Branwell by describing it from his point of view - 
'that mysterious London - that Babylon the great' *25* but later on 
she can quote from Villette Charlotte's awareness of distinctions 
which she herself knew just as well:

     Since those days I have seen the West End, the parks, 
     the fine squares; but I love the City far better. The City 
     seems so much more in earnest; its business, its rush, its 
     roar are such serious things, sights, sounds. The City is 
     getting its living - the West End but enjoying its pleasure. 
     At the West End you may be amused; but in the City you 
     are deeply excited. *26*

Now this is precisely a distinction Mrs. Gaskell wishes to make 
between the Manchester and the London of her fiction, and which 
she had expressed already; possibly this is the reason why the


*22* _Mary Barton_, p. 118.	
*23* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 486-7.
*24* _Mary Barton_, p. 118.	
*25* Life, p. 336.	
*26* ibid., p. 370.

-- 101 --

quotation had stuck in her mind. When Margaret Hale has become 
an heiress in _North and South_, a brief chapter, No. 47, is devoted 
mainly to the London life in which she is going to live. It is a 
chapter whose tone is adapted chiefly to trivialities. The beginning 
of the next chapter swings back to Milton with something 
approaching the rhythm and fervour that Dickens used for his 
railway scenes in _Dombey and Son_, and possibly with a last echo 
of Carlyle:

     Meanwhile at Milton the chimneys smoked, the ceaseless 
     roar and mighty beat and dazzling whirl of machinery 
     struggled and strove perpetually. Senseless and 
     purposeless were wood and iron and steam in their 
     endless labours; but the persistence of their monotonous 
     work was rivalled in tireless endurance by the strong 
     crowds, who, with sense and with purpose, were busy 
     and restless in seeking after - What? *27*

The 'What?' is part of the total problem. That which demands our 
attention here is the sense of purpose and energy setting Milton-
Manchester apart from the pursuit of pleasure and vanity, and from 
the accompanying moral enervation which unfortunate London was 
called on to epitomize.


*27* _North and South_, pp. 498-9.

-- 102 --


The World of _Cranford_

'EVERY schoolboy knows' that _Cranford_ is Knutsford, the H small 
country town where Mrs. Gaskell was brought up,
and critical comments on her work all make this point.
They seem to mean by this that Mrs. Gaskell draws on her 
knowledge of Knutsford and her memories of its inhabitants for her 
detail; its topography, its customs and traditions, its stories and 
incidents, even its characters are used. But when all is said and 
done _Cranford_ is a fiction, however much its components are 
based on a reality. Nor is all of Knutsford represented by a long 
way; the details used are selected, and Henry James has reminded 
us that selection is a prime element of art. _Cranford_ is an 
interpretation made through the medium of the art of fiction, and 
we have to ask what this interpretation is; what, in other words, 
_Cranford_ represents as Mrs. Gaskell has described it.
Knowing also that _Cranford_ (to use it as a generic name) 
reappears in her work under many guises, just as Manchester 
reappears as Drumble, Milton, etc., we have further to study its 
varying manifestations, and even to enquire whether it occupies 
always the same position in time and space. We shall find that it 
does not. For _Cranford_ represents certain attitudes and standards 
in a way of life conveniently given substance by being embodied in 
the life of country-town society, although that society is itself 
subject to modification.
The best approach is probably through a study of _Cranford_ itself. 
It will be necessary to say something first about the origin, 
development and general nature of the novel, and to deal with one 
objection which might be raised to treating _Cranford_ as an 
interpretation. The objection - it is inherent in most of the not very 
satisfactory studies of _Cranford_ that have appeared - is that it

-- 103 --

is not a novel, and is hardly to be ranked as fiction; that it is a set of 
reminiscences thinly disguised as fiction, something like Conrad's 
_The Mirror of the Sea_ but carried slightly further in its method. 
How far it is a novel will be discussed when the development of 
Mrs. Gaskell's technique is examined. That it is fiction should be 
obvious as we follow the story line of each episode, and the gradual 
linking of episodes into a larger structural unity, while increasing 
our acquaintance with the relatively few characters round whom 
and through whom _Cranford_ grows. Anecdotes and incidents, such 
as the story of the piece of antique lace swallowed by Mrs. 
Forrester's cat, are taken from life or local legend, but Mrs. Gaskell 
has no hesitation in altering facts and reshaping events to suit her 
purpose. An example of this is the first episode, originally written 
without thought of a successor. In this story (published in 1851) the 
climax worked up to is the death of Capt. Brown when he is run 
over by a train. Yet the railway did not come to Knutsford until 
1862; Mrs. Gaskell invented the story, and since a railway was 
required for it, a railway there was. *1* But this is standard practice 
with most writers, and such a commonplace needs emphasizing only 
because of an attitude that seems to have developed towards this 
particular book.
_Cranford_ began as a self-contained story (now the first two 
chapters of the book) published by Dickens in _Household Words_ 
on 13 December 1851, the story using material from the original 
short essay 'The Last Generation in England' which was published 
obscurely in _Sartain's Union Magazine_ in America during 1849. It 
concentrates almost entirely on the social setting, which is firmly 
presented as feminine, middle-aged to elderly, genteel, and sharing 
a 'general but unacknowledged poverty' - although this poverty is 
interpreted in the light of maintaining the modest standards of 
gentility summed up in the phrase 'elegant economy'. *2* The 
setting once established, the story is woven round the arrival of the 
elderly widower, Capt. Brown, and his two daughters as

*1* G. A. Payne, _Mrs. Gaskell and Knutsford_, Clarkson and 
Griffiths, 1900 (p. 12) gives details about the railway. Mrs. Gaskell 
herself throws light on the invention of the whole story in a letter 
to Ruskin quoted by Ward (_Cranford_, p. xii) "The beginning of 
'_Cranford_' was one paper in '_Household Words_'; and I never 
meant to write more, so killed Captain Brown very much against my 
*2* _Cranford_, p. 4.
-- 104 --

newcomers to _Cranford_, and their reception by the 'Amazons' who 
are won over by the frank and natural behaviour of the Captain - 
even though he is a man. The elder daughter is ill and finally dies; 
just before this happens the Captain is himself killed by a train 
while saving a child. A faithful admirer returns to marry the 
younger daughter.
As a story this first episode is slight, simple and unoriginal, a 
mixture of pathos, mild melodrama and happy ending. Yet the 
unobtrusive and undemanding nature of the story is its virtue; it is 
admirably suited to permit the narrative of daily incident and 
custom which carries it along and provides the real interest. The 
central figure is not, in fact, Captain Brown; it is Miss Deborah 
Jenkyns, the rector 5 daughter and admitted arbitrator of 
_Cranford_ manners.
The enthusiasm of Dickens and his readers prompted Mrs. Gaskell 
to provide further episodes, and with these episodes she made 
important changes. The dominating Miss Jenkyns has died; her 
quiet and unassertive sister, Miss Matty, becomes the central figure. 
It is around Miss Matty that the episodes develop until they have 
finally limned her history and character in a narrative that 
accumulates unity as it proceeds. And all the time the delicate 
nuances of behaviour in the circumscribed society and its small 
country town are being described in incidents that, whether trivial 
or major within the narrative, keep proportion to the social scene. 
Miss Matty's muted early love affair, the youth and disappearance 
of her brother, the stir caused by the marriage of an 'aristocratic' 
_Cranford_ian to the local surgeon, the loss of her small income and 
the return of the missing brother are the main threads which take 
us back and forwards in time as the dialogue and narrative quietly 
build up an acutely observed and detailed study of a way of life. 

*3* The sixteen chapters of the book as we now have it (excluding 
the much later addition 'The Cage at _Cranford_', 1863), were 
originally published as eight episodes in nine instalments at 
unequal intervals between 13 Dec. 1851 and 21 May 1853. They all 
appeared in _Household Words_ and were published as a book in 
June 1853. The eight episodes - I give present chapter numbers 
after each - were with minor modifications 'Our Society at 
_Cranford_' (1-2), 'A Love Affair at _Cranford_' (3-4), 'Memory at 
_Cranford_' (5-6), 'Visiting at _Cranford_ '(7-8), 'The Great 
_Cranford_ Panic', in two instalments (9-11), 'Stopped Payment at 
_Cranford_' (12-13), 'Friends in Need at _Cranford_' (14), and 'A 
Happy Return to _Cranford_' (15-16). These titles show clearly the 
intention to describe facets of _Cranford_ life, yet the change from 
the early descriptive titles to the later story titles also marks the 
transition to a more definite narrative structure.

-- 105 --

_Cranford_ makes its initial impression by its tone and by the sheer 
felicity of incident and dialogue. The narrative attitude is one of 
humour, a humour based on sympathy and affection laced with 
common sense and a nice eye (or ear) for observation. It admits 
that life can be serious, but the narrative viewpoint is just 
sufficiently detached to keep events in proportion, and to refuse to 
act as though a recognition of what is serious necessarily involves 
solemnity or joylessness. The observation is shrewd; it notes what 
Is amusing without poking fun. Above all it is the sort of humour 
that is possible only in an environment in which the general run of 
events is pleasant, and the inhabitants are free from the continual 
presence of hardship and the daily evidence of man 5 inhumanity 
to man. Given such surroundings, it is possible to concentrate on the 
minor details of life - one's own and one's neighbours.
_Cranford_ life is securely built on an accepted order of behaviour. 
When Jessie Brown insists on going to her father's funeral, Miss 
Jenkyns firmly pronounces:

     It is not fit for you to go alone. It would be against 
     both propriety and humanity were I to allow it. *4*

And in saying this she has mentioned the two principles - propriety 
and humanity - which directly control _Cranford_ conduct. The 
book is a portrayal of a community where these principles govern 
action; there may be argument on the interpretation of propriety 
(never about humanity) but it is unthinkable that any other basis of 
conduct can exist. It is because of this that _Cranford_ is in its 
essence, not simply in its background and detail, different from the 
Manchester stories, in which propriety and humanity are present 
but can also be conspicuously absent. Drumble, the great 
manufacturing town only twenty miles from _Cranford_, is 
mentioned just often enough to keep us aware that other attitudes 
exist. It is at Drumble that the Town and Country Bank in which 
Miss Matty's small savings are invested stops payment, an 
impersonal attitude to obligations which Miss Matty quietly refutes


*4* _Cranford_, p. 21.

-- 106 --

by changing Farmer Dobson's now worthless note into sovereigns. 
*5* It may be considered that _Cranford_, in its assumption of the 
unquestioned acceptance of such principles is an idealization, but 
we are kept aware of other attitudes. When Miss Matty is set up in 
business selling tea, her guilelessness never leads to loss. This is 
incredible to Mr. Smith, the businessman father of the narrator, 
Mary Smith, and we have the quiet irony of her comment from the 
_Cranford_ viewpoint:

     But my father says "such simplicity might be very well 
     in _Cranford_, but would never do in the world." And I fancy 
     the world must be very bad, for with all my father's suspicion 
     of every one with whom he has dealings, and in spite of all 
     his many precautions, he lost upwards of a thousands pounds 
     by roguery only last year. *6*

_Cranford_ is not out of this world, the eager pursuit of the latest 
fashions by its inhabitants shows that; it merely prefers to stick to 
its own ways of doing things. There is even an air of modest 
triumph, as of having trapped a rare specimen, in the query which 
concludes the story of Betsy Barker's cow - 'Do you ever see cows 
dressed in grey flannel in London?' *7* But while we are allowed to 
smile at the ludicrous picture, we are invited to admire the practical 
and humanitarian intention which can defy the ludicrous and be 
Drumble is the newer, commercial world; it contains the drive, 
energy and know how represented by the narrator's father, who 
spares a day to come and advise about Miss Matty's future. Yet how 
much does he really do? The old-fashioned ladies acting according 
to their lights have already raised a fund; the loyal maid has 
hustled her bewildered fiancŽ into marriage to provide a home; 
even the tea-selling scheme has been suggested by Mary.

*5* The bank failure incident was possibly taken from conversation 
with Charlotte Bront‘ (although such failures occurred in 
Manchester at that time). Its counterpart occurs in Charlotte's 
letters (Life, pp. 420-1) which describe her loss from the failure of 
the York and North Midland Bank, and in which the retention of the 
shares in deference to Emily's wish parallels Miss Matty's retention 
of the shares out of respect for Deborah. The episode of the old 
letters may also be a Bront‘ reminiscence. In 1850 Mr. Bront‘ 
showed Charlotte his wife's letters, which were of the same 
unexpectedly informal type as those of Miss Matty's mother. The 
occasion is related by Charlotte in a letter (ibid., p.441).
*6* _Cranford_, p. 174.	
*7* ibid., p. 6.

-- 107 --

The implication all the time is that clear notions of duty and 
behaviour can achieve all that is necessary - if everybody acts by 
them. _Cranford_ ultimately arrives at the same conclusion as 
_Mary Barton_, but it starts from the opposite direction.
Because of its assumptions there is no need to preach, we are given 
the illustration without the sermon. The third and vital principle, 
Religion, on which all else is based, is not discussed because it is 
accepted and acted on. It appears therefore only where it is natural 
to find it, at the death-bed of Miss Brown for example, taking its 
place without strain or emphasis in the dialogue of people whose 
Christianity is so native to them that they would be surprised, and 
rather shocked, at any suggestion of a need to proclaim it, let alone 
defend it. And being natural, it can be treated with the same 
humour as any other aspect of human conduct:

     I thought of Miss Jenkyns, grey, withered, and wrinkled, 
     and I wondered if her mother had known her in the courts 
     of heaven . . .

reflects Mary, reacting spontaneously to the incongruous 
comparison between the elderly reality and the fond mother's early 
hope that she would be 'a regular beauty'. Her continuation is 
equally natural and logical:

     and then I knew that she had, and that they stood there 
     in angelic guise. *8*

Propriety is not offended, any more than it is by Peter's traveller's 
tale of shooting a cherubim by accident from the top of a mountain. 
In the Manchester stories religion carries implications too serious to 
be joked about; in _Cranford_ security of belief permits laughter.
The impression we are encouraged to get of _Cranford_ is of an old-
fashioned place a generation ago, though clear indications - such as 
the reading of the current number of _The Pickwick Papers_ and 
the passage of time after that - show that the calendar time is 
roughly contemporary. But the narrative threads move back to the 
late eighteenth century, and _Cranford_ is shown as a con-


*8* _Cranford_, p. 54.

-- 108 --

tinuity, a surviving as well as a present reality personified 
particularly in Miss Matty. Yet in a hundred little touches - the 
popularity of Dickens in spite of Miss Jenkyns's defence of Dr. 
Johnson is one - change is suggested. _Cranford_ is not static, it has 
to accept interference from the outside world. Its whole tenor 
indicates for example a gradual shifting of the social balance, 
'dubious' members such as Betty Barker, Mrs. Fitz-Adam and the 
'vulgar' Mr. Hoggins are admitted, as their worth is accepted. The 
point is that the values of the traditional outlook are maintained. If 
one half of propriety deals with trivialities, the other half comprises 
fundamental and proven standards of conduct; the two aspects are 
so intertwined that the trivial helps support the total fabric and is 
part of the pattern of stability. When customs and opinions wither 
they may be allowed to drop away, but often they are alive with 
the values they grew in.
It is over simple to accept _Cranford_ as a nostalgic idealization, 
though to some extent it has this quality. Yet only to some extent; in 
spite of its lightness of treatment it is informed by a serious 
concern for known and trusted standards, and this has supplied 
part of its strength to survive. Nor is life itself idealized. Its 
characters suffer, life is unfair to them. (Ruskin felt this so strongly 
that the first time he tried to read _Cranford_ he 'flew into a 
passion at Captain Brown's being killed and wouldn't go any 
further'.) *9* They have the imperfections of other people and one 
at least, Mrs. Jamieson, is not particularly pleasant. But in the major 
principles they are representatively firm. It is disconcerting to find 
that Mrs. Gaskell herself has anticipated this sort of 
misinterpretation when she makes Miss Jenkyns say:

People talk a great deal about idealising nowadays, whatever that 
may mean. *10*

but it is less difficult, on re-reading the book to see the qualities in 
it which made George Eliot - and no one has ever accused her of a 
lack of serious purpose or of superficiality - say 'my feeling towards 
Life and Art had some affinity with the feeling which had inspired 
_Cranford_ and the earlier chapters of _Mary Barton_'. *11*


*9* _Cranford_, p. xxiv - Ward quotes the letter.	
*10* ibid., pp. 54-5.
*11* Gordon S. Haight (ed.) _The George Eliot Letters_, Vol. III, 11 
Nov. 1859, Yale, 1954.

-- 109 --
It is important to remember that the story is told in the first person 
by Mary Smith who identifies herself with _Cranford_ although she 
lives in Drumble. *12* She remarks towards the end:

     For my own part, I had vibrated all my life between 
     Drumble and _Cranford_ . . . *13*

and in 'vibrating' she was exchanging one kind of reality for 
another and showing a preference. What she chose was more than a 
social system, it was also an environment, one moreover penetrated 
for Mrs. Gaskell with associations of childhood and home. Then 
again, it was a present reality, not some distant and now dream-like 
paradise lost. _Cranford_, I repeat, is not Knutsford, but there is a 
good deal of Knutsford in _Cranford_, and Knutsford was a 
neighbouring locality where friends lived and her daughters went 
to school. It provides a solid element of normality for imagination 
and memory to bite on.
Morally then, _Cranford_ represents a set of values and beliefs 
resting firmly on tradition though capable of gradual change. 
Socially, as has been shown, it is associated with stability based on 
these values. Its attitudes are not rigid, but they are conservative to 
change. In all these aspects it is in contrast to the new industrial 
towns or to London, where conditions promoted a personal and 
social struggle for existence, with the 'cash nexus' competing against 
the old ties of humanity, religion and class obligation for 
We now have to consider _Cranford_ as a place. Physically, as an 
environment for living, it had the charm that Manchester so 
conspicuously lacked, and which is a marked feature of the 
_Cranford_ world. In slightly earlier dealings as an author with this 
world, in 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions' (Feb.-Apr. 1851), Mrs. Gaskell 
felt the need to express her sense of this contrast. We note the first-
person narrator again, as Mr. Harrison recounts his arrival from 
London as a young doctor about to become junior partner to his old-
fashioned uncle in Dunscombe (socially and physically a version of 
_Cranford_). On his first evening he sits in the window of


*12* '_Cranford_' Stories are marked by this narrative self-
identification, which is discussed later.	
*13* _Cranford_, p. 185.

-- 110 --

his lodgings in the main street and allows the little town to make its 
impression on him. The description must be quoted at length:

     Dunscombe calls itself a town, but I should call it a 
     village. Really, looking from Jocelyn's, it is a very 
     picturesque place. The houses are anything but 
     regular; they may be mean in their details; but 
     altogether they look well; they have not that flat 
     unrelieved front, which many towns of far more 
     pretensions present. Here and there a bow-window - 
     every now and then a gable, cutting up against the 
     sky - occasionally a projecting upper story - throws 
     good effect of light and shadow along the street; 
     and they have a queer fashion of their own of 
     colouring the whitewash of some of the houses 
     with a sort of pink blotting-paper tinge, more like 
     the stone of which Mayence is built than anything 
     else. It may be very bad taste, but to my mind it 
     gives a rich warmth to the colouring. Then, here 
     and there a dwelling-house has a court in front, 
     with a grass-plot on each side of the flagged walk, 
     and a large tree or two - limes or horse-chestnuts - 
     which send their great projecting upper branches 
     over into the street, making round dry places of 
     shelter on the pavement in the times of summer 
          While I was sitting in the bow-window, thinking 
     of the contrast between this place and the lodgings 
     in the heart of London, which I had left only twelve 
     hours before - the window open here, and, although 
     in the centre of the town, admitting only scents from 
     the mignonette boxes on the sill, instead of the dust 
     and smoke of ----- Street - the only sound heard 
     in this, the principal street, being the voices of 
     mothers calling their playing children home to bed, 
     and the eight o'clock bell of the old parish church 
     bimbomming in remembrance of the curfew: while 
     I was sitting thus idly . . . *14*

and the story begins its affectionately easy course of shrewd and 
humorous observation, which includes some incidents of pathos and 
anxiety as a reminder that here also life is not always idyllic.
The overall impression made by this description is one of 
tranquillity not so much stated as conveyed by the accumulation of 
detail. The initial impact is through the senses, which individually 
find pleasure in sight, sound and smell; but the senses reveal an 
environment of calm, innocence and security. The references to 
shelter, to warmth, to children playing and church bells ringing, add 
up to something more than an enjoyable scene. There is no


*14* _My Lady Ludlow_, pp. 407-8.

-- 111 --

pretence of perfection; mean detail and bad taste are admitted, just 
as the narrative that follows deals in faults as well as virtues. The 
faults underline the humanity without detracting from the general 
sense of pleasure and peace, they are part of the impression which 
proves better than that of 'towns of far more pretensions'. The 
comparison to bigger towns (Manchester was obviously in her 
mind) prepares us for the statement that gives the whole passage 
its inner meaning, the quietly inserted contrast to London. The 
contrast itself is not described; we are left with the emphatic sense 
of relief expressed in the new environment.
The effect is, in its modest way, similar in principle to that which 
Wordsworth claimed for his 'Nature', the individual could be in 
accord with his environment and draw moral strength from
it. A quiet, small country town does not however have quite the 
same effect as a wild Cumberland lake or mountain. As 
Wordsworth, having marvelled at the Alps, still turned to his 
smaller mountains for inspiration and meaning, knowing the effect:

     Of custom that prepares a partial scale
     In which the little oft outweighs the great . . . *15*

so Mrs. Gaskell chose the retired little town she knew as her 
reference scale.

There can be little doubt also that part of the attitude derived from 
Mrs. Gaskell's sense of personal relaxation in connexion with 
Knutsford, and this too is reflected. Neither in memory nor m 
contemporary visits was she on duty as the minister's wife; she 
could relax as a member by right of a secure little group in 
surroundings which did not offend her senses nor nudge her moral 
conscience. It was a small world and a thoroughly known one. 'We 
know all the people here, and they know us, and all the duties of 
life seem so easy and simple compared to those of a great town,' 
*16* as she said later about another village. This freedom from the 
strain of moral strenuousness transferred itself to Cran-


*15* 'The Prelude' XII, 195-6, _The Poetical Works of Wordsworth_, 
O.U.P., 1926. Mrs. Gaskell shared Wordsworth's outlook sufficiently 
to work the last two lines of 'A slumber did my spirit seal' almost 
word for word into her account of Molly Gibson's shock. (_Wives 
and Daughters_, p. 432.)
*16* _Letters_, p. 26.

-- 112 --

ford and its inhabitants. They display the mixture of virtues and 
failings which Mrs. Gaskell accepted as the common recipe for 
mankind, but the pressure on the individual was less. There was a 
more congenial soil for virtue, failings were rarely aggravated into 
extremes of conduct. In the earlier _Cranford_ world particularly 
there is sorrow but little misery and no daily struggle to maintain 
common humanity or decency.
It is no more possible than it is with Manchester to define in rigid 
and precise terms exactly what _Cranford_ 'stands for', but we can 
see the principles and feelings which govern it. It is associated with 
pleasant and tranquil surroundings, a sense of security and 
stability, a way of life guided by order, custom and a clear vision of 
right and wrong in great and small things, free equally from the 
poverty and the desire for 'progress' that occupied the nervous 
energy and time of the new industrial society. It is a world in which 
there is leisure for humanity and social obligations, and sufficient 
means to support them. Moreover it is not a remote ideal. 
_Cranford_ as a town and a society may ignore a few awkward 
facts, but it represents a type that existed alongside the new 
materialism. It was possible to make a choice.
Two further qualities which as it were tinge the _Cranford_ world 
may be referred to in rounding off this account of its essence. One 
has already been touched on earlier, the stability of its class 
structure. In _Cranford_ the characters all know their place, and all 
accept without hesitation the general scheme of things. In practice 
we are hardly aware from the book of any section of _Cranford_ 
except the genteel one - for the servants are part of the gentility, 
mirror-images reflecting views and beliefs, more conscious of the 
niceties of position than their mistresses, with the autocratic Mr. 
Mulliner representing Mrs. Jamieson's precedence. Jem Hearn, the 
joiner whose bachelor days are unceremoniously cut short so that 
he can set up house to provide a home for Martha's mistress, 
acquiesces with hardly a demur. *17* This is partly, it must be 
admitted, out of personal respect for

*17* The female of the species is more deadly than the male. A 
minor theme in all Mrs. Gaskell's work is the power of a woman to 
get things done, if necessary at the expense of a man. She was 
never a 'feminist' but her sketches of the discomforted male 
generally have a small sparkle to them.

-- 113 --

Miss Matty; however she in turn represents the standards of 
_Cranford_ at their purest. But we must recognize that this is a very 
circumscribed society; Mrs. Gaskell is not yet ready to deal with 
_Cranford_ values in more complex social situations and general 
The other quality is the presence of the countryside, which is part 
of the physical charm of _Cranford_. While it is true that _Cranford_ 
is a country town, the country is very much a background and 
barely mentioned. When it occurs, as in the journey out to Thomas 
Holbrook's farm, it is domesticated and humanized. 'The fragrant 
smell of the neighbouring hayfields came in every now and then,' 
*18* no more. Now Mrs. Gaskell can respond to the country: she 
shares Wordsworth's affection for Cumberland and its statesmen, 
she also knows the Lancashire coast. But in this aspect of nature, 
uncivilized and awe-inspiring, _Cranford_ has no share. In fact, Mrs. 
Gaskell tends to rare patches of stiffness and 'purple writing' when 
elevating her expression towards Wordsworthian ends. 'Descriptions 
of nature as such', comments Ward, 'were not specially in Mrs. 
Gaskell's way . . .' while his conclusion could hardly be bettered:

     But her "walks in the country" (to borrow Miss Mitford's 
     phrase) had for their starting-point and goal the abodes of 
     men and women. *19*

Before turning to the development of the _Cranford_ theme, and the 
manner in which it gained ascendancy in her work, it may be useful 
to show the extent to which the image of _Cranford_ established 
itself in her mind as a correlative to the standards and attitudes 
associated with it. This is clear in _Ruth_. Eccleston, the town to 
which the Bensons take the despairing and weary Ruth, is clearly 
Manchester. But the Benson's home and garden, its neighbourhood, 
the old chapel, the little dissenting community in which she finds 
first rest, then peace and security, are all described in _Cranford_ 
terms. It is a flaw in the book, though compensated for by other 
excellences, that this account of Ruth's tranquil period is 
descriptively and socially out of keeping with both the smoke-
ridden town described on her arrival and with


*18* _Cranford_, p. 186.	
*19* ibid., p. xiii.

-- 114 --

the populous, cholera-ridden, Irish slums she works in after her 
tranquillity has been shattered. At this stage in her career Mrs. 
Gaskell was still 'vibrating' between the two different types of life 
with which she was associated. Something of the resulting confusion 
she half-realizes. The opening of the chapter 'After Five Years' (Ch. 
19) notes the quiet passage of time, and the narrator - who is this 
time the author-commentator - realizes that this sort of peace is not 
what we would expect to find in such a city. She covers it by linking 
up with that past which had been described at the beginning of the 
novel, before change and progress had set in:

     [an observer] would have noted some changes which 
     had imperceptibly come over all; but he, too, would 
     have thought, that the life which had brought so little 
     of turmoil and vicissitude must have been calm and 
     tranquil, and in accordance with the bygone activity 
     of the town in which their existence passed away. *20*

During the period up to the publication of _North and South_ Mrs. 
Gaskell had turned frequently to the _Cranford_ world as a relief 
from the industrial society in which she lived and which she was 
writing about. Much of this turning away may be regarded as a 
form of escape achieved by the expression, through fiction, of her 
preference. Occasionally she varies the physical milieu, making it 
more specifically country, although still a _Cranford_ type of 
country. The story of 'My French Master' for example is set vaguely 
on the edge of a forest, while its account of the refugee aristocrat 
who quietly settles down as a language master until the Bourbon 
restoration entices him home, only to further disappointment and 
eventual return, enables her to bring in her interest in French life 
and history. Sometimes, as in 'Morton Hall' - set on the outskirts of 
Drumble - she gives extra rein to her interest in local tradition and 
legend, moving the story back to give a perspective of event and 
continuity. Characteristically these stories are not essentially happy 
ones; Mrs. Gaskell, as has been pointed out, did not attempt to 
escape from the harsh aspects of life itself, and the _Cranford_ tales 
vary from the near farce of 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions' to the 
sombre shading of 'Morton

*20* _Ruth_, p. 199. The quotation should he linked with the 
passage quoted earlier (p. 85) with its implied promise to deal with 
changing traditions and environment.

-- 115 --

Hall'. But they all have in common a background of happiness and 
humour, an actual or potential pleasure seen in the physical setting 
and its society. So in 'My French Master' the misfortunes of M. de 
Chalabre and the echoes of the French Revolution are framed within 
the quiet and affectionate detail of the narrator's childhood. The 
basically tragic linked episodes of 'Morton Hall' are mediated 
through the narrative and background of the elderly sisters, whose 
idiosyncracies, emotions, speech and outlook control and give 
humour to the story.
'Morton Hall' has a further interest in its relation to the novel that 
followed. In itself it is, like so many of Mrs. Gaskell's stories that are 
now forgotten about, well worth the disinterring, and it could 
almost act as a model for the display in a short space of many of 
her talents and interests, though it is not one of her finest. The 
loosely linked episodes connect the past of the old house to the 
present through the vicissitudes of its owners at various periods; 
their particular interest is in the naive anticipation of the theme of 
_North and South_. In the final episode the last descendant of the 
aristocratic Mortons marries the wealthy cotton-spinner Carr, 
himself descended from the family that dispossessed the Mortons 
during the Civil War. The marriage ends the ill-fortune that the 
narrator traces to the curse put on the family by Alice Carr, who 
had married a Morton at the Restoration and suffered for it. *21* By 
this romantic and roundabout method the world of _Cranford_ and 
Manchester are united. The last we hear of the Hall is that it is 
being pulled down as the town overtakes it, while the social gap 
between landed gentry and manufacturer is bridged by the plot 

     "His ancestors," said Ethelinda. "Has he got ancestors? 
     That's one good point about him, at any rate. I didn't 
     know cotton spinners had ancestors." *22*

The story was published in two parts at the end of November, 1853, 
in _Household Words_. It may be assumed therefore that it was 
written after Mrs. Gaskell had begun work on _North and

*21* This may well have given Dickens a hint for Miss Havisham 
and Satis House in Great Expectations. Alice Carr returns to the 
house, locked as it was left with food served, and lives in it half-
crazed with the desire for revenge.
*22* _Cranford_, p. 488.

-- 116 --

South_, the novel which was to be her full scale attempt to reconcile 
the virtues of the _Cranford_ and Manchester worlds.
It should be clear that the relaxation of tenseness to be found in the 
daily life of this world does not imply any relaxation of moral 
standards, or that moral effort is not necessary. A choice between 
good and bad behaviour is constantly having to be made. Miss 
Matty's reaction to the bank failure has been quoted as an example 
of a moral decision which disregards personal consequences. We 
may note in contrast her friend Miss Pole's convenient habit of 
rationalizing in minor matters to assuage her vanity and curiosity, 
as when she ignores a previous affront to accept Mrs. Jamieson's 
In 1850 Mrs. Gaskell was asked to write a Christmas book. These 
Christmas books were expected to edify as well as entertain; a 
mixture of excitement and moral uplift for family enjoyment was 
wanted, such as Dickens supplied in his Christmas stories. Mrs. 
Gaskell's response was 'The Moorland Cottage', the first of her 
stories to be given a _Cranford_ setting. Some of the blame for a 
potentially fine tale spoilt must be placed therefore on the 
circumstances. The result is nevertheless instructive. The story 
develops from an account of Mrs. Browne and her children, Edward 
and Maggie, and Mrs. Browne's insistence, as widow of the late 
curate, on her genteel status. When the wealthy landowner Mr. 
Buxton decides to help the Brownes a certain intimacy develops 
between the children of each family, with the result that as they 
grow up Maggie and Frank Buxton fall in love against his father's 
wishes. In the meantime Edward, educated by Mr. Buxton, has 
developed into a weak and spoilt character who finally swindles his 
benefactor. By this means Edward is made an instrument for 
breaking off the engagement: Mr. Buxton will help him escape if 
Maggie gives up Frank. Her refusal, and Frank's, are moral 
decisions, and Mr. Buxton accepts the expedient of Maggie going to 
America with Edward to allow Frank time for reconsideration. A 
timely shipwreck in which Edward is drowned and Frank saves 
Maggie solves problems and brings Mr. Buxton round.
There is little of Christmas in this but plenty of the conventions

-- 117 --

of plot situation, drama and pathos. Yet it starts off in a totally 
different manner, with a description of the peaceful country scene 
preceding a humorously astringent presentation of Mrs. Browne 
with the detailed and naturally recounted incidents of family 
relationships. 'I told you', Charlotte Bront‘ said, 'that the book 
opened like a daisy.' *23* And the tone of this opening is never 
really lost - it preserves the tale from triteness. The ensuing 
melodrama is forced into this setting and tone, in fact forces itself 
for stretches right out of the setting (the same effect, but in reverse, 
of what we saw happen in _Ruth_). From time to time as well the 
narrator's moral elbow nudges us with edifying comment towards 
some particular lesson, while the dialogue takes on an artificial 
What has happened is, of course, an unconscious change of 
intention; the story as begun was not fulfilling the aim intended. 
Had Mrs. Gaskell finished as she began she would have written 
herself straight into the manner of _Wives and Daughters_ *24* but 
the demands of Christmas Book publication ran counter to the 
method and attitude for _Cranford_. Moreover she was strongly 
influenced by the feeling that a writer had a duty, which she 
interpreted as a didactic duty. It is tantalizing, for Mrs. Gaskell was 
patently on the verge of following her inclinations and natural 
talents. Even as it is, _Cranford_ morality and setting permeate the 
tale, in conflict with Edward's greed and selfishness, or the tinge of 
hard material morality in Mr. Buxton. 'The Moorland Cottage' is, by 
the standards of Mrs. Gaskell's better work, a failure, but it is the 
failure of a good writer distracted from her proper course. It is fair 
to add that Charlotte Bront‘ approved the direction it took. She 
went on to say, 'I now tell you it finished like a herb - a balsamic 
herb with healing in its leaves.' The medicinal infusion of morality, 
we need to remember, suited the nineteenth-century palate.


*23* Quoted in _Hopkins_, pp. 98-9.
*24: Much of 'The Moorland Cottage' does, in fact, anticipate _Wives 
and Daughters_. Mrs. Browne is a sketch for Glare, Maggie for Molly 
Gibson, Mr. and Mrs. Buxton for Squire and Mrs. Hamley, Frank for 
Roger Hamley. Mrs. Gaskell's feeling for Situation and character was 
already pointing her to her true material, but technique, experience 
and maturity as a novelist were needed before she could handle it.

-- 118 --
After _North and South_ (more strictly, after the _Life_), Mrs. 
Gaskell turned away with almost decisive completeness from the 
Manchester world. She gives up with it the attempt to deal with the 
'big' problems and broad issues, and paradoxically universalizes her 
work by restricting it to the individual problems of life in a small 
community. For by doing this she is able to ignore external 
pressures which, as the reader realizes only too well, cannot be 
interpreted in terms of individual behaviour other than by a 
process of simplification which may with some truth be labelled as 
a romantic idealization. The decision, whether she consciously 
thought of it as such or not, was undoubtedly influenced by the 
criticism which _Mary Barton_, _Ruth_ and _North and South_ 
attracted, and which while praising her ability as a writer told her 
bluntly that she was attempting solutions of matters beyond her 
experience. Once the decision had been taken she was free to regard 
her work solely from the point of view of the novelist; it is as a 
novelist and not as a moralist that she succeeds or fails in her later 
work; even the apparent exception of the feeble didacticism which 
closes _Sylvia's Lovers_ is largely a novelist's failure. _My Lady 
Ludlow_, _Sylvia's Lovers_, _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and 
Daughters_ are expressions of _Cranford_ values, stages in her 
progress to the final and full expression of the _Cranford_ world in 
its complexity and strength, while showing it as a durable form of 
society capable of standing the pressure of other attitudes. There is 
also little doubt that living in Manchester had depressed and 
influenced her; her later years of greater independence, travel and 
the contacts which fame brought, allowed fuller vent to her natural 
For the social historian who is a novelist, setting is as important as 
characters and incident, for these only develop meaning within 
their context. This is why it has been necessary to emphasize the 
importance of detail, whether of custom and manners or dress and 
buildings, as part of the very meaning of the _Cranford_ world. But 
a balanced account must add more.
_Cranford_ and the early stories which share its context all tend to 
look back, depicting a society set in its ways; it is a world of the 
middle-aged, and in more than one sense responds to the title

-- 119 --

of its original sketch, 'The Last Generation in England'. In her later 
work the centre of interest gradually switches to the young and to 
the adaptable. The _Cranford_ ethos is not lost, nor is the setting 
with all that it stands for, but the small section of society whose 
attitudes and behaviour occupy the whole of the early book has 
retreated into the background of _Wives and Daughters_, 
represented by the Miss Brownings. Old-fashioned, slightly comic in 
their rigidity of outlook, bewildered by strange patterns of 
behaviour and thought, they are still respected for their principles 
and loved for their goodness. They are the hereditary custodians of 
manners and ethics who need to be propitiated by all sections of 
society, even by the modern and aristocratic Lady Harriet, and who 
have handed on the principles to be adopted and adapted by the 
next generation. The novelist now catches not merely a whole 
society but one in the process of change, evolving without 
discontinuity from its less complex predecessor.
Mrs. Gaskell insists on humanity as well as propriety, and as the 
context of her work broadens, her insight into human nature and 
feeling deepens. 'A historian', remarked Conrad, 'may be an artist 
too, and a novelist is a historian, the preserver, the keeper, the 
expounder of human experience.' *25* No novelist, however, can 
deal with the whole of human experience; in the end he must select 
from those areas of it with which he is familiar, and then make a 
further choice of presentation based on personal preference and 
values. Mrs. Gaskell made her choice when settling for the 
_Cranford_ world. Her humour found its natural outlet through her 
examination of 'propriety' and her sensibility in the 'humanity', 
while her art as a novelist as well as her views as an individual 
found their full expression in the fusion of the two aspects.

*25* Joseph Conrad, 'Henry James', _Notes on Life & Letters_, Dent, 
1949, p. 17.

-- 120 --


Society and Sociology
MRS.	GASKELL is a novelist whose concern is with people's 
behaviour and the standards on which it is based. As behaviour is a 
social matter, being conditioned by society as well as being 
manifested in it, she is therefore concerned with social groups. But 
she is not concerned with society in the abstract, with analysing or 
criticizing the remote forces which mould or alter it, although we 
have already seen that she is quite acute enough an observer to 
realize that such forces must inevitably produce change. She is in 
fact, especially when her fondness for traditions and old habits is 
taken into account, surprisingly receptive to such inevitable change, 
and remarkably little burdened by any narrow conservatism, 
although she does not disguise her personal preferences.
But a community, from Mrs. Gaskell's point of view, relies 
ultimately on its recognition that society is a matter of order and 
hierarchy, with its members mutually respecting the rank as well 
as the individuality of each other; once given such a framework the 
individual can move easily and unselfconsciously within it. One of 
the clearest expositions of this occurs in _Wives and Daughters_. 
The chapter heading, 'Molly Finds Herself Patronized', is itself a 
warning. Lady Harriet, exercising the privilege of the county family 
to cross-question the local community, has sent away the agent who 
interrupts her conversation with Molly:

     "I cannot bear that sort of person," said Lady Harriet, 
     almost before he was out of hearing; "giving himself 
     airs of gallantry towards one to whom his simple respect 
     is all his duty. I can talk to one of my father's labourers 
     with pleasure, while with a man like that underbred fop I 
     am all over thorns and nettles." *1*


*1* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 183.

-- 121 --

The comment shows clearly the dual evaluation of individual and 
social rank, and begins an analysis whose purpose is to 'place' Molly 
as an individual (pretty, intelligent, spirited but not aggressive), 
and as a class representative (daughter of the local doctor who is 
respected, welcomed in the county family but free of social climbing 
and conscious of his own dignity). The analysis also, incidentally, 
places Molly in her function of 'informant', the character in the 
novel having access to all levels of the community. At this point she 
is being put on terms with Lady Harriet, who is a representative of 
the aristocracy; the conversation is turned so that she can shortly 

     "Your ladyship" (the title was the first-fruits of the 
     lesson, as Molly took it, on paying due respect) - 
     "your ladyship keeps speaking of the sort of - the class 
     of - people to which I belong, as if it was a kind of strange 
     animal you were talking about . . ."

to which Lady Harriet finally replies:

     Don't you see, little one, I talk after my kind, just as you 
     talk after your kind. It's only on the surface with both of 
     us. Why, I daresay some of your good Hollingford ladies 
     talk of the poor people in a manner which they would 
     consider just as impertinent in their turn, if they could 
     hear it.

It is because Molly is 'simple and truthful', in other words because 
as an individual she is both natural and deserving of respect, that 
Lady Harriet has:

     talked unconsciously to you as I would - well! now here's 
     another piece of impertinence - as I would to my equal - in 
     rank, I mean; for I don't set myself up in solid things as any 
     better than my neighbours. *2*

The whole dialogue brings out clearly the elements which make a 
society cohere; the sense of hierarchy, its gradations, the natural 
attitudes, tones and styles of address which go with them, yet 
accompanied by a sense that individual merit in 'solid things' can be 
separated from rank and accepted in its own right, always provided 
that the conventions which stabilize society are not interfered with.
_Wives and Daughters_ is the final and mature reflection of Mrs.


*2* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 184-5.

-- 122 --

Gaskell's views, The whole novel shows a subtle appreciation of the 
discriminations which underwrite the successful functioning of a 
society (I am not here concerned with its criticisms of over-rigid or 
insensitive attitudes and behaviour). Chapters, 2, 3, and 4 ('A 
Novice amongst the Great Folk', 'Molly Gibson's Childhood', 'Mr. 
Gibson's Neighbours') repay careful reading for their initial 
portrayal of the social balance in Hollingford, while the sub-plot of 
Osborne Hamley's unequal marriage is a special instance of the 
effects produced by any disturbance on a section of society which 
still had a legal as well as customary interest in maintaining that 

     most of them gentlemen of property, and [who] saw the 
     full importance of proving the marriage of an eldest son, 
     and installing his child as the natural heir to a 
     long-descended estate. *3*

But the same attitude (apart from the special case of landed 
influence), was present in _Mary Barton_, and underlines its 
conclusions that:

     it was most desirable to have educated workers, 
     capable of judging, not mere machines of ignorant men; 
     and to have them bound to their employers by the ties 
     of respect and affection, not by mere money bargains 
     alone . . . *4*

Different social ranges existed in the new industrial cities, where 
the manufacturer was the chief power. We have already looked at 
these, and need note only that Mrs. Gaskell has taken her bearings 
and worked out the levels. She knows and respects the working 
class, but there is no nonsense about equality. When the 
manufacturer Thornton apologizes to the mill-hand Higgins for 
calling him a liar, they can talk on equal terms of manliness and 
human dignity, and shake hands in recognition of these qualities, 
but the social relationship is understood by both. Higgins thanks 
him, a rare concession of respect from a proud man:

     "And this is a deal from me," said Mr. Thornton, giving 
     Higgins's hand a good grip. "Now mind, you come sharp 
     to your time," continued he, resuming the master. *5*

The urban revolution and its consequences overthrew certain 
previously accepted types of distinction while the geographical


*3* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 685.	
*4* _Mary Barton_, p. 451.	
*5* _North and South_, p. 389.

-- 123 --

proximity of Manchester and Knutsford brought the contrast home. 
Mrs. Gaskell was prepared to accept these consequences within 
their proper framework, which is to say that she realized the 
stupidity of trying to classify the social strata of Manchester by the 
categories of London or Knutsford. Margaret Hale makes this 
mistake, and her first step towards a consciousness of a new type of 
society is when her father quickly tells her off when she describes 
Thornton as:

          "Altogether a man who seems made for his niche, 
     mamma; sagacious, and strong, as becomes a great 
          "Don't call the Milton manufacturers tradesmen, 
     Margaret," said her father. "They are very different."
          "Are they? I apply the word to all who have 
     something tangible to sell; but, if you think the term 
     is not correct, papa, I won't use it." *6*

There is here still the identification of 'gentlemen' with certain 
ranks and professions, an identification which Dickens attacked so 
bitterly and brilliantly in _Great Expectations_ in 1862, and which 
Mrs. Gaskell had already queried on the same grounds, that 
gentlemanliness is a quality of character rather than of birth or 
education. Nevertheless some of the prejudice against certain 
classes, such as shopkeepers, still clings, as when, in _Cranford_, 
Miss Pole comments:

     You and I, Miss Matty, would have been ashamed to have 
     known that our marriage was spoken of in a grocer's shop, 
     in the hearing of shopmen! *7*

In a letter to Norton about the marriage of one of his friends, Mrs. 
Gaskell can twit him gently on his failure to understand social 

     And you don't understand what are our 'aristocratical 
     feelings' when you make a sort of apology to Marianne 
     about his marrying a governess. That does not hurt us 
     in the least, - it would if he married an uneducated girl, 
     a daughter 0Ł a rich _trades_person. *8*

Behind this prejudice lies a habit of gentility too inbred to be 
overcome; shopkeepers, unlike brewers or iron-masters or mill-


*6* _North and South_, p. 73.	
*7* _Cranford_, p. 137.	
*8* _Letters_, p. 11.
-- 124 --

owners, had not yet found a level above respectability. 
Nevertheless, in _Sylvia's Lovers_ the hero (if the novel can be said 
to have one; Philip Hepburn, like Pip, is more an anti-hero) is a 
shopkeeper, although the shop has the patina of local colouring in a 
historical novel. Moreover we are specifically given in Molly 
Corney's husband the reminder of the shopkeeper in all his solid 
vulgarity, while Philip is jerked away from his counter to a 
romantic career and a pathetic death.
It is not that Mrs. Gaskell is a snob, or that her characters - except a 
few deliberately drawn so - are snobs in the Thackerayan sense of 
judging individuals, and their own success, in terms of social 
position. Mrs. Gaskell positions herself, as authoress, carefully and 
yet quite naturally according to the lessons and habits of her own 
upbringing and experience. She stays on the whole in the 
professional, middle-class, social range, a narrow and well-defined 
range within which she can explore the human character on a 
secure basis. Jane Austen had done the same before her; Virginia 
Woolf was to do it after her; a novelist, quite apart from personal 
beliefs, can write with ease and assurance when within her social 
group. Her attitude is not at all that caricatured by Dickens in 'The 

     Oh, let us love our occupations, 
     Bless the squire and his relations, 
     Live upon our daily rations, 
     And always know our proper stations. *9*

She shares in her attitude a general movement of the period, which 
Professor Burn has summarized as a shift in writing, from:

     novels in which the basic structure of society was 
     discussed in terms of bitter satire and deep passion 
     to those in which personal problems were discussed 
     against the background of a society whose structure 
     was assumed to be sufficiently stable. *10*

Her concern for stability was always near the surface, something 
not to be overlooked.

A glance at her work will show how much Mrs. Gaskell was


*9* _Christmas Books_, O.U.P., 1954, p. 107. Lady Bowley has this 
set to music for her evening employment classes.
*10* Quoted in Asa Briggs, _Victorian People_, Odhams, 1954, p. 35.

-- 125 --

filled with the spirit of the amateur sociologist. She has a genuine 
curiosity which is independent of any ulterior motive, she likes 
receiving and giving information. So does the village gossip; the 
satirically slanted dialogues from _Cranford_ to _Wives and 
Daughters_ reveal that she was familiar with gossip and found 
amusement in it, though realizing how harmful it can be. She is fond 
of speculation about things as well as people, a lively curiosity 
about life around her is very clear in her occasional essays and 
articles. And it is useful to remind ourselves that to call an author a 
regional novelist does not imply that he never moves about, or is an 
innocent abroad. Mrs. Gaskell knew the world at large; she was 
often and gladly away from Manchester; in London or France or 
Germany, or visiting friends in the country as well as receiving 
from all over the world visitors coming to see the famous novelist. 
She had the education and intelligence to understand and weigh 
much of what she saw. The mere fact of travel does not imply a 
broadened outlook, but we must realize that Mrs. Gaskell, when she 
turned back to her local scene, did not do so naively. It would be 
equally wrong to make any extensive claim for her as an 
intellectual cosmopolite: she was an intelligent educated woman, 
worldly-wise without being worldly. Tolerant and informed enough 
to be an inquirer rather than a judge in new situations, she carried 
her own map of human nature with her on which to plot them.
So far we have considered only the two main areas of experience 
and the effect of their juxtaposition. She found another type of 
social grouping, still within her 'region', in the Lake District and the 
West Riding, and to some extent in North Wales. Perhaps 'grouping' 
is hardly the best term for a way of life she describes in 'Half a 
Lifetime Ago' as:

     just, independent, upright; not given to much speaking; 
     kind-hearted, but not demonstrative; disliking change, 
     and new ways, and new people; sensible and shrewd; 
     each household self-contained, and its members having 
     little curiosity as to their neighbours . . . *11*


*11* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 280. This is a second example of an 
early work ('Martha Preston') published in _Sartain's Union 
Magazine_ (1851) and revised for later publication. The decision to 
revise the story, which appeared in Oct. 1855 in _Household 
Words_, may have been stimulated by the work she had begun that 
Tune on Charlotte Bront‘.
-- 126 --

The 'statesmen' of the fells interested her as people and as a 
community, and the introductory pages of this very powerful story 
form a comprehensive little essay on them. This story and others 
dealing with the area are important also as they show that in 
appreciating this social background she was already prepared for 
her task as the biographer of Charlotte Bront‘.
Her visits to France produced a small crop of essays as well as 
material for stories. When she writes about French life it is nearly 
always to give an account of how people live, or to explain some 
interesting or bizarre fact of history. The scene may be 
contemporary, as in the journal which she published as 'French Life' 
- although this also dives off into byways of history - or historical 
as in Traits and Stories of the Huguenots' or 'An Accursed Race', the 
story of the persecuted Cagots in the Middle Ages.
She reads an out-of-the-way French book and can 'imagine some 
account of it may not be displeasing to the readers of _Household 
Words_' *12* who are then given, in 'Modern Greek Songs' a. 
rambling account of some traditional Greek customs. Later readers 
of _All the Year Round_ were told, in 'An Italian Institution' about 
the power of the Camorra. And the same curious eye for the social 
scene can be turned on England, as in 'Cumberland Sheep Shearers', 
or when she considers the new social phenomenon of the detective 
in 'Disappearances'. All these are occasional articles, pocket-money 
work; they represent items which took her interest and which she 
could write about easily.
In all of them she starts from a particular locality and particular 
types of people. Just as we have seen that in dealing with the 
_Cranford_ country her focus is always people and their behaviour, 
so with other countries and times it is the human interest which lies 
behind the description or anecdote. Her approach is the one she 
attributes to Ruth when the girl sits in the window on Sunday 
looking out at the strange city and its buildings:

     she saw one or two figures loiter along on the sunny 
     side of the street, in all the enjoyment of their fine 
     clothes and Sunday leisure; and she imagined histories 
     for them, and tried to picture to herself their homes and 
     their daily doings. *13*


*12* _Ruth_, p. 475.		
*13* ibid., p. 34.

-- 127 --

She begins from reality, from the individual in his setting.
For the human interest - whether in contemporary or historical 
account - has been in evidence in all that has been said. And this 
interest can be linked directly with what has already been said 
about her feeling for associations. A locality or social custom is 
nothing without its associations, as Margaret Hale found when she 
had to move to Milton. All her ties and memories were with the 
village she had left, her appreciation of Milton began only when she 
had made her first personal contact there:

     From that day Milton became a brighter place to her. It 
     was not the long, bleak sunny days of spring, nor yet was 
     it that time was reconciling her to the town of her 
     habitation. It was that in it she had found a human interest. 

Mrs. Gaskell finds in natural feeling the common experience which 
links humanity in spite of its variety of societies and classes; in that 
and in religion, for she stays within the Christian world of Western 
Europe. So she contrasts societies as she observes them and notes 
how much people in Cumberland or London or France have in 
common with the inhabitants of Lancashire. This note of comparison 
begins 'An Accursed Race'; 'We have', she says, 'our prejudices in 
England', and clinches the argument for the brotherhood of man by 
ending an article on medieval France with an epitaph remembered 
from her schooldays in Stratford-on-Avon:

     The moral of the history of the accursed race may, 
     perhaps, be best conveyed in the words of an epitaph 
     on Mrs. Mary Hand, who lies buried in the churchyard 
     of Stratford-on-Avon - 

               What faults you saw in me, 
               Pray strive to shun; 
               And look at home; there's
               Something to be done. *15*

The scene at a Greek death-bed reminds her of an anecdote from 
Lancashire, while one of her delightful essays, 'Company Manners' 
is a detailed study of French and English attitudes to social 


*14* _North and South_, p. 84.		
*15* _My Lady Ludlow_, pp. 218 and 235.
-- 128 --
Before Mrs. Gaskell opted for the _Cranford_ world - and in so doing 
withdrew from any direct evaluation of the contemporary scene - 
she made a major effort to compare the traditional pattern of 
society with the new societies that were obviously beginning to 
dominate the English scene, and to find the common elements which 
could unite them. _North and South_ was the final effort to combine 
her novel-writing with a direct gesture to her sense of moral duty, 
and it is not surprising in view of the principles she held that it 
should attempt a reconciliation. It does achieve one, rather 
artificially, at the level of feelings and affections; any claim to 
achieve it at the social level must be denied. _North and South_ is 
altogether a crucial book in Mrs. Gaskell's development as a 
novelist, for its theme and for the complexity of technique which it 
inspired, and it must be considered in detail.

-- 128 --


_The Attempt at Reconciliation:
'North and South'_

IT is impossible to arrive at a fair judgement of _North and South_, 
and at the same time to relate it to her other work, without some 
reference to the circumstances of its creation. It is not the novel it 
might have been if the method of publication and the consequent 
pressures on the author had been different; the influence of these 
circumstances must be allowed for. In addition its links with 
previous work need to be understood if we are to see why it is of 
peculiar importance in Mrs. Gaskell's development.
It was the first novel that Mrs. Gaskell wrote as a regular serial, and 
although much of it was finished in advance of publication, the 
demands of writing to suit the form of the weekly instalment irked 
her in the extreme. She had begun to write it in 1853, and in May 
of that year Dickens was urging her to let him have it for 
_Household Words_: 'The subject is certainly not too serious, so 
sensibly treated. I have no doubt you may do a great deal of good 
by pursuing it in _Household Words_ . . . Send the papers as you 
write them to me. Meanwhile I will think of a name for them, and 
bring it to bear upon yours if I think it improvable.' *1* and a year 
later he is urging the title of _North and South_ on her as he wishes 
to announce publication. *2*

The result of her agreement to let the story appear as a serial may 
have affected the book as we have it. The rather curt, if polite, 
preface added when it was printed in book form, apolo- 


*1* 3 May I853 - Letters from Dickens to Mrs. Gaskell in the John 
Rylands Library.
*2* 26 July 1854 - The announcement appeared a few days later; 
publication began on 2 Sept.
-- 130 --

gizing for defects in construction due to the pressure of serial 
writing, conceals a history of growing annoyance on both sides. 
Dickens as editor tried to make Mrs. Gaskell understand that a 
serial was more than arbitrarily chopped-up sequences of a book; 
Mrs. Gaskell as author obstinately and evasively resisted the 
demand to tailor her story to the requirements of space, episode 
interest and chapter sections. Much of the story of this fascinating 
tussle between two famous authors - for Dickens had an author's as 
well as an editor's eye on faults in the novel - may be read 
elsewhere. *3* Mrs. Gaskell cannot however be excused a certain 
evasiveness in her recollections of what happened, and of having 
used hindsight in blaming Dickens completely for attempting to 
make her modify the MSS. against her will. There is a letter extant 
which, although it has the impersonal salutation of 'My Dear Sir' can 
only be addressed to him, and from its references to the nearly 
finished MS. can be dated at the end of 1854 or the first few days 
of 1855. The paragraphs dealing with _North and South_ are quoted 
in full in order to include the tongue in cheek reference to the 
number of deaths. Perhaps Dickens's acid comments on her 
propensity to kill off characters had come to her ears:

     My Dear Sir,
          I was very much gratified by your note the other day; 
     _very_ much indeed. I dare say I shall like my story, when I 
     am a little farther from it; at present I can only feel 
     depressed about it, I meant it to have been so much better. 
     I send what I am afraid you will think too large a batch of 
     it by this post. What Mr. Wills has got already _fills up_ the 
     No. for January 13, leaving me only two more numbers, 
     January 20, & January 27th. So what I send today is meant 
     to be crammed & stuffed into January 20th; & I'm afraid 
     I've nearly as much more for January 27.
          It is 33 pages of my writing that I send today. I have 
     tried to shorten & compress it, both because it was a dull 
     piece, & to get it into reasonable length, but there were a 
     whole catalogue of events to be got over: and what I want 
     to tell you now is this, - Mr. Gaskell has looked this


*3* See A. B. Hopkins, 'Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell', Huntington Library 
Quarterly, vol. 9, No. 4, 1946, for a discussion of the artistic aspect, 
also her Elizabeth Gaskell. Details of misjudgements on the editorial 
and printing side can be found in the letters edited by R. C. 
Lehmann as Charles Dickens as Editor, Smith, Elder, 1912.

-- 131 --

     piece well over. So I don't think there will be any 
     carelessnesses left in it, & so there ought not to be any 
     misprints; therefore I never wish to see its face again; 
     but, _if you will keep the MS for me, & shorten it as you 
     think best for H. W_. I shall be very glad. Shortened I see 
     it must be.
          I think a better title than N. & S. would have been 
     'Death and Variations'. There are 5 deaths, each 
     beautifully suited to the character of the individual. . . .

We need to note for the present purpose that Mrs. Gaskell may 
have been obliged, in spite of a reluctance to modify her natural, 
rather leisurely method of handling narrative, to huddle events 
towards a solution. The construction of _North and South_ towards 
the end is forced, the conclusion almost ludicrous in its suddenness, 
but this is not entirely Mrs. Gaskell's fault.
As far as the theme is concerned, the title is apt enough, but it is 
not Mrs. Gaskell's own. She had provisionally thought of 'Margaret 
Hale', a lack-lustre suggestion that Dickens was right to alter; his 
own suggestion had more point and punch. Nevertheless, Mrs. 
Gaskell's colourless title does imply that the centre of interest is in 
the character of Margaret and her personal life. This is true; 'the 
social problem at the heart of the story is never allowed to swamp 
the human conflict', *5* whereas Dickens's alternative emphasizes 
the social aspect, and not all of that.
The theme itself must be linked to _Mary Barton_. When W. R. Greg 
complained of her first novel that it was one-sided and unfair to the 
masters (he was not alone in this) the criticism went home. Mrs. 
Gaskell wrote to his sister-in-law:

     I regretted the disapprobation. . . because I knew that 
     such a feeling would be conscientiously and thoughtfully 
     entertained by men who are acquainted by long experience 
     with the life, a portion of which I had endeavoured to 
     represent; and whose actions during a long course of years 
     have proved that the interests of their work-people are as 
     dear to them as their own. Such disapproval . . . would be 
     given if I had misrepresented, or so represented, a part as 
     the whole, as that people


*4* Letters of Mrs. Gaskell in the library of the University of 
California, Los Angeles, Cat. 100/bx 38, No. 9. The italics are Mrs. 
*5* Yvonne ffrench, op. cit., p. 59.

-- 132 --
     at a distance should be misled and prejudiced against 
     the masters, and that class be estranged from class. *6*

_North and South_ is partly then an attempt to redress the balance. 
But more is involved than this. The point of view shifts, as Cazamian 
points out, to the middle-class, a shift already foreshadowed in 
_Ruth_, where the social milieu of Mr. Bradshaw the wealthy 
merchant and Mr. Benson the poor but gentlemanly minister 
parallels that of the industrialist Mr. Thornton and the ex-vicar Mr. 
Hale. Mrs. Gaskell had moved her narrative centre to the class to 
which she belonged and into which she had most insight, and there 
it was to remain.
The plot of _North and South_ is basically a simple one. Margaret 
Hale is a well-bred and cultured girl from the South of England who 
is suddenly pitch-forked with little money or status into the drab, 
harsh world of a major northern manufacturing town. Its leading 
figure is the strong-willed, brusque and self-made manufacturer 
John Thornton, who falls in love with her. They finally learn to 
understand each other and in the process to appreciate the qualities 
of the social and environmental world which each had despised in 
the other.
Even this reduction to the simplest terms - a process which can 
make the subtlest novel seem stupid - shows that the plot is 
matched with a theme of contrast suggestive of the method by 
which the novel is to develop. And the novel is very far from being 
simple in its development. Nevertheless it is right to begin by 
drawing attention to the fundamental 'boy meets girl' basis on 
which the theme is built. Mrs. Gaskell's concern for people, their 
feelings and behaviour is never allowed to become subordinate to 
an intellectual conception. If there is a tug between theme and 
characters, it will be the characters who win; that is inherent in 
Mrs. Gaskell's outlook. But the strain may be felt.
The novel develops by stages, and in each stage fresh themes are 
introduced which involve their own sub-plots and motivation


*6* Quoted by Ward, _Mary Barton_, pp. lxii-lxiii. The letter is in 
draft, and may possibly not have been sent. It goes on to explain 
how the novel grew, and to admit that while it aimed at showing 
the effect of suffering on a particular type of man, she accepted the 
force of Greg's comments.
-- 133 --

as well as an elaboration of the central plot and main theme. The 
first stage is set in the South. We see Margaret among the wealthy 
relatives in London with whom she was brought up; then in the 
picturesque vicarage of Helstone in Hampshire where her parents 
live. This little shelter of elegant economy and minor troubles - it 
has the makings of a _Cranford_ corner - is demolished by the 
religious conscience of Mr. Hale. He resigns his living because of 
doctrinal doubts, but not before an ambitious young barrister from 
the London circle (Henry Lennox) has proposed to Margaret and 
been refused. The conscientious and scholarly vicar, the consciously 
genteel wife, the class-conscious and lady-like daughter and the 
snobbish family maid move with all their prejudices to grimy, 
competitive and energetic Milton.
Milton has been suggested by Mr. Bell, a college friend of Mr. Hale 
having property and influence there. If Mr. Hale hopes to make a 
living as a private tutor, then Milton is full of rich industrial 
families with children to be improved. They have an introduction to 
Thornton, and Mr. Hale has enough sense and tolerance to recognize 
character and brains. But the prejudices of his family are strong, 
matched only by the pride of Thornton's mother in his achievement 
and Milton's power.
In the meantime Margaret has got to know Bessy Higgins, a 
feverishly religious consumptive mill-girl, and her agnostic father 
Nicholas who is a union leader. While Thornton in the drawing-
room states the case of the masters, Higgins in his kitchen states 
that of the workers as the threatened strike materializes and the 
two industrial worlds of masters and men clash. Thornton's mill 
becomes a target for attack as hot-heads move the strike into the 
violence which Higgins has steadily opposed.
Meanwhile Mrs. Hale has become dangerously ill. Margaret has to 
visit the Thorntons' house, which is in the mill yard, and is caught 
up in the riot. After urging Thornton to face the mob, she is injured 
in trying to shield him from it. But she cannot bear the idea of being 
thought of as setting her cap at the wealthy manufacturer, and 
when Thornton pushes aside his own doubts and prejudices to 
propose, he is rejected with a brusqueness that Margaret realizes 
afterwards was insulting.
-- 134 --
The relationship with Thornton is complicated by a further personal 
twist. The dying Mrs. Hale wishes to see her son Frederick, till now 
a shadowy figure. Frederick is a naval officer who led a mutiny 
against his captain's inhumanity and is now an exile liable to death 
if he returns, and whose existence is never mentioned. He comes, 
and Margaret meets the brother she has hardly known. After Mrs. 
Hale's death Frederick hopes to get away unnoticed from a local 
station. But Mr. Thornton happens to see him with Margaret, while 
the long arm of coincidence also brings recognition by an old 
enemy, an ex-sailor turned porter. There is a scuffle, resulting in 
the later death of the porter. Margaret, to protect her brother, has 
to lie to the police and to Thornton, who assumes that Frederick is a 
secret lover.
The complicated plot on its several levels now moves towards 
solution and reconciliation. Thornton takes the unemployed Higgins 
on after the strike, partly owing to Margaret's manoeuvres. Mr. Hale 
dies and Mr. Bell adopts Margaret, who soon inherits his property 
and wealth. Now Margaret's fortunes rise as Thornton's, affected by 
the strike and trade conditions, fall, while his threatened ruin 
incidentally threatens the experiments in cooperation between 
master and men that he has introduced. Margaret is back once more 
in the South, in London with her relatives, with Lennox courting her 
again. But she and Thornton are brought together over business and 
she is now his landlord. The final reconciliation is marriage and 
partnership; the North wins.
The obvious major theme, worked out chiefly in the relationship 
between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, is the reconciliation of 
the attitudes and social values of _North and South_, with the 
acceptance of the valuable qualities in both and the recognition of 
faults and prejudices on both sides. But it is doubtful whether this 
is really the controlling idea of the novel. To begin with, the basic 
contrast is only one of a number, not always represented by the 
North-South opposition. The beauty of Helstone, for example, is 
contrasted to the ugliness of Milton, but the values of both are 
contrasted to the idle luxury of London. The importance of religion 
is common to both sides of the conflict and has its own
The Attempt at Reconciliation: '_North and South_'

-- 135 --

theme of conscience and dissent. The conflict between masters and
men is purely a Milton affair, although northern independence is 
set against southern paternalism.
What we have in fact is a plea for a better understanding of the 
merits of the new industrial power which has emerged. In order to 
make this plea the South, as a way of life, is presented as fostering 
a rather pointless type of existence in its cities and a brutalized 
spiritless type of worker in its country. It has charm but lack of 
purpose. It does, however, inherit the knowledge and practice of 
the arts and graces of life which make life enjoyable, and the 
human respect for personal feelings and general humanity which 
can make harsh conditions tolerable. But these qualities are seen as 
belonging to the past by the North, which has vitality and command 
of the future. Thornton defends his lack of reverence for the past 
by stressing that:

     to men groping in new circumstances, it would be finer 
     if the words of experience could direct us how to act in 
     what concerns us most intimately and immediately; which 
     is full of difficulties that must be encountered; and upon the 
     mode in which they are met and conquered - not merely 
     pushed aside for the time - depends our future. *7*

and he 'laughs outright' at Mr. Bell's suggestion that Oxford might 
be able to help. This is a North concerned with material and 
practical ends, in too much of a hurry and too beset by immediate 
problems to appreciate other values. Mrs. Gaskell endeavours to 
hold the balance between the two attitudes - the improved 
relationships in Thornton's mill after the strike are put forward as a 
material gain arising from the practical application of southern' 
principles - but the attempt is skimped because it gets merged in 
another aim, to present a balanced interpretation of the social 
conflict within the North. The major part of the book deals with 
Milton and presents a detailed and lively description of employer 
and employee. The South is barely sketched in, apart from the 
introduction and the brief section of the return visit to Helstone and 
final stay in London it exists mainly as an Aunt Sally in argument. 
There is nothing to match the life and vigour


*7* _North and South_, pp. 398-9.
-- 136 --	

of the Milton scenes. The novel is a piece of special pleading on 
behalf of the North as far as the contrast is concerned. Margaret 
Hale is a projection of the attitudes which Mrs. Gaskell felt she 
ought to take; she attempts to defeat her prejudices by dealing with 
them in fiction, making the novel a fantasy substitute for a failure 
in reality.
The result is that the 'South' is at best a muted and sometimes a 
distorted version of the _Cranford_ world, and for the purposes of 
making it as complete a foil as possible she includes London in its 
orbit, although we have seen that in other ways London is itself 
contrasted to the _Cranford_ world. Certain aspects are retained, the 
most obvious being the attraction of the countryside itself, 
exemplified in Helstone. Yet even here Margaret is made to point 
out that:

     our skies are not always as deep a blue as they are now. 
     We have rain, and our leaves do fall, and get sodden . . . 

and when she returns to Helstone - an account preluded by a 
glowing description of a peaceful country scene, she finds 
eventually that change has occurred here as well. Although she 
sighs over the 'old picturesqueness' and can answer 'Nothing' when 
Mr. Bell asks her what is wrong, she is forced to accept the idea of 
change; not only in households and places, but in herself and in life:

     Nothing had been the same; and this slight, all-pervading 
     instability, had given her greater pain than if all had been 
     too entirely changed for her to recognise it. *9*

But she finally accepts that a static world 'would retrograde and 
become corrupt . . .':

     Looking out of myself, and my own painful sense of 
     change, the progress of all around me is right and 
     necessary . . . *10*
The element of continuity is provided by the feelings and moral 
principles which have previously been discussed; these are applied 
to Milton as they were to Manchester in _Mary Barton_.


*8* _North and South_, p. 29.		
*9* ibid., p. 478.		
*10* ibid., p. 479.

-- 137 --

Other elements of the old stable order are seen from the dark side. 
Instead of the pleasant traditions of _Cranford_ we have the brutal 
superstition of roasting a live cat, the elegant economy of Miss 
Matty is replaced by the peevish complaints and exaggerated 
gentility of Mrs. Hale. And whereas in _Mary Barton_ the country 
life is held up as a wholesome contrast to industrialization, now 
when Higgins tells Margaret of his intention to become a farm-
worker she warns him against it by a hair-raising account of the 
misery and degradation it would entail. The rose-coloured 
spectacles have been discarded with a vengeance in her eagerness 
to praise the benefits of industrial life. One is left wondering how on 
earth Margaret could ever have enjoyed living in the gloomy scene 
she paints.

London in this context represents the appeal of the superficial:

     the eventless ease in which no struggle or endeavour 
     was required.

It has taste, refinement of manners, an easy sociability, but its 
feelings and affections are shallow. Its wealth is not earned, and is 
consequently valued only for the luxuries it provides, while human 
relationships between the different classes are non-existent:

     There might be toilers and moilers there in London, but 
     she never saw them; the very servants lived in an 
     underground world of their own, of which she knew 
     neither the hopes nor the fears. *12*

At least, in Helstone, people were treated as individuals. The maid 
Dixon has a recognized position in the family; the village families 
may have been objects of philanthropy but their hopes and fears 
were shared. In this respect London shares its fault with the Milton 
that Margaret finds, and which in the person of Thornton she sets 
out to reform. Taste and refinement are seen as qualities to be 
desired although in London the pursuit of them occupies too much 
time and becomes a sort of hedonism. The Hales' drawing-room in 
Milton, in spite of their relative poverty, conforms to the standards 

     plainness and simplicity which are of themselves the 
     framework of elegance. *12*


*11* _North and South_, P. 445.
*12* ibid., p. 69.
-- 138 --	

Both their own home and that of Margaret's aunt in London are 
places intended for living and enjoyment; the antithesis of Mrs. 
Thornton's drawing-room with its ostentation and 'effect of icy, 
snowy discomfort'. *13* But this is something that education and 
habit in the use of wealth can remedy, while none of London's 
superficial graces can make up for the lack of moral strenuousness 
and sense of purpose for which it stands condemned.
This South, which is not the _Cranford_ world, is also the starting 
point for the discovery of the North; once the Hales are in Milton 
the novel develops as a study of Milton life, and it is a North that is 
glamourized in balance with the de-glamourizing of the South, 
although the glamourizing process is kept, with one important 
exception, to matters of moral and practical energy. The South has 
been allotted the attractions of beauty, sensibility and inherited 
culture; the North is allowed spiritual energy, mental drive and the 
claim to the future. But Mrs. Gaskell's personal dislike of the 
Manchester setting does not permit her to deny its ugliness. Milton 
has the drabness, the dirt, the depressing atmosphere of its world, 
and Mrs. Hale may truly be said to die of Manchester.
The ugly and uncouth setting reflects unfairly the sound spirit and 
purposeful activity:

     People thronged the footpaths, most of them well-dressed 
     as regarded the material, but with a slovenly looseness 
     which struck Margaret as different from the shabby, 
     threadbare smartness of a similar class in London. *14*

This note of solid worth not yet refined, of the rough diamond 
needing polish, is struck at the beginning and maintained through 
the characters of Thornton the master and Higgins the worker. 
Nevertheless some concessions about the surroundings have been 
made; this is not the Manchester of _Mary Barton_ with its slums, 
its filth, its desperate poverty. The very grime is seen as an adjunct 
of industrial progress. The change is partly due to the need to 
present the city in not too bad a light, partly it is a reaction from 
the emotional attitudes of the early novel. Mrs. Gaskell now wishes 
to justify Manchester and to present a balanced picture,


*13* _North and South_, p. 131.		
*14* ibid., p. 67.

-- 139 --
extremes are therefore out. We are offered the solid but sober 
dignity of the Thorntons' house, the rough but sufficient comfort of 
the Higgins household, the threat only of hunger and hardship as 
against the exaggerated luxury of the Carsons' house, the oozing 
squalor of the Davenports' basement, the children dying of 
Much more important than this selective omission is the impact of 
the positive romanticizing of the new power. Whether it is the 
steam-hammer 'recalling to Mr. Hale some of the wonderful stories 
of subservient genii in the Arabian Nights' *15* or Thornton's 
rhapsodic view of creative energy bursting out into new inventions 
and market conquests, this sense of glory behind the smoke and 
ugliness is kept before us, often transmuted into the romantic terms 
of battle:
          "And this imagination of power, this practical realisation 
     of a gigantic thought, came out of one man's brain in our 
     good town. That very man has it within him to mount, 
     step by step, on each wonder he achieves to higher 
     marvels still. And I'll be bound to say, we have many 
     among us who, if he were gone, could spring into the 
     breach, and carry on the war which compels, and shall 
     compel, all material power to yield to science."
          "Your boast reminds me of the old lines - 
               'I've a hundred captains in England,' he said 
               'As good as ever was he'."
          At her father's quotation Margaret looked suddenly 
     up, with inquiring wonder in her eyes. How in the world 
     had they got from cogwheels to Chevy Chase?
          "It is no boast of mine," replied Mr. Thomton; "it is 
     plain matter-of-fact. I won't deny that I am proud of 
     belonging to a town - or perhaps I should rather say a 
     district - the necessities of which give birth to such 
     grandeur of conception. I would rather be a man 
     toiling, suffering - nay, failing and successless - here, 
     than lead a dull prosperous life in the old worn grooves 
     of what you call more aristocratic society down in the 
     South, with their slow days of careless ease. One may 
     be clogged with honey and unable to rise and fly." *16*


*15* _North and South_, p. 92.
*16* ibid., p. 93. Mrs. Gaskell knew and genuinely admired the 
genius of the northern engineers. James Nasmyth, inventor of the 
steam-hammer, was a friend; his business partner was a relative of 
Mr. Gaskell.
-- 140 --

Thornton's speech and Mr. Hale's reaction sum up the spirit in 
which the North is presented, as a 'grandeur of conception' to which 
niceties of taste and manners are secondary, refinements which it is 
hinted will be absorbed from the South when there is time.
Not least significant is Mr. Hale's quotation: cogwheels _are_ 
connected with Chevy Chase, for Mrs. Gaskell is suggesting the idea 
of continuity, the traditional energy and genius of England being 
handed down to fresh blood in the challenge to the future. The 
eventual marriage of Margaret to Thornton symbolizes the 
continuity of the old in the new. In this way Mrs. Gaskell attempts 
the reconciliation of old culture and new energy without losing her 
faith in the power of tradition. Similarly the toughness, 
independence and intelligence of the ordinary man is presented as 
preserved by the new breed of working man; (we can recall that in 
_Mary Barton_ they were shown as still immigrants from the 
Thornton and Higgins are both, for all the realism of their 
background, portrayed as romantic, larger than life figures. 
Thornton wins Margaret by methods which are ultimately the same 
as those which won Desdemona for Othello. He begins with the 
account of his early life, although in addition to the poverty-to-
riches story the novel has as its matter the experience of further 
struggles, so that Margaret, like Desdemona, ends by seeing his:

               visage in his mind,
          And to his honours, and his valiant parts 
          Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.

This romanticizing is a pointer to one of the book's weaknesses, the 
attempt to idealize something that Mrs. Gaskell does not regard as 
ideal. It stems from the attempt she is making, against the grain, to 
do justice to a way of life in which she finds qualities to admire 
without being in sympathy with it as a whole. She tries to come to 
terms with the Manchester ethos but the resolution is artificial. The 
failure shows in two ways, in her treatment of particular aspects 
and in the novel's structure.

-- 141 --

Mrs. Gaskell is by nature an honest observer. She is also, as we
have seen, an optimist inclined to take a favourable view of human 
nature. When, as in the _Cranford_ world, she is dealing with a 
reality she loves, and couples this with her optimism, the result is a 
description that while not avoiding the everyday accidents and 
catastrophes of life cannot help suggesting that this is probably as 
good a type of life as is available. With the best of wills she cannot 
feel this about the Manchester world. She cannot, as an observer, 
describe it as other than depressing, with its 'long, straight, hopeless 
streets', *17* nor is it ever suggested that Margaret will enjoy living 
there even though she marries Thornton. At one stage Mrs. Gaskell 
even toyed with the idea of manipulating the plot so that Margaret 
would escape the full consequences of her choice:

     "What do you think," [she wrote to Catherine Winkworth,] 
     "of a fire burning down Mr. Thornton's mills and houses 
     as a _help_ to failure? Then Margaret could rebuild them 
     larger and better, and need not go to live there when 
     she's married." *18*

The constant references to beauty, refinement and gentle manners 
in contrast with dirt, crudity and harshness denote a basic discord; 
the marriage may be presented as a union of southern culture and 
northern energy but it carries disharmony with it. Margaret's moral 
sense and desire to be useful may find pleasure in the Manchester 
world, but not the whole woman.
Even so, the picture of Manchester has been softened from that in 
_Mary Barton_. The dirt has become honest dirt, and it is hinted 
that by law, or more probably by the practical realization that 'it 
repays me in the saving of coal' *19* much of it will be controlled. 
Factory reform is shown to be hindered by the conservatism of the 
workers as much as by the materialism of the masters *20* and the 
general picture is one of prosperity, in spite of the strike.
Mrs. Gaskell appears also to have been undecided about the type of 
book she was writing. In one sense she was following up the


*17* _North and South_, p. 66. The adjective 'hopeless' is a 
*18* _Haldane_, pp. 103-4.		
*19* _North and South_, p. 94.
*20* The example given is ventilation. Bessy Higgins dies from 
constantly swallowing particles of fluff at work.

-- 142 --

way opened by _Mary Barton_ and _Ruth_ of the novel with serious 
intent and a plain social purpose; describing conditions of which 
most people were ignorant while attempting to deal a blow at facile 
judgements and conventional prejudices. But the way in which the 
book is written shows that her natural bent for dealing with 
personal relationships in a closely observed social setting is taking 
The treatment of religion is an example of the confusion. The long 
account of Mr. Hale's crisis of belief at the beginning would seem to 
point to an extended treatment of the religious conscience and 
belief, but this fails to materialize, possibly because Mrs. Gaskell 
was unwilling to join in the bitter controversies of the time with yet 
another religious novel. Having served as a plot device to pluck the 
Hales out of Helstone, religion reappears feebly after the fashion of 
_Mary Barton_, as an element of personal stability and humanity. 
But Mrs. Gaskell is no longer interested as a novelist in this type of 
didacticism, and the religious element appears only rarely, almost 
as a sop to duty, in dealing with Higgins's character, or most 
unconvincingly when Thornton breaks down after his ruin and 
weeps on his mother's neck:

     If you would say the old good words, it would make me 
     feel something of the pious simplicity of my childhood. 

This is neither the behaviour nor the speech of the man we have 
got to know. We feel the artificiality; as we do with Bessy Higgins's 
exaggerated religiosity which becomes sentimentalized and 
melodramatic, almost a caricature of itself. And we may note here a 
point that will be discussed later, that Mrs. Gaskell lets herself in 
for scenes of high emotion and passion which she cannot handle. 
Nor is she at ease with political and economic argument, which the 
deliberate patterning of the novel calls for. The result is that the 
melodramatic and the argumentative sections, even though well 
assimilated into her easy style, are alien to the central, personal 
interest. And her humour, one of her essential gifts, is damped 
down by the serious intent and the passages of factual discussion.


*21* _North and South_, p. 507.

-- 143 --
On the other hand her interest in personal and social relationships 
has become more prominent. Not only is there less moralizing than 
in previous work but much of what there is is carried within the 
dialogue and behaviour of the characters instead of being inserted 
as authorial comment, although there are inevitably flat spots in 
their portrayal as a result. We sympathize with and remember the 
characters as individuals, rather than as representative types; the 
relationship between Margaret, Thornton and Higgins which is the 
heart of the book quickly develops as a personal one to which their 
representative attitudes and prejudices are complementary. As 
Margaret reflects to herself, the beginnings of a brighter life were 
owing to the meeting with the Higgins, when 'she had found a 
human interest', *22* and it is this interest which gives the novel its 
vitality, as it is the descriptive and social detail which gives it its 
solidity. There is nothing artificial for example about the growth of 
Margaret's or Thornton's personalities. Indeed, the failures in 
respect of character are when they are too obviously creatures of 
imposed argument or demonstration, as is largely the case with 
Boucher the discontented and struggling mill-hand, and with Bessy 
Higgins; to a lesser extent with Mr. Hale and Mrs. Thornton. This is 
most noticeable with those characters who have more to do with 
stringing the plot along than with the general setting, such as 
Frederick Hale or the crudely melodramatic porter Leonards.
The artificiality and indecision is reflected chiefly in the elaborate 
construction, which has to carry the working out of the North South 
balance, the conflict between masters and men, and the personal 
relationship between Margaret and Thornton. There is no doubt 
that Mrs. Gaskell learnt a lot from the handling of this complex 
action. She enjoyed the process of resolving its complications in the 
seclusion of Lea Hurst, the country home of Florence Nightingale's 
parents where she had been invited to work on the novel in peace. 
But the sense of contrivance and manipulation is too plain. *23* 
Some of the blame may be attributed


*22* _North and South_, p. 84.
*23* Ward, in his introduction (p. xxiv) claims that it must 'be 
rightly described as faultless'. It certainly deserves praise, but he 
ignores the effect on credibility.
-- 144 --

to the demands of serialization, but there is little indication, for 
example, that the resolution of the Margaret-Thornton story - 
which carries with it the resolution of the opposed attitudes - could 
be other than contrived. At one stage of the writing she was 
actually considering adding a major sub-plot to achieve an even 
more elaborate balance. *24* The introduction of Frederick is pure 
plot-spinning (her facility in creating episodes was never fully 
brought under control, except perhaps in _Cousin Phillis_), while 
four deaths (those of Mrs. and Mr. Hale, Leonard and Mr. Bell) as 
well as a sudden commercial crisis are required to swing Margaret 
up and Thornton down on fortune's wheel. The too obvious drawing 
of parallels and placing of discussions have already been dealt with. 
Nor is there the initial inspiration of anger and passionate 
sympathy which makes _Mary Barton_, although a more clumsily 
written book, more powerful and unified in feeling.
_North and South_ can be seen as a crucial stage in the 
development of Mrs. Gaskell's attitudes and her technique. Long 
before it was written she had noted of herself that she was not one 
me but several:

     One of my mes is, I do believe, a true Christian - (only 
     people call her socialist and communist), another of my 
     mes is a wife and mother . . . Now that's my "social" self I 
     suppose. Then again I've another self with a full taste for 
     beauty and convenience wh. is pleased on its own account. 
     How am I to reconcile all these warring members? *25*

and later, commenting on the clash of duties between daily life and 
writing, she complained that:

     the difficulty is where and when to make one set of 
     duties subserve and give place to the other. *26*

This was her last full attempt at forcing her creative work to 
emphasize the sense of duty which was prodded by her religious


*24* 'Mrs. Thornton, the mother, to have taken as a sort of humble 
companion & young housekeeper the orphan daughter of an old 
friend in humble, retired country life on the borders of Lancashire -  
& this girl to be in love with Mr. Thornton in a kind of passionate 
despairing way - but both jealous of Margaret . . .' (quoted in 
_Haldane_, p. 152). She goes on to sketch the character, her 
imagination had already begun to give it substance.
*25* Letter to Tottie Fox, quoted in _Haldane_, p. 238. The terms 
'socialist and communist' do not carry their present political or 
idealogical content.     
*26* _Haldane_, p. 249.

-- 145 --

and social conscience - the Christian or socialist 'me'. At the same 
time it was an attempt, through fiction, to achieve some form of 
compromise between the new industrial world and an antipathy to 
its ways. But her sympathies were against it; although she admired 
its achievement she was sensitive to the human problem involved. 
_Mary Barton_, _Ruth_, other stories and finally _North and South_ 
had been used to carry her protests and describe realities; 
incidentally they had released and developed her powers to handle 
the long novel. After this she was to reserve the expression of her 
sense of public duty for daily life, and allow that side of her 'which 
is pleased on its own account' to have its range. The values of the 
_Cranford_ world dominated; through them she was able to find a 
stable basis for facing a changing world, and expression for a 
humorous and sensitive appreciation of human feeling and social 

-- 146 --


_Manchester Abandoned:
'The Life of Charlotte Bront‘'
'My Lady Ludlow'_

MRS. GASKELL had been writing for eight years, from 1847 to 1855, 
when _North and South_ was published. Her remaining fiction was 
written in another eight-year period from 1858 to 1865, when the 
best of her work with the exception of _Cranford_ was produced. It 
was a period when her writing carried steadily fewer traces of 
being written with a sense of obligation towards ideals of moral or 
public duty, and this freedom to write to suit herself is reflected in 
the range and tone of what she produced. The industrial world, with 
which she had never been really in sympathy, disappears from her 
work, and with it a good deal of the earnestness which had 
accompanied it; a disappearance reflected technically by the way in 
which the amount of direct comment lessens as well as in the 
nature of the authorial comment that remains. She can still be 
serious enough, but humour and pleasantness preponderate at the 
end, a reflection of the more relaxed attitude and the congenial 
world she treats of as she returns once again to describe the 
manners and idiosyncrasies of _Cranford_, or of a way of life closely 
related to its traditions and principles. There is an evident relish of 
delight as she observes the behaviour of her characters and their 
individual responses to convention within the social setting in 
which she was happiest, that of the small country community. 
Three of the important stories of this period, _My Lady Ludlow_, 
_Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and Daughters_, have both the humour 
and the setting. But the serious side of her nature, with its 
awareness of a darker

-- 147 --

side to life, finds expression in two others, 'Lois the Witch' and 
_Sylvia's Lovers_, and in them, something of the old earnestness of 
the moral sense demands attention. With the disappearance of the 
social description of the industrial contemporary scene her interest 
in historical and old-fashioned social life also becomes more 
apparent. These five tales, varying in length from the nouvelle' to 
the full-blown Victorian novel, and displaying between them a 
considerable range of tone, treatment and subject matter, stand out 
as major achievements.
They have in common also an ease of construction which obviously 
is derived from experience. But it may also have been helped by a 
change of publisher, for she escaped from the exacting demands of 
Dickens and his weekly periodicals, letting him have only her less 
important work. _My Lady Ludlow_ and 'Lois the Witch' did, it is 
true, go to Dickens, but both were completed before publication and 
the latter was meant to appear elsewhere, being surrendered 
unwillingly. _Sylvia's Lovers_ was published directly as a novel, 
and her final achievement in _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and 
Daughters_ found a congenial home in the sympathetic and 
unrestricted pages of the Cornhill. This was admittedly serial 
publication, but monthly, and with the author's tastes and methods 
catered for on behalf of a more cultivated class of reader. George 
Smith, the publisher, had been Charlotte Bront‘'s publisher and 
friend, and she had urged Mrs. Gaskell to change to him.' Smith, 
Elder and Co. had published the _Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ and a 
warm friendship had developed between author and publisher. 
Although Mrs. Gaskell continued to write for Dickens she began to 
wish for a freer hand and finished by reserving her good work for 
Smith. She had acquired a technique to support her creative 
imagination and was free to write how she wished as well as what 
she wished, allowing her stories their proper length and 

She concentrates on exploring with the full insight of her sensibility 
and experience the motives and feelings of her charac-


*1* All Mrs. Gaskell's work for periodicals, with negligible 
exceptions, had gone to Dickens. Her books had been published by 
Chapman and Hall. The problems of serialization will be dealt with 
when structure is discussed.
-- 148 --

ters. While she remains the social historian of the small community, 
these novels and stories develop, without the pressure of ulterior 
issues, that interest in personal relationships which is at the heart 
of all her work; it is round the natural interplay of these 
relationships, unhampered by artificial manipulations of plot to suit 
a thesis, that they unfold. The underlying values and standards of 
conduct are still there but more and more assimilated within the 
behaviour and speech of the characters; _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives 
and Daughters_ are surely two of the most convincingly natural 
novels in the English language.

The change of publisher has been mentioned as an incidental 
benefit arising from the publication of the Lift; before this second 
period of Mrs. Gaskell's work can be dealt with it is essential to take 
note of the biography itself, which occupied the period between 
_North and South_ and _My Lady Ludlow_. It is too important a 
work to be overlooked, although any comment on it as a biography 
would be out of place in this study of her fiction. Nevertheless like 
all great biographies it must be considered as an imaginative 
reconstruction as well as a factual work, and its place in Mrs. 
Gaskell's development as a writer is important.
Two points of general interest stand out. The first is that she did not 
write a critical biography. She describes accurately and in detail the 
circumstances in which the poems and novels of the Bront‘s were 
written and published, and surveys the reception they received. 
She recognizes the importance of the juvenilia and duly describes 
them as part of their extraordinary upbringing and imaginative 
development. But there is virtually no literary criticism at all, no 
investigation of the psychology of the genius or creative 
imagination of Charlotte, or of her sisters, save what appears in the 
quoted letters and reviews. Mrs. Gaskell considers Charlotte as an 
individual, the fact that she wrote great novels is seen as part of the 
pattern of her life, no less but no more important than any other 
part. It is Charlotte the woman who is Mrs. Gaskell's concern.
This second point, that she was preparing to write her friend's life 
in some form or other before she was officially asked to do so,
Manchester Abandonpil

-- 149 --

is connected with this non-literary approach. She wrote to George 
Smith telling him that she had it in mind to write sooner or later a 
memoir that would:

     make the world (if I am but strong enough in expression) 
     honour the woman as much as they admired the writer. *2*

and the distinction between woman and writer was made even 
more clearly shortly afterwards as Mrs. Gaskell stated her 
conviction that:

     the more she was known, the more people would honour 
     her as a woman, separate from her character as an 
     authoress. *3*

This approach is important. When Charlotte's father, the Rev. 
Patrick Bront‘, and her husband the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, asked Mrs. 
Gaskell to undertake an official biography, they did so because she 
was an established author as well as a friend, and therefore 
uniquely able to produce something that would at one and the same 
time do the dead woman justice and carry authority to counter the 
rush of hasty and ill-informed articles that had appeared after 
Charlotte Bront‘'s death. But Mrs. Gaskell, though herself famous as 
a novelist, showed no interest in presenting her own evaluation of 
the novels, her interest was all in the woman. What had already 
attracted her sufficiently to make her wish to write the _Life_ was 

     wild sad life, and the beautiful character that grew out of 
     it. *4*

the attraction, in other words, of handling character in setting that 
provided the creative impulse behind all of Mrs. Gaskell's work.
The particular attraction in this case is hardly surprising, for the 
romantic setting and complex characters contained most of the 
types of theme and relationship which Mrs. Gaskell considered to be 
important and which she delighted to handle. Charlotte Bront‘ was 
the perfect example of the influence of upbringing and background. 
She made an intelligent, affectionate and independent


*2* Letter dated 31 May, 1855, quoted in _Hopkins_, p. 160. 
*3* Letter dated 4 June, 1855, ibid., p. 161.       
*4* id.
-- 150 --

central figure, yet one placing affection and duty before 
independence. Her religion was a vital part of her life, sustaining 
her and providing guidance for conduct when needed. Her sense of 
duty and fitness in all things supported both her perseverance and 
her quiet acceptance of suffering and set-back. Her principles and 
strength of character as well as her creative talent lifted her above 
the conventional norm; there was conflict between life and 
ambition, between conduct and convention. All in all this was such a 
character as Mrs. Gaskell might have wished to imagine for herself 
as the heroine of a novel, but with the authenticity of life and of 
greatness. There was the background, the self-contained and 
psychologically fascinating family life set against the Yorkshire 
moors and Yorkshire ways and customs. The drama supplied itself, 
in the incidents of Charlotte's life, and to hold it all together was a 
story of struggle and success, with behind it Mr. Nicholls' faithful 
love for Charlotte, nicely offset by the various proposals she 
received and her own unconscious and then suppressed love for Mr. 
Nicholls. The last few months of Charlotte's life, in its brief 
happiness as a wife, were seen quite naturally as a culmination 
overshadowing her fame as an author, and provides as fine an 
example of reconciliation as any of Mrs. Gaskell's own novels. The 
patient love of Mr. Nicholls is rewarded, while the proud and once 
indignant father accepts his new son-in-law as his permanent 
curate and companion. The other characters in the story, down to a 
faithful and testy old servant (Tabby) far more idiosyncratic than 
those she had created in _Ruth_ and _North and South_, were all 
I have said that the ingredients lay to Mrs. Gaskell's hand. It must 
equally be said that the shaping hand of the author brings them out 
in the pattern of the biography. The story of Charlotte Bront‘'s life 
was a sombre and absorbing one; as a heroine in Mrs. Gaskell's 
sense Charlotte needed only the slightest touch to be perfectly 
adapted to this interpretation. The biography, in spite of all the 
research that was necessary (she not only carried on a vast 
correspondence but travelled as far as Brussels in checking the 
authenticity and background) and in spite of the mass of primary 
documentation used, developed with the speed and assurance of a

-- 151 --

novel. From beginning to end, including all the work involved in 
accumulating information, took eighteen months, an incredible 
creative and analytical achievement. The authenticity of the 
portrait has never been challenged save in certain details, some of 
which are touched on in the following pages. There was no forcing 
or selection of the evidence to produce a desired result. It was Mrs. 
Gaskell's view of life which gathered the material of the biography 
and shaped it into the interpretation.
In preparing the biography Mrs. Gaskell was led into analysing 
character, relationships and background in great detail. Her 
affections were engaged, and she had the advantage of beginning 
with knowledge, sympathy and Charlotte's own account in 
conversation. The knowledge extended to the general setting of the 
Bront‘ country as well as the immediate background, to which she 
added her own research into the general social background; in this 
respect her method was an extension of her approach to her earlier 
novels. The necessity of weighing the effect of every action and 
detail in personal and social relationships, and all the time of 
allowing the steady accumulation of detail and incident to speak for 
itself, must undoubtedly have taught her a great deal. Moreover, 
although in many ways Charlotte's life was a tragic one, there are 
no major melodramatic incidents or adventures. Death and 
misfortune follow quietly and inevitably through its course, even 
the happiness at the end is muted. Melodrama and excitement is 
replaced by sustained psychological interest, a pattern that _Cousin 
Phillis_ and _Wives and Daughters_ follow.
There was also the necessity of effacing herself as far as possible so 
that the characters could speak and act for themselves, a 
withdrawal which involved the imaginative effort of identifying 
herself with the story she was unfolding, although towards the end 
she was able to introduce herself as the narrator who is also a 
character, as she had done with the character of Mary Smith in 
_Cranford_. The leisurely development through incident and detail 
of story and setting in a work so seemingly different in its nature as 
_Wives and Daughters_ must owe a lot to the earlier experience of 
writing the biography, as must the increasing subtlety and natural 

-- 152 --

ment of feeling and motivation, though no-one could complain that 
her earlier work lacks understanding of human conduct. The long 
and sustained enquiry into the life of Charlotte Bront‘ and her 
family sharpened her ability to deal with the psychology of 
This leads to the question of realism. Realism may be factual, the 
aim of presenting through detail a credible picture of settings or of 
daily life and conduct. There is also a realism of imaginative 
perception, influenced by how the writer sees humanity and human 
nature. Characters may be completely 'real' to the author, and 
presented against a solidly factual background, yet be more or less 
unreal to general acceptance because the writer's view of human 
nature is coloured or distorted by some preconception. Distortion 
through the mental eye may not be immediately noticeable, as a 
reader tends to be convinced by the reality of the scene presented, 
but the underlying conceptions about human nature will be clear, as 
in the very different worlds of say Walter Pater and Thackeray or, 
to take a painstakingly realistic novelist, that of George Gissing. It 
may happen that the logic of the factual reality clashes with the 
attitude taken to characters who ought to match the reality, as for 
example the benevolence of Dickens's benevolent characters is often 
untrue to the general view of human nature he presents, so that 
their unreality is obvious.
One can point to this fault in Mrs. Gaskell's earlier novels. Within 
the realism of the accounts of the Manchester world the optimistic 
and somewhat idealized view of human nature is slightly out of 
key, the hopefulness does not match our reading of the general 
scene. One way of correcting this incompatibility is to colour the 
reality presented, or to select details, so that it matches the 
conception of human nature which is seen in the characters, and 
this was virtually what Mrs. Gaskell did to achieve the unity of 
In dealing with the life of her friend, Mrs. Gaskell was presented at 
the outset with the background and the conduct of her characters as 
facts. It is a mark of her integrity that she accepted both - the 
extensive use of documents, letters and opinions of other

-- 153 --

people is ample evidence of this - and in the process of turning the 
two into a unity she largely refrained from drawing conclusions or 
pointing morals. Yet some shaping of interpretation is there, as I 
have said. in addition there is the occasional deliberate selection of 
detail to conform with the image of Charlotte which she wished to 
present, as well as with certain contemporary conventions of 
biography, even though for the period it is an outstandingly frank 
and honest book. *5* But on the whole the portrait presented is real 
in every sense, and it is noticeable that in later novels Mrs. Gaskell, 
while retaining her essential viewpoint, is perceptibly more 
objective about the present state and possible progress of human 
This increased objectivity is a facet of her reaction from didactic 
and social intent; it would have been impossible to apply the 
experience obtained in writing the _Life_ if she had still felt that 
she ought to be pointing morals. But the importance of the 
experience of writing a biography should not be underestimated. 
Tolerance and sympathy, always present in her approach to other 
people, had kept her from easily passing judgement on others, 
especially when judgement would be from the standpoint of 
conventional attitudes, and _Ruth_ is a sustained plea for 
understanding in place of bigotry. At the conclusion of the _Life_ 
she sums up her own attitude in words that could certainly not 
have been applied to some of her earlier works:

     I cannot measure or judge of such a character as hers. 
     I cannot map out vices, and virtues, and debatable land. 


*5* There is little, but what there is is significant. A good example 
of the omission of detail is found on p. 470, when she quotes her 
own letter describing her impressions of Charlotte Bront‘ at their 
first meeting. This has been edited to omit one or two unflattering 
items of description such as 'a reddish face' and 'many teeth gone' 
which might jar on our mental image of the 'heroine' of her work. 
(The original is quoted in _Haldane_, p. 124.) The most outstanding 
feature is the way she stepped round Charlotte's passion for Paul 
HŽger; it is generally accepted that she must have seen the full 
letters from which she quotes only extracts illustrating Charlotte's 
general attitude to life in the Pensionnat. But contemporary ideas of 
respect for private lives and feelings would have made it 
impossible to publish the whole episode. '[What is offensive] is the 
point on which we differ; not on the duty of a biographer to omit 
whatever can reasonably be expected to be offensive, &c. I 
acknowledge that duty. . .' (Mrs. Gaskell to J. S. Mill. Quoted in 
_Haldane_, p. 270.) Mrs. Gaskell's MS. is much more corrected than 
usual during this episode.
*6* _Life_, p. 642.

-- 154 --

and this approach is scrupulously adhered to in the best of her later 
work. The readers are left to make their own judgement, Mrs. 
Gaskell having done her best to provide the full picture so that they 
should not:

     judge harshly because they have only seen superficially 
     and not thought deeply. *7*

One result of _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_ was that Mrs. Gaskell 
found herself caught up once again in public and bitter controversy. 
For some of this she had only herself to blame, where she had failed 
to check her sources properly as when she accepted Branwell's (and 
Charlotte's) account of his relations with Mrs. Robinson. But she also 
accepted the risk of dealing with living people, some of whom were 
implicitly or directly criticized in the letters and reminiscences she 
quotes. They naturally defended themselves, some privately like G. 
H. Lewes, some publicly and angrily like Carus Wilson. There was 
also sharply divided critical opinion on the success of the _Life_ 
itself, and on the propriety of writing a biography, warts and all. 
She disliked controversy, and the type of criticism which attacked 
her not as a writer but because of her opinions; it depressed her 
and made her physically ill. *8* She had taken some time to recover 
from the rough handling she had received over _Ruth_; _North and 
South_ had been carefully balanced to avoid censure. Now she was 
under attack again. Reasons have already been suggested for 
making her glad to give up any further attempt to comment 
directly on the contemporary scene in her novels; to these we might 
add the painful aftermath of the biography.
It would be a mistake to imagine that the writing of the biography 
produced any drastic change in Mrs. Gaskell's art, yet


*7* _Life_, p. 643.
*8* In a letter to George Smith she reveals her fears: 'I look forward 
also with a feeling of dread to the expressions of opinion, both 
public & private, which will cut me two ways on the appearance of 
the book, and am extremely anxious to be out of the country at the 
time of its publication.' (_Hopkins_, p. 258.) She goes on to explain 
her precautions taken to make sure that the book would not be 
permitted to appear until she was able to get away.

-- 155 --

its effect was considerable. *9* It served to consolidate and give 
depth to qualities that were already present, and to confirm her in 
concentrating on those aspects of character and social history and 
background which she found congenial. She finished her task 
exhausted, but potentially a better novelist.
Mrs. Gaskell's retreat from contemporary themes was thorough and 
permanent; the remaining stories and novels to be considered are 
set in the past, two of them being very definitely historical. Yet the 
idea of change and the concern for stability and continuity still 
remained with her. She concentrated now on the individual and the 
small community, giving full rein at last to her interest in the 
psychology of character and conduct, and noting, generally with 
quiet satire, the inconsistencies and self-deceptions which people 
bring to the business of living, as well as their oddities of 
behaviour. Social change and stability are considered first from 
their effect on the individual. But because they still occupy her, the 
past she deals with gradually moves towards the present again, 
while the social range extends until contrasts between sections and 
broad classes become as important as those between individuals 
and types. So it is that much of the work of this period has for its 
setting a more or a less immediate past, in which the transition 
from an older generation through the fictional 'present' can be 
explored in terms of social comedy, with the conclusion looking 
forward to a future which was in fact Mrs. Gaskell's own present.

_My Lady Ludlow_ appeared in 1858. *10* At first sight it would 
appear to be a reversion to the method of _Cranford_, and in certain 
important ways she had picked up the threads of the earlier work. 
But a consistent theme runs through the story as well as a planned


*9* I can see little influence on Mrs. Gaskell of Charlotte Bront‘ the 
novelist. Mrs. Gaskell had admired her work from the outset; they 
met in 1850, but each followed her own course as a writer. But see 
the comments on _Sylvia's Lovers_. An interesting minor detail of 
residual influence is that Molly Gibson's governess in _Wives and 
Daughters_ is called Miss Eyre.
*10* It was first published serially in _Household Words_. It 
appeared in book form as the main item in _Round the Sofa_, a 
collection of Stories which had all been previously published in 
periodicals and were now loosely linked together in a chain 
narrative. I shall consider _My Lady Ludlow_ without the 'light 
link, provided for the book.
-- 156 --

development which, in spite of the episodic structure, is not just the 
set of reminiscences suggested by the apologetic remark of the 
narrator that:

     It is no story: it has, as I said, neither beginning, middle, 
     nor end. *11*

The theme is explicitly that of change, the gradual acceptance of 
new ideas and attitudes as circumstances change, but one 
catastrophic lapse of judgement makes the essential unity of theme 
and tone difficult to realize. For whatever reason, possibly led 
astray by her own return to a more episodic structure, she 
introduces as an episode a 'tale within the tale' which has only the 
barest factitious link to the main narrative and yet occupies nearly 
one third of it. This is digression on the grand eighteenth-century 
scale. To make matters worse, the tale introduced is a 
melodramatically tragic one of romantic adventure, love and death 
in the terrors of the French Revolution; in tone and content 
completely out of key with the quietly humorous treatment and 
serious undercurrent of the daily life, joys and sorrows of the self-
contained country community she is describing. The episode has 
perhaps some point for the period it deals with, inasmuch as the 
horrors of the French Revolution reinforced the resistance to social 
change of any description which was an essential feature of the 
early nineteenth century England being described, and Lady 
Ludlow recounts the story (it touches on friends of the family) to 
emphasize the dangers of meddling with the accepted treatment of 
the lower classes. But the whole episode would be better out of the 
way; if it were cut out - and this could easily be done *12* - we 
would be left with a small gem; not so good as _Cranford_ or


*11* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 9.
*12* If there were a cut at p. 61, after '"I am distressed," continued 
she, with a break in her ideas, "about that boy."' and the story 
continued again on p. 126 with 'People seldom arrive at my age 
without having watched the beginning, middle and end of many 
lives and fortunes,' the surgery would be hardly noticeable, the gain 
would be immeasurable. The episode itself concerns ClŽment de 
CrŽquy, a young French ŽmigrŽ friend of the Ludlows, who returns 
to France to rescue his cousin Virginie, with whom he is in love. 
After many adventures he is about to succeed when unwittingly 
betrayed. Pierre, the young son of an old retainer in whose home 
Virginie is hiding, and who was taught to read by ClŽment, reads 
the final message concealed in a nosegay and innocently reveals it 
to a jealous revolutionary who is in love with Virginie. They are 
captured and executed. The tale allows Mrs. Gaskell to digress into 
her interest in France and French life.

 -- 157 --

_Cousin Phillis_ in their different ways but of a quality too good to 
be ignored. I shall discuss _My Lady Ludlow_ as though the story of 
the de CrŽquys were not there, in order to bring out the essential 
qualities of the book and do justice to them. Even with this 
digression omitted there are still weaknesses in the construction to 
be noticed, for Mrs. Gaskell wrote the story rather hurriedly and 
relied too much on her facility for episode and anecdote. *13*
The story is one of the gradual conquest of certain prejudices 
without the loss of the fine qualities which balanced them. Lady 
Ludlow is the last of the old-fashioned Hanburys of Hanbury Court. 
She is widowed, all her children but one are dead, and he dies in 
the course of the book. Her life is devoted to ruling and caring for 
the dependants of her estate, and preserving the traditions, customs 
and details of life that she had been brought up to. She is innately 
conservative, and convinced that the conditions of life of all ranks 
should not change; peace, stability and the preservation of sound 
morals and principles she sees as lying in respect for the authority 
and wisdom of rank and breeding:

     a sort of tribute to her Order, which she had no individual 
     right to remit, or, indeed, not to exact . . . *14*

while the lower orders have:

     the duties to which they are called by God; of submission 
     to those placed in authority over them; of contentment with 
     the state of life to which it has pleased God to call them . . .

It is not a one-sided contract; the duties and obligations of the 
ruling class are seen by Lady Ludlow as being just as binding and of 
the greatest importance, the preservation of society resting on their 
ability to maintain the _status quo_. Every tradition, every detail of 
behaviour, when seen in this light, is part of the fabric of a way of 
life that has changed little for many years. And Lady Ludlow, its 
representative, is essentially a gracious and lovable though 
reserved woman.


*13* She wrote to Norton on 9 March 1859 admitting that she wrote 
the story to cover the expenses of a trip to Germany (_Letters_, p. 
*14* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 160.		
*15* ibid., p. 149.
-- 158 --
Change inevitably comes, in the person of the new young 
clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Gray, as selfless, as warm-hearted, and as 
obstinate and convinced of the correctness of his opinions as Lady 
Ludlow. He sees what she does not, the stagnation of the poor and 
the brutalizing effect of ignorance on them; just as Thornton and 
Carson had wished for educated and intelligent hands, so he wishes 
for intelligent and educated labourers to cope with changing 
conditions. He denies Lady Ludlow's authority on matters which his 
religion gives him a duty to speak on; the achievement of a school is 
the main thread of the narrative. But change is also at work inside 
the small society. The management of the Hanbury estates by old-
fashioned methods is inefficient; the old steward Mr. Horner has 
bowed reluctantly to Lady Ludlow's wishes, yet even he has 
secretly been educating a local lad, Harry Gregson, the son of the 
poacher, to become his assistant. On Mr. Horner's death a new 
steward brings in new ideas, and is not ashamed to seek advice 
from a retired Dissenting baker whose farm is prosperous and 
efficient, though Dissenters are regarded as outside the pale of 
respectable society by the orthodox aristocrat. Then there is Miss 
Galindo, a sharp-tongued and kind-hearted spinster who loves and 
honours Lady Ludlow, and is herself well-born, though now poor. 
She takes into her home the illegitimate daughter of her former 
lover, though Lady Ludlow:

     neither saw nor heard, nor was in any way cognisant 
     of the existence of those who had no legal right to exist 
     at all. *16*

The development of the story, necessarily episodic, is controlled by 
the fact that each character stands in a well-defined social and 
personal relationship to Lady Ludlow, and also to the others within 
the structure of local society. The process of adjustment is carried 
through on the same personal basis. Harry Gregson, crippled in an 
accident, gets his education and finally becomes the schoolmaster. 
The Rev. Mr. Gray marries Miss Galindo's adopted daughter, the 
new steward marries the daughter of the Dissenting baker, and 
Lady Ludlow, whose respect for individual merit is never blinded 
once she has had a chance to recognize it,


*16* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 196.

-- 159 --

accepts the changes and finally gives a formal tea-party to
characters who, at the beginning of the narrative, would not have 
been recognized as possible visitors to a Hanbury of Hanbury Court.
Nevertheless the change is an adjustment of social values, not a 
social upheaval, while the result is a vindication of moral values 
and standards which are in the long run common to all. Lady 
Ludlow still holds her position by virtue of innate goodness and 
personality as well as rank, the society is still a stable and well-
ordered one with its gradations of rank, duties and obedience 
clearly understood. But it has moved itself out of the eighteenth 
century and is preparing to carry on in the nineteenth century 
while preserving its continuity with the best qualities of its past.
The qualities which distinguish _My Lady Ludlow_ are founded on 
those which gave _Cranford_ its distinction, the story comes from 
'the self . . . which is pleased on its own account'. There is the same 
pervading sympathy for natural affections and undramatic 
goodness; feelings and emotions are responded to without on the 
whole being sentimentalized. There is the same quietly detailed and 
enjoyed account of traditions and manners which provides the 
setting and background reality, the feeling of an older, more 
gracious world. There is the latent sense of its minor absurdities 
revealed by the irony of the narrator's account; for once again we 
have, in Margaret Dawson, the narrator who is within but to one 
side of the scene, sympathetic but objective. The humour springs 
from the comedy of human relationships and individual 
idiosyncracy; enhanced this time by the creation of Miss Galindo as 
a recruit to the ranks of 'elegant economists'. Like Falstaff she is 
witty in herself and the cause of wit in others - her encounter with 
the mischievous and intruding duck which has been named 'Miss 
Galindo' is notable. She invades the second half of the book, 
injecting a vitality and comedy not in the more placid and ironic 
earlier section, as though Mrs. Gaskell realized that another 
viewpoint was needed to support the too-quiet Margaret. Miss 
Galindo's character has two sides, that of the sensitive well-bred 
lady who keeps her private troubles to herself and that of the
-- 160 --

bustling, practical and intelligent woman whose helping hand and 
shrewd comments come together. Her remark that:

     when common-sense goes against us, I don't think we 
     value it quite so much as we ought to do. *17* 

reflects the unsentimental appreciation of human nature which is 
one aspect of the book.

Yet both in content and in treatment _My Lady Ludlow_ is 
influenced by her previous work. It has its serious note; although 
Mrs. Gaskell has turned her back on the didactic novel and on the 
problems of industrial society she retains her concern with the 
principles and beliefs she had been dealing with. Nor are the 
motives behind conduct trivial - such as Miss Galindo's break with 
Lady Ludlow over the illegitimate Bessy or the concern for the poor 
and ignorant which partly causes Mr. Gray's collapse - in spite of 
their being contained in the framework of comedy. The village 
world, while still a relatively small community, has widened. It 
covers several classes instead of the one class of _Cranford_; Lady 
Ludlow the aristocrat and Job Gregson the poacher mark the 
extremes of a scale which has its gentlefolk, farmers, bakers, 
clergymen. The 'beauty and convenience' of the surroundings is still 
dominant but the squalor talked of as existing round Helstone in 
_North and South_ is present in Hareman's Common, with its 'yellow 
pools of stagnant water' and 'cluster of rude mud houses'. *18* The 
characters are more varied and the main ones more complex, the 
world they live in is harsher and more exposed to pain and 
suffering. The _Cranford_ world has been enlarged to include much 
that was originally reserved for the drearier Manchester world, and 
although the setting has been pushed more specifically into the past 
than that of _Cranford_, its characters are more modern in essence. 
Within this setting Mrs. Gaskell's interest is now centred on 
personal life; the problem of change is seen through the mind and 
emotions of Lady Ludlow and against the life of Hanbury Court, 
which is an extension of her personality. As with _Ruth_, Mrs. 
Gaskell has chosen to call the story by the name of the central 
character, and _My Lady Ludlow_ is

*17* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 197.        
*18* ibid., p. 35.
-- 161 --

in fact a portrait with background; a study of temperament and 
character delicately and objectively presented; within its limits the 
maturest she had achieved. *19*
Problems which had been dealt with in earlier work re-appear now 
as personal problems. For example, the question of illegitimacy is 
raised with Bessy, Miss Galindo's daughter. Whereas in _Ruth_ the 
problem was given general significance, it is now treated as a 
personal affair and reflects a facet of Lady Ludlow's character. 
Problems of Orthodoxy and Dissent, and even of irreligion, are now 
viewed as individual ones and come within the compass of personal 
prejudice, the narrator setting the tone with her naive comment on 

     I looked upon them almost as if they were rhinoceroses. 
     I wanted to see a live Dissenter, I believe, and yet I wished 
     it were over. *20*

Yet the personal problems involve social ones. The tinge of 
earnestness is still present; we can suspect that Mr. Gray will one 
day write a strongly didactic novel and regard Charles Kingsley as 
his model. When Mr. Gray accuses Lady Ludlow of being 'all-
powerful as far as material power goes' *21* he is acknowledging 
the social hierarchy, and his struggle is against the pervasive 
authority of rank, with the accompanying social powers of:

     those ceremonies and forms which are, I suppose, the 
     etiquette of your ladyship's rank of life . . . *22*

The fact that Mr. Gray gets his school is a triumph for social 
conscience as well as religious duty.
The treatment of religion shows an interesting change. It is no 
longer being pushed as a panacea, for all concerned are religious; 
what do come under discussion are the nature of religion and the 
social and conventional forms it takes. Its treatment is part of the 
rejection of broad social issues in favour of personal ones; in 
working towards a closer and deeper analysis of the individual

*19* The titles of Mrs. Gaskell's novels are evidence of her primary 
interest in individuals, especially if we remember that _North and 
South_ was originally called 'Margaret Hale'. (_Mary Barton_ was a 
shift from 'John Barton', which made more sense.) _Cranford_ and 
_Wives and Daughters_ are revealing as titles by this reckoning.
*20* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 141.		
*21* ibid., p. 147.		
*22* ibid., p. 147.

-- 162 --	

mind and heart Mrs. Gaskell looks at the religion of individuals. In 
this case, where it is part of a study of prejudice and change, it is 
seen within the comic viewpoint; while religion is not made fun o4 
religious attitudes are.
She ranges widely in her study of religious types. Lady Ludlow is 
the old-fashioned, orthodox and sincere Christian whose religion is a 
matter of personal practice and public example. The enthusiasm 
and emotional colouring of Mr. Gray's equally sincere Christianity 
and new-fangled ideas are distasteful and alarming to her. She sees 
clergymen and religion as part of the social pattern:
we meet the servile family parson of her grandfather's time and the 
kindly but lazy and worldly country-gentleman parson in Mr. 
Gray's predecessor, Mr. Mountford, who refrains from giving a 
sermon if Lady Ludlow does not want one. This is kindness and 
Christianity, but unexercised; as Margaret Dawson says:

     I think a good run would not have come amiss, even 
     from a moral point of view, to Mr. Mountford. *23*
Mr. Gray's Christianity is evangelical, taking precedence over 
material or social authority when his duty and conscience demand. 
He does not dispute the need for such authority; his argument is the 
one he opposes to Lady Ludlow's comments on 'the duties to which 
[the lower orders] are called by God' *24* :

     I do not think of character: I think of souls. *25*

And this distinction in its way epitomizes the two aspects of religion 
which Mrs. Gaskell sees, the personal faith which is necessary for 
individual salvation and the guidance to conduct which forms 
character and influences personal and social relationships. It is Miss 
Galindo who voices the common-sense view of the compromise 
between the two, when she skilfully out-manoeuvres her maid's 
attempts to be a meditative Mary rather than a practical Martha:
     Now, Sally, to-morrow we'll try to hash that beef well, and 
     to remember the butter, and work out our salvation all at      
     the same time, for I don't see why it can't all be done, as 
     God has set us to do it all. *26*

*23* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 23.		
*24* ibid., p. 147.		
*25* ibid., p. 150.
*26* ibid., p. 145.
-- 163 --

The acceptance of Dissenters as being somewhat less than heretics 
and outcasts has been mentioned. It is all part of an attitude which 
had been present in Mrs. Gaskell's work from the beginning, the 
recognition and acceptance of individual merit.
It has been necessary to discuss _My Lady Ludlow_ at some length, 
not only because it merits it but in order to understand more 
clearly the apparently erratic course she followed in her succeeding 
work. She has shifted from the problems of new classes and 
divisions in society to the more congenial ground of individual 
adjustment; these are two sides of the one coin and she moves back 
into the historical past to get perspective, just as she narrows down 
to individual lives to examine motive, before returning once more 
to the roughly contemporary and treating the two together. As Lady 
Ludlow says of Harry Gregson:

     of course, if a lad is taught to read and write . . . his duties 
     become complicated, and his temptations much greater, while, 
     at the same time, he has no hereditary principles and 
     honourable training to serve as safeguards. *27*

Mrs. Gaskell had achieved a clear view of her theme as a novelist.


*27* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 61.

-- 164 --


'Lois the Witch' and '_Sylvia's Lovers_'

THE two major works which followed _My Lady Ludlow_ (the short 
novel 'Lois the Witch' and the long novel _Sylvia's Lovers_) *1* 
might seem to be new departures for Mrs. Gaskell. They are 
avowedly historical, using documentary material and incorporating 
actual incidents, instead of being contemporary or near-
contemporary. The regional novelist has turned to America and the 
north-east coast of Yorkshire. The note is almost wholly serious, the 
outlook tragic; in 'Lois the Witch' the almost complete absence of 
humour is striking while in _Sylvia's Lovers_ an initial sparkle 
becomes submerged in shadow. A strong interest in morbid 
psychology is revealed, associated with superstition. We are far 
from the Manchester or the _Cranford_ worlds it would seem; 
different as these stories are from each other they have in common 
their distinction in setting and tone. Nevertheless, the distinction 
can be seen as a re-shuffling of interests to achieve a different 
balance rather than a new departure.
The historical novel was by this time a respectable genre that had 
been given status by Scott and raised further in esteem by Dickens, 
Thackeray, Reade and Kingsley among others. It was quite natural 
that an established novelist should try her hand at a fashionable 
genre. But Mrs. Gaskell was already accustomed to the use of 
historical event and documentary material; the writing of Charlotte 
Bront‘'s biography was obviously the most recent as well as the 
most thorough example. Blue books, articles and news-

*1* 'Lois the Witch' appeared in 1859 (8-22 Oct.) in _All the Year 
Round_. _Sylvia's Lovers_ was published by Smith, Elder early in 
1863. One other publication in this period might seem to claim 
attention. This is the short novel 'A Dark Night's Work' (_AYR_, 24 
Jan. 21 Feb., 1863) which appears instead of 'Lois the Witch' in Miss 
Hopkins's list of principal writings for the period (_Hopkins_, p. 
245). Miss Hopkins however later calls it 'a competent tale but by 
no means out of the ordinary' (p. 259), and it is certainly not a 
major work.

-- 165 --		

paper accounts as well as personal experience lie behind _Mary 
Barton_ and _North and South_. Her ability to reshape historical 
material into interesting narrative is seen more clearly in the 
articles she wrote from time to time - 'Traits and Stories of the 
Huguenots', 'Modern Greek Songs' and 'An Accursed Race' are 
examples already mentioned. They illustrate also that given the 
necessary stimulus she could move outside of her 'region' and 
replace personal knowledge by acquired knowledge for background, 
particularly as such a stimulus would excite her antiquarian and 
sociological interests in old customs, unusual events, and strange 
Morbid psychology can also be found in earlier work. It is not 
handled much in the major novels, though the study of John 
Barton's deterioration has elements of it, but the minor stories 
contain many examples, while 'The Old Nurse's Story' (1852) and 
'The Poor Clare' (1856) are also better than average studies in the 
supernatural. *2* There is an obvious link between her love of 
tradition and legend and her delight in ghost stories and morbidly 
tinged tales, which are a staple of any local mythology (she was 
herself an excellent raconteuse of such tales). During this period 
when she had begun writing largely to suit herself she produced a 
number of minor stories in which superstition, local legend and 
history are blended, often to include a study in the abnormal. 'The 
Grey Woman 'is a good example of her facility with such material. 
The sombre note and tragic circumstances are a natural constituent 
of many of these stories; that side of Mrs. Gaskell's nature which 
was attracted to the pathetic and to the harrowing detail responded 
to such themes rather too easily. It is a response readily recognized 
as common to the mind of the Victorian writer and the reading 
public; in this respect the parallel between

*2* 'The Old Nurse's Story' may have influenced Henry James's The 
Toro of the Screw. He knew and admired Mrs. Gaskell's work.
*3* It is the story of the inexperienced girl who marries the 
handsome stranger. He turns out to be a bandit chief, head of the 
notorious 'chauffeurs'. Mrs. Gaskell would have learned about the 
'chauffeurs' on her German holidays, which provided material for 
several Stories. Ward discusses its possible literary sources (_Cousin 
Phillis_, pp. xxviii-xxxi). The story is little more than a skilful 
exercise in dressing up an exciting piece of local history and adding 
the necessary ingredients for a successful magazine piece.
-- 166 --

Mrs. Gaskell and Dickens is close, though even Dickens felt at times 
that death and its halo of pathos were rather too frequent in her 
More difficult to account for is the lack of humour. There is nothing 
in her biography to suggest that this was a particularly gloomy 
period of her life; very shortly after writing 'Lois the Witch' she was 
complaining to Norton about two young men, paragons of all the 
virtues, who, nevertheless

     I am . . . had a want to me in their composition, - a want 
     of the sense of humour, and that Dr. Arnold had too. But 
     it _is_ a _want_. *4*

Yet her imaginative work definitely reveals a response to a more 
complex view of good and evil, to a more tragic view of life. Earlier 
work had depicted misery, it is true, but the end had always been 
in happiness, while the presence of misery or sorrow as a necessary 
ingredient for her purposes was rarely allowed to subdue a touch of 
humour or a sense of the ridiculous. Man, from her point of view, 
when given half a chance was a basically cheerful, or at least 
optimistic, being. It is as though, with her greater objectivity and 
experience, she felt it necessary to face the dark side of life and 
human nature, to acknowledge a world in which even the ultimate 
influences of religion and affection could be perverted to evil and 
tragedy, before she turned back towards her normal world with 
still further depth and insight. For in spite of the careful historical 
treatment the stories continue the handling of a theme important in 
all Mrs. Gaskell's work, the behaviour of the individual or of the 
community under conditions in which the normal stabilizing 
influences are removed or placed under stress. 'Lois the Witch' is 
not just a fictional reconstruction of the Salem persecution, nor is 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ merely a description of the effect of press-gangs 
on an area of England; the situations serve to contain studies of 
character and conduct as did _My Lady Ludlow_, and to explore 
more fully the nature of emotion and belief.

_Lois the Witch_

'Lois the Witch' is a tale of the Salem witch trials which took place 
in New England in 1692. It tells how Lois Barclay, the


*4* _Letters_, 9 March 1859, p. 34.

-- 167 --

orphan of an orthodox English clergyman, came to America to join 
her relatives, failed to fit in with the gloomy, puritanical attitude of 
the area or the stern, moody family she found, and was finally 
caught in the witch-hunting hysteria that swept through New 
England, accused by her cousins of witchcraft, and hanged. The 
story as it develops is more than this however. It is an account
of the perversion of good principles, of affection gone sour or
become jealous, of religion turned fanatical and cruel, of a 
community become unstable. It presents a world where values 
have been twisted out of perspective.
The New England community is shown as an insecure one; two or 
three anecdotes told during Lois's first dinner in the country 
quickly sketch in a picture of settlements constantly threatened by 
Indians in the forest and pirates on the shore, with Puritan 
ministers urging their flock to see Satan in every enemy and each 
disaster. The absence of humour is an essential element of this 
background. With the departure of the ship's captain who brought 
her, the last link with England, this gloom becomes emphatically 
part of the oppressive background. The seriousness of her subject 
matter would not normally induce Mrs. Gaskell to abandon the 
saving grace of humour and common sense; that she does so here is 
an indication of a gravely disordered world. One of the most 
poignant features of the novel is the suppression of natural gaiety 
in Lois herseif.
Her change of home is also a change from tranquillity and affection 
to sternness and unfamiliar habits. The family she has come to is 
admittedly a strange one, for Mrs. Gaskell makes it a microcosm of 
the fanaticism and incipient lack of balance which lay behind the 
outbreak. The eldest cousin, Manasseh, a man on the edge of 
madness, falls in love with her and translates his desire into a 
divinely inspired command to marry. *5* Another cousin,

*5* 'Lois the Witch' seems to draw heavily on Crabbe's 'Ruth' as 
does _Sylvia's Lovers_ (see p. 176). The persecution of Lois by 
Manasseh parallels that of Ruth by the teacher and lay preacher:
     He talks of heaven, and let him if he will,
     But he has earthly purpose to fulfil . . .
     Doom'd the chance mercy of the world to trust,
     Or to wed grossness and conceal disgust.
          _Crabbe's Poetical Works_, John Murray, 1823. Vol. 6, 
          pp. 93 and 95.
-- 168 --

Faith, secretly in love with one of the ministers, allows herself to 
become morbidly jealous of Lois. The third cousin, Prudence, is a 
vain child with a vicious nature who accuses Lois in a fit of induced 
hysteria in order to attract attention. The uncle, the only kindly one 
in the family, dies shortly after Lois's arrival, leaving her aunt, 
Grace Hickson, to rule the house and find excuses for Manasseh's 
behaviour. In such a home a girl who was:

     loving herself delighted in being loved, and felt ajar run 
     through her at every sign of want of love in others. *6*

was more out of place than a _Cranford_ inhabitant would have 
been in a Manchester industrialist's home. The growing distrust and 
jealousy of the stranger cousin and her natural brightness are 
carefully traced, for as always Mrs. Gaskell is concerned with 
individuals and their feelings. The depiction of this environment of 
inhumanity, of the suppression of natural affection and love in the 
name of duty and religion, together with the growing dislike it 
produces, occupies the major part of the book, for it is Mrs. Gaskell's 
purpose to show that the death of Lois must ultimately be traced to 
this perversion of normal feelings and belief. In _My Lady Ludlow_ 
prejudice could be treated sympathetically in the manner of 
comedy because the characters were fundamentally good and their 
background secure; once the restraints of firm traditions and sound 
principles are removed, prejudice turns to something deadly.
In such a community, shadowed by violence and isolated from 
gentle influences, superstition flourishes as the dark side of 
tradition, and Mrs. Gaskell is well aware of dealing with forces that 
are always latent in the human mind. She draws back briefly from 
her story to make the point:

     We can afford to smile at them now; but our English 
     ancestors entertained superstitions of much the same 
     character at the same period, and with less excuse, as 
     the circumstances surrounding them were better known, 
     and consequently more explicable by common sense, 
     than the real mysteries of the deep, untrodden forests 
     of New England. *7*


*6* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 137.		
*7* ibid., p. 135.
-- 169 --

Her setting only throws into relief instincts and fears which are 
universal and which flourish when circumstances permit.
The treatment of religion is one of the most striking features of the 
story. As always with Mrs. Gaskell religion is to be judged by the 
conduct it produces, not by the professions it makes, and we have 
seen that she had reached the stage as a writer when she could 
regard it objectively, as she did other beliefs and emotions. In this 
sense 'Lois the Witch' is a novel about religion without being a 
religious novel, although at the end she makes her own standards 
clear. It poses no problems, it examines with clarity and pity. She 
had once created a study of an individual for whom the world was 
an enemy, and whose faith was built on a God of wrath and 
revenge, *8* and had been sufficiently attracted by an account of 
religious persecution to write an article on it. *9* _Ruth_ had 
portrayed intolerance in the name of religion, but the emphasis had 
been heavily on Christian virtues. 'Lois the Witch' carries on from 
_My Lady Ludlow_ the study of religion in practice, whatever its 
denomination, and the wider social effects of the attitudes it fosters. 
Mrs. Gaskell faces, and reflects, the harsh unloving world of 
Puritanism with which her own Unitarianism had a common 
ancestry. She sees it as a perversion of true Christianity in its 
rejection of mercy and love. It has got out of balance with life, and 
is therefore no longer a fit guide. Moreover, it interferes with the 
ordinary business of living. As Capt. Holdernesse says:

     They are rare chaps for praying; down on their knees 
     at every turn of their life. Folk are none so busy in a 
     new country, else they would have to pray like me, with 
     a 'Yo-hoy!' on each side of my prayer, and a rope cutting 
     like fire through my hand. *10*

The remark can be set alongside Miss Galindo's rebuke to her 
would-be meditative Mary of a maid, and the attitude was to be 
triumphantly justified in _Cousin Phillis_. A narrow, intolerant 
creed and narrow intolerant emotions support each other, and life 
suffers for it.


*8* 'The Heart of John Middleton'. See Chap 3.
*9* 'An Accursed Race.'		
*10* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 114.
-- 170 --
The events in Salem were exceptional, but Mrs. Gaskell sees them as 
the extreme example of an inevitable process, for the qualities she 
regarded as essential to a sane and stable society were missing. Yet 
it was not in her to present a picture of blank hopelessness. 
Individuals are found in the blackest period to stand out against 
inhumanity. Cotton Mather's own father is one, while Pastor Nolan, 
whom Faith loved and then hated, dies in protest:

     How much of malice - distinct, unmistakable, personal 
     malice - was mixed up with these accusations, [comments 
     Mrs. Gaskell as narrator] no one can now tell. *11*

But Lois's tragedy is revealed as one of personal relationships. She 
is the contrast to those around her, the decent person who is 
perplexed, frightened, but whose faith and upbringing are strong 
enough to resist the taint. She cries out, when Grace offers a chance 
of pardon if she will remove the 'spell' she is supposed to have cast 
on Manasseh:

     I cannot do it; I never did you or yours any wrong. How 
     can I undo it? How can I? *12*

but common sense and normal behaviour have been lost sight oŁ 
She dies supporting the old Indian woman Nattee who has been a 
natural victim of the hysteria, still firm in her belief in a religion 
that promises love.
The strength and power of 'Lois the Witch' lies in its sober realism. 
The background and the historical events are presented without 
flourish, and with the minimum of direct explanation. She 
introduces few historical characters, only those such as Cotton 
Mather *13* and Justice Sewall who are necessary to provide 
authenticity, and they are incidental to the story. She invents little 
or nothing for them, relying on the historical record, nor does she 
attempt to enter their minds and feelings beyond the general 
conditions of the time. She avoids the mistake made in _My Lady

*11* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 200.		
*12* ibid., p. 203.
*13* Her early work was published under the pseudonym of Cotton 
Mather Mills. The canting reference to cotton mills is obvious, but 
the acquaintance with the early stages of Puritanism is also there. 
Her husband's library contained a number of works which detailed 
the early history of Dissent, including some on the American scene.
-- 171 --

Ludlow_ of letting her weakness for episode lead into digression. 
The slow beginning, essential to her method of creating characters 
in their setting before the action develops, justifies itself in this 
short novel by the concentrated speed of the climax. The author 
stands back and allows events to produce their own effect, the 
moral is inherent in the behaviour of her characters.
The historical Salem episode ended with a recantation twenty years 
later by those who had accused and judged. 'Lois the Witch' ends 
quietly with this fact, the solemn declaration of regret is quoted and 
the story of Justice Sewall's repentance briefly included. Ralph 
Lucy, the English sweetheart who arrives too late to save her, 
repeats three times the bitter comment on such belated repentance:

     All this will not bring my Lois to life again, or give me 
     back the hope of my youth. *14*

but his final words, which end the tale, are for prayers to blot out 
the sin from remembrance.
For in the Salem witch hunt Mrs. Gaskell had found an episode 
which could exemplify her view of life and stimulate her 
imagination. She had drawn, in the Manchester of her earlier work, 
a picture of a society whose classes were self-confident and 
narrow-minded but which was unstable as a society because it 
lacked the cohesion and comfort of mutual understanding. Now she 
presented the same picture, shorn of reference to current 
controversy and concentrating on the effect on individuals. It is an 
indictment of intolerance and unchristian 'Christianity', more 
remarkable in that the author was a Dissenter whose heroine is an 
orthodox Anglican and whose wrongdoers - they are not villains - 
are Dissenters.

It is also a study in the negation of pleasant and human life. Lois 
comes from the _Cranford_ world; from a little Warwickshire village 
which is barely mentioned but stays in her memory and has 
moulded her character. Salem shares with Manchester the dubious 
distinction of having turned its back on beauty and pleasantness, of 
having a pharisaical religion; it is a place where toler-


*14* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 208.

-- 172 --

ance and humanity have been repressed. The effectiveness of the 
portrait of Salem lies in the hints of the other way of life which Lois 

     There they had loved her; there she had gone about 
     singing and rejoicing, all the day long, in the pleasant 
     meadows by the Avon side. *15*

_Sylvia's Lovers_

_Sylvia's Lovers_ marks the final phase of a period in which the 
emphasis had been on suffering and gloom; it was to be followed 
first by the pastoral elegy of _Cousin Phillis_ and finally by the 
warmth and confidence of _Wives and Daughters_. But at this time 
Mrs. Gaskell seems excessively aware of the 'wearisome condition of 
humanity', she sees sorrow round every corner:

     as, in fact, it is approaching all of us at this very time; 
     you, reader, I, writer, have each our great sorrow bearing 
     down upon us. *16*

and it is undeniable that the work produced between _My Lady 
Ludlow_ and _Sylvia's Lovers_ shows a concentration on gloom and 
morbidity. *17*

It was admittedly a time of physical strain for her. We know that 
she was leading a rushed life; she travelled a lot, her growing 
daughters and Manchester relief work were a drain on time and 
energy. She was run down, frequently ill. In addition the aftermath 
of the Crimean war (Philip Hepburn is surely a memory of an ex-
soldier) followed by the cotton famine and destitution arising from 
the American Civil War, which itself had been a threat to peace in 
Britain, may well have depressed her. It is only fair to add that 
most of the stories she wrote at this time were for


*15* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 196. Mrs. Gaskell's own schooldays had 
been spent, very happily, at Stratford-on-Avon.	
*16* 'A Dark Night's Work', ibid., p. 434.
*17* Detailed examination is impossible here. The stories are, in 
order of publication and 'with the titles they now have: 'The Doom 
of the Griffiths', 'The Half Brothers', 'Right at Last', 'The Manchester 
Marriage' (1858); 'The Crooked Branch' (1859); 'The Grey Woman' 
(1861); 'Six Weeks at Heppenheim' (1862); 'A Dark Night's Work' 
(1863). Infanticide, parricide, filial hatred, murder, bigamy, suicide, 
unfaithfulness are the ingredients; misery the pervading tone. 
Virtue finally triumphs in the pattern, but the triumph is usually a 
dreary or consolation-prize happiness. In nearly all the stories, 
family feeling and natural affection are perverted or disrupted. The 
only other work of this period was a brief fantasy ('Curious if True', 
1860) and an article ('An Italian Institution', 1862) on the Camorra 
in her historico-sociological vein.

-- 173 --

pin money, to offset holiday expenses or to raise money for charity, 
and she turned, as she usually did when her imagination or interest 
were not fully engaged, to local stories and incidents as an easy way 
of finding material for a magazine story. Such stories tend to the 
morbidly melodramatic. But there is no overlooking the mediocrity 
of much of her work in these years.

The possibility of some deeper emotional disturbance cannot be 
discounted, The concentration on disruption and hatred within 
families is significant, and she would have been passing through the 
change of life' at this period, with its accompanying restlessness. 
Moreover she had something to be restless about. She was looking 
back to a brief escape into a golden world (I use her owls adjective) 
whose glow made the grey drabness of Manchester life more dreary 
by contrast. The growth of the friendship with Charles Eliot Norton 
which grew out of that escape throws an additional light on the 
feelings of the forty-six-year-old authoress.

Mrs. Gaskell had fled to Rome in 18S7 on the invitation of some 
American friends, the Storys. She fled from the publication of _The 
life of Charlotte Bront‘_, though she could not be aware of the 
particular storm that was going to break. She had never been to 
Italy, she looked forward to the visit with the excitement of 
achieving a dream, and she arrived at carnival time. It was in this 
heightened emotional state of escape and fulfilment, in the actual 
whirl of the carnival, that she met Norton. *18* The impact of Rome 
and the liberation of spirit that it gave was a typically Jamesian 
situation, and it is proper to turn to James for insight on the 

     To the happy conditions of the pilgrimage when it at 
     last took place we have her testimony, from the "cold 
     dim grey Manchester," in the following September. "It 
     was in those charming Roman days that my life, at any 
     rate, culminated. I shall never be so happy again. I don't 
     think I was ever so happy before. My eyes fill with tears 
     when I think of those days, and it is the same with all of 
     us. They were the tip-top


*18* To be strictly accurate he had been formally introduced to her 
at a social evening in 1850 as a young American visiting Europe for 
the first time. He wrote to her in 1855 praising her hooks and 
telling how his dying father had liked to have Cranford read to him. 
But the Rome meeting, when Norton was thirty, was the effective 
beginning of their friendship.

-- 174 --

point of our lives. The girls may see happier ones-I never shall." 
She read all poetry into almost any friendship, and she now looked 
back at the Roman felicity across an interval that had bristled with 
disagreeable things. She had gone forth in the joy of having finished 
her vivid Biography, but the book, though in the highest degree 
"successful," had sown her, at the same time, a crop of dragon's 
teeth. . . which had bravely to be gathered in. . . . What it had, at 
any rate, especially done was to embitter the aftertaste of the 
pleasure she had taken, in Rome, with so good a conscience. Still, the 
aftertaste was to recur irrepressibly. "oh, I so long for Italy and 
Albano that it makes me ill!" she sighs in another letter . . . We must 
let it go, however, on a couple of the inevitable notes of home-

and he quotes a letter describing:

     the amber sunlight streaming on the gold-grey Roman roofs 
     and the Sabine hills . . .

with her feeling that:

     I would almost rather never have been there than have 
     this ache of yearning for the great witch who sits with you 
     upon her seven hills. *19*

She found not only Rome but also, in Norton a sympathetic nature 
that shared the same feelings and admired her as an artist; it gave 
her an expansion of spirit that found little sustenance on her return 
home. To the end of her life her memory reverted with longing to 
the Roman holiday.

Miss Hopkins says of the friendship that:

     It was love, but there was no passion in it. The feeling 
     generated was that between mother and son where there 
     is complete congeniality and understanding . . . *20*

This I think is a misinterpretation. There was affection, and there 
was an aura of romance about it that grew from the meeting in the 
carnival. Six years later, when she used the episode in 'A Dark 
Night's Work', she drew on the details of her own experience to 
describe the heroine looking down into the carnival throng to find 
her long-absent friend gazing up at her. In the story they finally


*19* Henry James, _William Wetmore Story and His Friends_, 
Thames & Hudson, n.d. Vol. 1, pp. 355-8. First published in 1903. 
The letters refer to the Storys.      
*20* _Hopkins_, p. 227.

-- 175 --

marry. There is no point, as Miss Hopkins says, in thinking of the 
friendship as other than an innocent one, but there seems little 
doubt that the whole episode developed an undercurrent of 
sentiment for Mrs. Gaskell in which the surrounding circumstances 
of holiday feeling, of Rome itself, of companionship were the major 
elements, in which the happy accident of Norton's presence was 
inextricably mixed. It left her with a feeling of dissatisfaction, a 
sense of anticlimax which James seized on as the essential feature.

Her letters of this period reveal, however, nothing more than 
tiredness, though there is a comment to Norton which seems to 
indicate a determination to be cheerful in spite of the times:

     We are all sad here, - most people believe that we are 
     going to war with you... and we are all very sad about 
     that - then again our poor Queen's sorrow fills all our 
     hearts. We ourselves, just we Gaskells are happy (I am 
     thankful to say) and well. *21*

Whatever the reasons for the gloom of this period, _Sylvia's Lovers_ 
is a product of them. But it is not a part of the hack-work or 
mediocrity, though tinged by them.

Unexpectedly, and in her quiet way she was constantly doing the 
unexpected, Mrs. Gaskell shows new depth and power. The interim 
period after the _Life_ allowed her, consciously or not, to attempt to 
disentangle the sense of useful purpose from her creative 
imagination, a process helped by the occasional retreat into the 
historical or the remote. Moreover the short stories of this period, 
uninspired though many of them are, were concerned with 
individuals and feelings. _Sylvia's Lovers_ shows the gain, but the 
disentangling process was not complete, the remnants of purpose 
finally clog the psychological machinery. _Sylvia's Lovers_ falls 
short of being a great novel, though it contains a large proportion of 
fine things, some of the finest she achieved.

_Sylvia's Lovers_ was published in February 1863. It was begun in 
'8S9, when a visit to Whitby on the north-east coast of Yorkshire 
provided her with the germ of a story, together with accompany mg 
detail, that would meet George Smith's offer of a thousand pounds 
for a three-volume novel to be published by Smith, Elder.


*21* _Letters_, 31 Dec. 1861, p. 95.
-- 176 --

Whitby had been a whaling port, and Mrs. Gaskell heard there the 
story' of an attack on the press-gang by the angry townsfolk in 
1793 which culminated in the execution of an old man who had 
been one of the ring-leaders. She developed the incident, creating 
the characters and circumstances that could have led up to it. But 
the central idea, into which this incident was cleverly dovetailed, 
she drew from one of Crabbe's _Tales of the Hall_. 'Ruth' is a tale of 
the press-gang containing the elements of the abducted lover, the 
abandoned girl and the persistent religious wooer. Mrs. Gaskell does 
not follow the plot in detail, (Ruth, for example, was left pregnant) 
but she found to her hand the key relationships and incidents, in 
particular the essential relationship on which the second half of her 
story-the marriage between the previously rejected suitor and the 
girl whose lover has been taken-is based:

          He came and reason'd, and she seemed to feel 
          The pains he took-her griefs began to heal. *22*

The treatment is her own, as is the plot she constructed by fusing 
the two sources into a unity, though she shares Crabbe's attitude to 
the tyranny of the press-gang and his sympathy with ordinary 

The care she took over the novel must be stressed. By her own 
account she took more pains with it than with any other of her 
novels; even the sentiment and melodrama that tie the story up 
cannot be attributed to haste-though we may suspect artistic 
desperation. She used the experience gained from writing the _Life_ 
to make detailed enquiries from authoritative sources, in order to 
provide a historically accurate basis for the events she describes. 
The attack on the rendezvous, for example, was checked with 
Admiralty records. As for the construction, we have her comments 
to show that desperate as the contrivance of the ending may seem, 
it was planned from the beginning. Writing to Forster for his 
comments on the completed first two volumes, she adds a sketch of 
the third:

     to make you see how everything in the first two 'works 
     up' to the events and crisis in that . . .


*22* op. cit., p. 90.

-- 177 --

and seeking encouragement she adds:

     I cannot help liking it myself, but that may be firstly 
     because I have taken great pains with it, and secondly I 
     know the end . . . *23*

But pains were no substitute for a psychologically credible ending. 

I have already given a part summary of the plot in showing how
the novel reflects Mrs. Gaskell's views on home and upbringing. A 
fuller summary reveals the shape of plot and theme. Sylvia Robson 
is the only daughter of a good-natured but irresponsible sailor-
turned-farmer, Daniel, and his wife Bell, and she grows up
to be attractive, loyal and affectionate but self-willed. Philip 
Hepburn, the cousin who loves her, is serious, religious and rather 
dull, the unromantic assistant to the leading merchant in nearby 
Monkshaven and later the part owner of the store. He lives with the 
widow Alice Rose and her meek daughter Hester. When a press-
gang attack on a home-bound whaler is defied, its specksioneer 
(leading harpooner) Charlie Kinraid is gravely wounded, and 
becomes the local hero when he is carried to the funeral of a sailor 
who died in the scuffle. Sylvia falls in love with him and they 
become secretly engaged. But Kinraid is kidnapped by the press-
gang on his way to rejoin his ship, an incident of which Philip by 
coincidence is the only witness. Philip himself is too weedy to be 
taken. Philip has heard rumours about Kinraid as a libertine, and 
while on his journey after the incident he hears more. The plot 
turns on his decision, triggered off by a series of trivial but 
cumulative circumstances acting on his passion for Sylvia, not to 
carry out his promise to tell her what had happened when he finds 
out that Kinraid is thought to have been drowned. Later the press-
gang makes a sweep into Monkshaven itself; there is a riot urged on 
by Daniel, who instigates the burning of the press-gang's 
'randyvowse'. He is arrested and later hanged. Philip is now 
prospering and respected, he takes care of the Robsons while Daniel 
is waiting trial, arranges for his defence, and is generally the prop 
of the women. Bell becomes half-witted, Haytersbank Farm is to be 
sold, and Sylvia finally agrees to marry Philip. She is a dutiful wife 
and in time there is also a baby daughter, but


* 23* Letter from Mrs. Gaskell to John Forster, n.d.; _Brotherton_, 15 
-- 178 --

Sylvia cannot forget Kinraid, who returns as a naval lieutenant to 
claim her and reveal Philip's duplicity. Sylvia's vow after she has 
refused to run away with Kinraid that:

     I'll never forgive yon man, nor live with him as his wife 
     again. *24*

provides the second turn of the plot.

It is at this stage-a late one-that the novel turns almost completely 
to melodrama and sentiment as events are forced to a conclusion. 
Philip enlists as a soldier and vanishes, later saving Kinraid's life 
during the siege of Acre and vanishing again, (he has adopted the 
name of Freeman, rather surprisingly apt as Mrs. Gaskell has 
normally no idea of the use of significant names). He is wounded 
and disfigured in an explosion, and finally returns home 
unrecognized to be near his wife and daughter, not daring to reveal 
his identity. Sylvia in the meantime has matured with 
responsibility and suffering, has developed a sense of religion and 
its standards, and has slowly realized that Philip's love was deeper 
and more serious than Kinraid's, who has made a useful marriage. 
The reconciliation is achieved when Philip saves his daughter from 
being drowned: he is fatally injured but dies forgiven.

Such a synopsis, moving from highlight to highlight, distorts the 
balance and emphasis of the novel, though it illustrates its 
complexity-to which must be added a series of subsidiary 
relationships and characters, and themes such as Hester's love for 
Philip. It also shows where the 'joins' of the novel occur, the 
author's hand pushing events along is occasionally obvious. But 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ is not primarily a novel of incident. Nearly half of 
it is taken up with the gradual unfolding of Sylvia's character 
against the detail of daily life, it is above all a study of feelings, 
relationships and behaviour in their social and family setting.

Two possible influences need to be considered briefly before we 
examine the novel more closely. That of Charlotte Bront‘ has been 
canvassed before now. It is possibly there; certainly Sylvia is nearer 
to being a Bronte‘-ish heroine than any other in Mrs.


*24* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 404. The 'returned sailor' theme was 
already in Mrs. Gaskell's mind in 1858, when she wed it for 'The 
Manchester Marriage', a story which may have suggested 'Enoch 
Arden' to Tennyson.

-- 179 --

Gaskell's work, while the setting of farm and countryside has a 
similarity. But the character of Sylvia is equally to be seen as a 
development from heroines of the earlier novels which was to 
continue to Molly Gibson in _Wives and Daughters_, while the 
countryside was one she knew, nor is its wildness stressed. More 
important perhaps is the feeling that comes through the narrative, 
that love is more-or less-than a pure passion; certainly there is a 
force of sexual passion hinted at. Perhaps something may have been 
derived from the Bront‘ world, especially after Mrs. Gaskell's 
immersion in it for the biography, but it is hardly more than an 
encouragement of ideas and attitudes that were already present.
More important I suggest was the influence of George Eliot. Mrs. 
Gaskell had commented with rueful despair, shortly after _Adam 
Bede_ was published, that:

     I think I have a feeling that it is not worth while trying 
     to write; while there are such books as _Adam Bede_ & 
     _Scenes from Clerical Life_ . . . *25*

and her admiration never abated; the broad-minded minister's wife 
reluctantly accepting the sinful state of affairs between Miss Evans 
and Mr. Lewes. Both of the books she mentions mix humour with 
sadness, and follow her own method of using the detailed 
observation and humour of village and working life as a basis for 
serious observation; but they carry it to a more profound level in 
their analysis of emotions and actions. George Eliot had written, in 
_Adam Bede_, one of the first true psychological novels, and we 
shall see that Mrs. Gaskell is consciously doing the same thing. The 
two women novelists had much in common, and it has already been 
noted that Mrs. Gaskell had influenced George Eliot. _Adam Bede_ 
was a historical novel set in the not very' distant past, treating 
domestic life seriously and investing it with tragic possibilities; it 
mingled domestic comedy and tragedy with the serious treatment 
of religion. Its success might well have tempted Mrs. Gaskell to a 
major work in the same field. It was not a case of imitation, since 
these were all themes in which Mrs. Gaskell had already shown an 
interest. George Eliot, having learned from Mrs. Gaskell, showed her 
in turn new possibilities inherent in the


*25* _Letters_, 25 Oct. 1859, p. 39. 

-- 180 --

method. And though Sylvia is an individual creation, Hetty Sorrel is 
the wilful, attractive type of girl, seduced by a romantic infatuation, 
that Sylvia could have become, just as Dinah is the type of girl 
guided by her religion and duty that Sylvia to some extent does 
become. _Sylvia's Lovers_ surely owes something to its nature and 
new depth to George Eliot.

George Eliot herself thought highly of _Sylvia's Lovers_. She wrote 
to George Smith, shortly after it was published:

     I hope "_Sylvia's Lovers_" is finding a just appreciation. It 
     seems to me of a high quality both in feeling and execution - 
     so far as I have read. *26*

It may be as well that we have not got her comments on the final 

Mrs. Gaskell's subsidiary interests are, as might be expected, 
Vigorously present. The delight in traditions and old ways breathes 
through the book, whether in details of dress or farming or daily 
life, or in scenes such as the New Year party at the Corneys. All the 
keenness of the amateur sociologist and historian lies behind the 
descriptions, given life by the interest in the people who move 
through them. Sometimes the secondary interest obtrudes, the 
researcher detaching herself from the novelist to quote an Act of 
Parliament in detail, or to digress like another Melville on the 
treatment of dead whales, or in the description of the medieval 
almshouses of St. Sepulchre. The almshouse episode, when Philip is 
making his lagging way back to reconciliation and heroic death
-and an evasion of the problem set by Sylvia's vow-is in the weak 
final section which includes the account of the siege of Acre; it is a 
piece of conscious medievalizing, as though she had turned to the 
pages of Disraeli or to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, and it 
recalls the history of the Pensionnat HŽger given in the _Life_. Yet it 
has its purpose, in its presentation of the peace and stability to be 
found as a bedesman among the old traditions and buildings of St. 
Sepulchre. It is this artificially isolated stability which Philip rejects 
after a trial; such a rejection of the past, however pleasant, in 
favour of the present and future, however painful, is part of Mrs. 
Gaskell's theme. Unfortunately it is not only the life in the


*26* LettersGeorge Eliot LettersLetters, Vol. 4, p. 79. 10 Mar. 1863.

-- 181 --

almshouse that is unreal; her handling of the episode, her 
elaboration of it, and its diversionary effect results in a pseudo-
historical digression that blurs while it romanticizes the intended 
contrast between a superficial and an inner stability.

For _Sylvia's Lovers_ carries a stage further the examination of the 
uprooted individual which had already been so brilliantly sketched 
in 'Lois the Witch', but whereas Lois's faith had held her firm in a 
neurotic society, either the characters in the later work are without 
this rock beneath their sand, or the force of emotion is temporarily 
stronger than their version of religion. Nor can they fall back on the 
strength of family support. Philip is an orphan, while behind 
Sylvia's tragedy, as I have previously pointed out, lies a failure in 

We have now a full study of relationships and attitudes whose 
development, chiefly through the characters of Sylvia and Philip, is 
traced and charted to the almost complete exclusion of social change 
in any real sense. An awareness of shifting social patterns still frets 
the edges of Mrs. Gaskell's thought; there is an early digression on 
the conflict between the old landed gentry and the new 
manufacturing class in which she comments:

     I have noted in other places similarly situated . . . there is 
     a sort of latent ill-will on the part of the squires to the 
     tradesman . . . *27*

it is a digression that looks forward to Squire Hamley in _Wives and 
Daughters_. The customary life of Monkshaven is itself unsettled by 
the demands of the press-gang, but apart from the incident of the 
riot we are not concerned with the town.

It is the private world that collapses. For Philip this is brought 
about by the intrusion of Kinraid which shatters his hopes. For 
Sylvia it is the collapse of her world of family security on top of the 
disappearance of Kinraid. Others, such as Kester the farm-servant 
and Hester Rose with her hopeless love for Philip, have the values 
of faith, tradition or upbringing to hold them steady. Mrs. Gaskell is 
concentrating on the individual in the stress of personal 
relationships, and reaching out through the individual to a view of 
human nature:


*27* _Sylvia's Lovers_, pp. 8-9.
-- 182 --

     to wonder if the lives of one generation were but a 
     repetition of the lives of those who had gone before, 
     with no variation but from the internal cause that 
     some had greater capacity for suffering than others. *28*

Interest is focused directly on the way people behave and the 
feelings that govern them. She turns aside at one point to comment 
on this, as though she were struck by the discovery:

     In the agricultural counties . . . there is little analysis of 
     motive or comparison of characters and actions, even at 
     this present day of enlightenment. Sixty or seventy years 
     ago there was still less . . . taken as a general rule, it may 
     be said that few knew what manner of men they were, 
     compared to the numbers now who are fully conscious 
     of their virtues, qualities, failings, and weaknesses, and 
     who go about comparing others with themselves-not in a 
     spirit of Pharisaism and arrogance, but with a vivid 
     self-consciousness that more than anything else deprives 
     characters of freshness and originality. *29*

Mrs. Gaskell was aware of being on the threshold of the age of 
psychology. But she was not able to accept the conclusions that her 
art and her analysis would lead to; she was not a tragic writer by 
temperament or by belief, and having created the situation of 
tragedy she shied away from complete acceptance of it.

This is partly because she still saw the emotional struggle in the 
same general terms as she had seen the social conflict of the earlier 
novels, as a battle between action based on principles and action 
based on selfishness. Ultimately, as will be seen, it becomes a 
microcosm of:

     the discord between the laws of man and the laws of 
     Christ . . . *30*

It is this aspect that creates the major flaw in the novel, that is 
prepared for, commented on and finally compels the artificial 
solution. When Mrs. Gaskell is dealing with how her characters feel 
and act, few writers can show subtler insight or sensitivity; her 
limitations here are those of the natures of the characters 
themselves, who stay within the range of the ordinary. All of the 
first half of the novel would provide examples, we can take one that 
shows not only Mrs. Gaskell's sensitivity to the feelings of her


*28* _Sylvia's Lovers_, pp. 254-5.	
*29* ibid., p. 78.	
*30* ibid., p. 71.

-- 183 --

characters but also the psychological insight which shows itself in 
almost modern terms. Kester, the farm servant and privileged 
friend, argues with Sylvia when she says she will marry Philip, and 
tells her not to marry a man she does not love. Sylvia, bewildered 
by sudden disaster and grief, explains that Philip will provide a 
home and shelter for her mother and herself, and then bursts out 
with a confession of how she still thinks of Kinraid: 

     I've niver forgotten Charley. I think on him, I see him 
     ivery night lying drowned, at t' bottom o' t' sea. Forgetten 
     him! Man! it's easy talking! *31* 

As the chapter closes on Sylvia's misery in her decision, we see 
Philip leaning over a gate into the field, like a spider on the edge of 
his web, and even the somewhat turgid language that Mrs. Gaskell 
is apt to use when passionate feeling is involved cannot obscure the 
rightness of this picture of him: 

     gazing into the field with passionate eyes, devouring 
     the fair face and figure of her, his future wife. *32* 

In the next chapter we get Philip's anger when he discovers that 
Sylvia is still thinking of Kinraid, mixed with his tenderness for her 
and the longing to be able to comfort her: 

     But the very longing, having to be repressed, only made 
     him more beside himself with guilt, anxiety, and rage. *33* 

Such a comment anticipates modern terminology in the search for 
exact description of feeling and reaction. It is because of such 
touches, which are continually present, that we refuse to accept the 
later behaviour of the characters. 

Love and religion are the two forces that Mrs. Gaskell works with to 
embody the opposing elements in man's nature, a Victorian 
emendation of Pope s observation that: 

          Two Principles in human nature reign; 
          Self-love, to urge, and Reason, to restrain . . . *34* 

She was well enough aware of what she regarded as the darker 


*31* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 343. 
*32* ibid., p. 345. 
*33* ibid., p. 347. 
*34* 'Essay on Man', Epistle 2, lines 53-4 (Globe Edition, 1897, p.  

-- 184 --

side of love, although she shelters behind the language of the Bible 
to make the point that Philip had asked God:

     to grant him the desire of his eyes and the lust of his heart. *35*

But the vitality of the novel springs first of all from her description 
of the awakening of a young girl's heart to romantic love. It was the 
first time that she had made love the central issue of a major novel 
(for _North and South_ uses it to serve the purpose of dealing with 
social change) and she was still unwilling to make it the central 
theme. In following the course of Sylvia's feelings for Philip she 
brings forward another view of love, more sober and more lasting, a 
view of:

     the faithful, patient nature that still works on, striving 
     to gain love, and capable itself of steady love all the 
     while, [which] is a gift not given to all. *36*

This deeper feeling is associated, as we might expect, with 
Christianity, and Sylvia is led to an understanding of it through 
suffering. The want of education has been made clear, notably in 
one of the most humorous and effective scenes Mrs. Gaskell wrote, 
when Philip endeavours to teach the reluctant girl to read; it is her 
inability to read that leads her later to ask Alice Rose to teach her 
so that she can go to the Bible for comfort and help. The later 
sections of the novel lead away from the theme of love to that of 
religion and its standards, and ultimately to a reconciliation of the 
two which is symbolized in Philip's reconciliation with Sylvia.

The didactic emphasis on religion in the novels had been 
diminishing rapidly, although religion had kept its place as an 
essential part of life. In 'Lois the Witch' it enters naturally with 
history, but it need have had no essential part in the story of 
_Sylvia's Lovers_. It owes its existence partly to the need for a 
counter-balance to self-will. Mrs. Gaskell was never very 
comfortable with the direct treatment of love-even in _Sylvia's 
Lovers_ the emphasis is on Sylvia's feelings rather than directly on 
the affair with Kinraid - nor was she at ease with the handling of 
any violent passion for that matter, an aspect of her work that will 
be discussed more


*35* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 187.	
*36* ibid., p. 363.

-- 185 --

fully when her style is examined. Its existence could not be ignored 
however. She had skated round the problem in _Ruth_, it had edged 
into her treatment of Thornton in _North and South_, and it is 
plainly to be read in the madness of Manasseh Hickson. In one 
story, 'The Poor Clare' (1858) she uses the idea of the doppelganger, 
the demonic double, to suggest latent sexuality. The spirit that 
shadows Lucy as the result of a curse has:

     a loathsome demon soul looking out of the grey eyes, that 
     were in turns mocking and voluptuous. *37*

The 'demon soul' and Philip's 'lust of the heart' are plainly two 
aspects of the same thing, an unholy part of human nature but still 
a part. Now she dealt with it directly as far as her nature allowed, 
and religion is called in to control and finally tame it, as well as to 
reassert itself as the highest value in its own right.

Mrs. Gaskell's reservations should not be put down to timidity or to 
lack of knowledge. A minister's wife in mid-nineteenth-century 
Manchester would have come into contact with brutal facts of life 
that an emancipated twentieth-century reader will know of; it is to 
be hoped, only in theory. Frankness about such matters was of 
course controlled by social taboos as far as public reference was 
concerned, (though it is a nice point whether the conventions of 
speech did not control the way people thought, since thought is 
largely conditioned by the existence of the expressions available to 
actualize it). There was further a generally accepted middle-class 
ideal of a rather spiritualized love which was strengthened by 
conventions of behaviour and speech. Whether the occasional hints 
of a stronger feeling which move, though rarely, below the surface 
of her work are evidence of repression is a matter for psychologists 
to argue about. A less hectic, more spiritualized view of love is 
certainly the one with which she is most at ease and which she 
handles best. Still, it could be argued, correctly I believe, that the 
fact of having dealt fairly fully even if obliquely with the power of 
desire in _Sylvia's Lovers_ gave her greater depth and certainty for 
the portraits of Phillis Holman and Molly Gibson that were to follow.


*37* _My Lady Ludlow_, p. 362.
-- 186 --

That the religious emphasis is imposed as part of the original 
conception is obvious enough. Although the first half of the novel is 
one in which the chief characters, including Philip himself for all his 
orphan upbringing in a strictly religious household, act and speak 
almost solely from their feelings, there is a steady current of 
authorial intervention to keep us alive to what is missing. A major 
theme, important for any understanding of Mrs. Gaskell's approach, 
is that:

     one of the greatest signs of the real progress we have 
     made since those times seems to be that our daily 
     concerns of buying and selling, eating and drinking, 
     whatsoever we do, are more tested by the real, practical 
     standard of our religion than they were in the days of 
     our grandfathers. *38*

and she weaves in the benevolent Forster brothers as examples of 
how this standard can be applied. The point is made directly 
relevant to the novel when she says of Philip that:

     He was like too many of us: he did not place his future 
     life in the hands of God, and only ask for grace to do His 
     will in whatever circumstances might arise . . . *39*

Elsewhere she shows that the more objective, satirical attitude to 
feeble or worldly religion is still with her, as in the account of the 
vicar's hazy funeral sermon which dribbles away its meaningless 
platitudes in his desire to avoid offending either authority or the 
parishioners who suffered under it; or in the added touch to Philip's 
character given by the brief description of the vanity of dignity 
which made him into a regular church-goer.

The novel owes its quality to the fact that her imagination was fired 
as she created the characters and the life in and around 
Haytersbank Farm. It fails because the fate of the characters had 
been decided before-hand and they had to be bent back to the 
feelings appropriate to it. The rapidity with which genuine religious 
feeling is acquired is handled, in the circumstances, with 
considerable skill, but our interest wanes. After the changes of 
heart and the imposition of conventional attitudes we can be 
concerned only with the way the plot is wound up. Mrs. Gaskell, in 
order to


*38 * _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 104.	
*39* ibid., p. 187.

-- 187 --

achieve a conclusion in terms of her convictions, reverts to the 
sentimental fervour and piety which marks the ending of _Ruth_.
The question arises why, at this stage in her career as a novelist, 
she should revert to this emotionally emphasized religious feeling. 
Part of the explanation at least may be that she was one of the 
many who reacted to the publication of _The Origin of Species_ in 
November 18S9, and there are indications which point this way. She 
would have had a personal interest in the controversy; Darwin was 
a relative by marriage and a defaulting member of the closely 
linked group of influential Unitarian families to which she belonged. 
(Her daughter Meta went on a continental holiday with one of 
Darwin's sisters in 1860.) She could hardly have been unaware, 
living as she did in an intellectual as well as a religious society, of 
the discussion that had been growing for a good many years, and 
had found its way into fiction and poetry. *40* But Darwin 
methodized the evidence that could be used for an attack on the 
idea of a purposeful and beneficent God, and on accepted views of 
an after-life. The belief ill progress, which was part of 
contemporary thinking and is fundamental to Mrs. Gaskell's social 
views, was also threatened by the Darwinism that was formed from 
Darwin's scientific observations.
She also knew Tennyson's _In Memoriam_ which posed the 
problems of faith, purpose and a life to come against a display of 
evolutionary knowledge. _Sylvia's Lovers_ is dedicated to her 
husband, and the dedication is accompanied by an epigraph from 
the central, evolutionary section of _In Memoriam_. It is a peculiar 
epigraph if its application is meant to apply to the Rev. Mr. Gaskell, 
though it makes sense when considered in relation to the novel's 

          Oh for Thy voice to soothe and bless! 
          What hope of answer, or redress?
          Behind the veil! Behind the veil! *41*


*40* The British Association met in Manchester in 1861, and her 
house was full of visitors; the echoes of her hectic housekeeping 
sound in her letters. Huxley was one of the guests asked, though he 
declined. See _Rylands_, p. 50, note 2, and _Letters_, p. 94.
*41* Section 56. The punctuation is given as quoted on the title 
-- 188 --

The peculiarity becomes more significant when the omitted first 
line of the verse is considered:

          O life as futile, then, as frail!

Mrs. Gaskell knew her Tennyson well, it is inconceivable that she 
chose her epigraph without being aware of the significance of its 
context. It is equally certain that many of her readers would have 
picked up the allusion. And the oppositions in the book, of instinct 
to reason, passion to duty, present satisfaction to future 
consequences, are gathered together in the supreme opposition of 
irreligion to religion. The conclusion is an emotional affirmation of 
faith and purpose as a guide to life. Although Mrs. Gaskell was no 
longer crusading publicly, she could handle the problem by setting 
the action in the past. It seems more than probable that when 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ was being written it was influenced by the threat, 
as it seemed, to the very foundations of human conduct and human 

This attitude was not to last. The emotional reaction remained a 
public force for many years, but it was fairly soon replaced, among 
more thoughtful and less rigid sections of the community, by an 
assimilation of the new ideas into existing ones without any harm to 
faith or morality. The process was perhaps easier for Unitarians, 
whose religion stressed an ethical rather than a fundamentalist 
attitude to the Bible, and who had a long tradition of respect for 
truth and scientific enquiry. By the time Mrs. Gaskell began to write 
_Wives and Daughters_ she could take as her hero a character 
modelled partly on the young Darwin.

She had once considered calling her novel 'The Specksioneer' and 
then had hit on 'Philip's Idol' as she searched for an appropriate 
title. The suggestions show the change of emphasis that was 
occurring as the planned story developed. For Kinraid emerges 
finally as a shadowy figure for all his importance in the plot. He is 
not credible as a libertine, we feel that his vices and superficiality 
are summarily thrust upon him; we learn of them by hearsay, and 
at those lucky times when a spur to motivation or to plot is 
required. This is a further flaw in the novel, although a minor one 
as the interest is now on Sylvia, and, to a lesser extent,

-- 189 --

on Philip. 'Philip's Idol' does throw light on important aspects of the 
book. Mrs. Gaskell held on to the idea and Philip uses the expression 
as he reflects on his past when he lies dying. Even _Sylvia's Lovers_ 
is not completely satisfactory as a title, for the lovers are secondary 
to Sylvia herself. She dominates the novel. That is why, perhaps, 
when we recall it, it is an impression of freshness and vitality that 
stays in the mind rather than one of gloom or moral demonstration. 
We remember Sylvia, and we remember her in her setting at 
Haytersbank Farm. The _Cranford_ world is making a reappearance.

Since _My Lady Ludlow_ Mrs. Gaskell had been writing about 
scenes outside of the world she knew best. Now it begins to impose 
itself again. The character of Sylvia is a fine achievement, fine by 
any standards, but the setting is a part of it. The finest portions of 
the novel are those in which the characters and background are 
closest to the country world and its incidents with which she is at 
home. The first half of the novel is not so remote from the 
_Cranford_ world in either detail or conduct. It is then that Mrs. 
Gaskell's humour and her relish of the quirks of human behaviour 
appear, as when Alice makes her will *42* or when Daniel is 
manoeuvred out of bad temper by his wife and the tailor Donkin. 
As long as she is immersed in the daily life of the little community 
the novel is alive and fresh. But the world around it is still a dark 
one. It was only by an effort that the standards she valued were 
imposed. Yet in grappling with this world fully, which seems to 
reflect in spirit the cares and drabness of the Manchester she lived 
in, she seems to have begun to conquer the depression that weighed 
on her. She moved back with greater insight for her final and finest 
work to the world of _Cranford_.


*42* This is a fresh use of an incident which provides one of the 
best scenes in _Ruth_, when Sally makes her will.

-- 73 --


_'The Final Synthesis: I
'Cousin Phillis'_

THE quality of Mrs. Gaskell's final work has a significant relation to 
the way it was published, in _All the Year Round_ or in the 
_Cornhill_. Dickens, in spite of his exasperation over her obstinate 
refusal to obey the mechanics of serial writing, was anxious to have 
her work; she was one of the established writers and would attract 
readers. He managed to get a short novel. 'A Dark Night's Work', for 
_All the Year Round_ early in 1863, and with it a renewal of his 
irritation as she over-ran her space and ignored his suggestions, 
although Dickens had seen the completed MS and must have known 
that as it stood, with its slow development, it would be an awkward 
fit for the procrustean bed of weekly issues. The nature of the plot 
(murder, concealment, false arrest, last-minute pardon) suggests 
that Mrs. Gaskell was at least trying in her own way to provide 
something suitable, but there was nothing exceptional about the 
story that cost Dickens so much editorial pain. It has however a 
place in the final development that will be noted.

There is little to be said for the final contribution to _All the Year 
Round_, 'Crowley Castle', which was part of the chain story of 'Mrs. 
Lirriper's Lodgings' in the Christmas number for 1863 and which is 
remarkable only for being one of the worst things she wrote. *1* 
Though the first story is very much better than the second, both 
show signs of writing down carelessly to an audience that wanted 
excitement and strong feelings. A third story, however, is 
unexpected and totally different in nature; after ten years


*1* The full title in the chairs story was 'How the First Floor Went to 
Crowley Castle'; it had the few lines of introduction necessary to fit 
it into the chain.

-- 191 --

a continuation of _Cranford_ with 'The Cage at _Cranford_', which 
appeared at the end of 1863. While these stories for Dickens were 
being got out of the way her final and finest work, _Cousin Phillis_ 
and then _Wives and Daughters_, began to appear in the congenial 
pages of the _Cornhill_

Her writing culminated in a reaffirmation of the _Cranford_ world, 
but it was a world tempered by experience, more comprehensive in 
its social range and looking to the future rather than back to the 
past. It is a world that has achieved continuity with its past and is 
therefore sure of its roots as it grows; above all it is a stable and 
secure world which stands firm when the private world collapses. 
Mrs. Gaskell gave to its creation, or re-creation, all the sympathy 
and art she had; _Wives and Daughters_ is her artistic and 
temperamental homecoming.

A word may be said about the place of 'A Dark Night's Work' in 
relation to Mrs. Gaskell's later work. Mrs. Chadwick states that it 
was written during a holiday Mrs. Gaskell took in 1862, after a 
breakdown brought on by the strain of relief work in Manchester. 
It is in the short novel length that she liked (or one volume as 
against the standard three-volume novel), using the mystery and 
discovery element that she was fond of; allowing for 'longeurs' it 
has a well developed plot. But it is muddled in conception. The plot 
concerns the self-sacrificing daughter whose father has committed 
murder and buried the body, but a quarter of the book is taken up 
by an account of the family history which is on the theme of false 
pride and upbringing, a theme incorporated into a subsidiary line of 
the plot with a calculating lover who deserts the girl and the 
unselfish lover who remains true. *2* It is typical of Mrs. Gaskell 
that what was conceived as an exciting story developed into a study 
of moral decisions and their outcome, with its centre in the 
character of the young Ellinor.

Its interest for us lies in the indications of a change of direction. 
First of these is the return, in terms of setting, to the _Cranford_ 
world. The opening lines:


*2* Mrs. Gaskell drew two portraits of the calculating lover who 
backs down for fear that his career may be harmed: Henry Lennox 
in _North and South_ and Ralph Corbett in 'A Dark Night's Work'. 
One is a lawyer, one a barrister. Cynthia in _Wives and Daughters_ 
dispassionately marries a cool lawyer. What did Mrs. Gaskell have 
against the profession?

-- 192 --

     In the county town of a certain shire there lived (about 
     forty years ago) one Mr. Wilkins, a conveyancing attorney 
     of considerable standing. *3*
bring us back to _Cranford_ (and to the reminiscent tone as well) 
but no longer to the limited society of the Amazons, while the 
softened distance of a generation or two vanishes as the story 
follows the history of Mr. Wilkins's son into the contemporary 
world. The historical viewpoint and perspective have been 
discarded. It is furthermore the world of the middle-class 
professional man, the society Mrs. Gaskell knew best and which was 
to be her point of observation for _Wives and Daughters_. Religion 
enters because the suitor who finally gains Ellinor's 'thin white 
hand' is a clergyman, Canon Livingstone, but the novel has no 
religious axe to grind. In this it anticipates _Cousin Phillis_. The 
return to the _Cranford_ world and the objective, sympathetic irony 
that goes with it is still tentative. This is marked by the varied 
setting, for Ellinor leaves her home with its unquiet grave to stay in 
a distant cathedral town, and later to escape to Rome. There is in 
fact a division of interests, as though Mrs. Gaskell was casting round 
for a way of breaking back to the contemporary scene and the 
_Cranford_ world and was undecided in her approach, while the 
morbidity of the central incident and the muted ending shows that 
she was still in the shadows.

The publication dates of the work in this final period help to explain 
what was happening. 'A Dark Night's Work' appeared in January-
February 1863, and it was probably written in 1862 before 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ was published in February 1863. There is 
therefore a gap of nearly a year, from approximately the end of 
1862 to the end of 1863, when little creative work was done. *4* 
_Cousin Phillis_ began in the _Cornhill_ in November 1863 and ran 
to February 1864. _Wives and Daughters_ ran from August 1864 to 
her death. 'The Cage at _Cranford_' appeared on 28 November 1863. 
Briefly, we have a fallow period at the end of which the _Cranford_ 
world is once again fully established with _Cousin Phillis_.


*3* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 404. The central incident of the murder was 
true, a piece of Knutsford history she modified. Some of the 
descriptions are also from Knutsford.
*4* She wrote one short article in this period, 'An Italian 
Institution', which was published in _A.Y.R._ on 21 March.

-- 193 --

('Crowley Castle' which appeared at Christmas is so obviously a 
piece of hack work that it can be ruled out of any serious discussion 
of imaginative effort; Mrs. Chadwick reports it as a re-hash of a 
story heard on holiday at Brighton.)

The unheralded appearance of another _Cranford_ episode is not 
quite so startling in this context. There is no evidence of why Mrs. 
Gaskell should have written it; Dickens wanted contributions and 
may have urged her to reopen a profitable and popular seam but 
she could presumably have churned out something in her other 
vein had she wanted to earn money with a pot-boiler. The 
indications point to her having reached the stage of turning once 
again to the familiar setting, and of writing the episode either as an 
essay in re-entering it directly or as an attempt to prove to herself 
that she had finally re-established the appropriate frame of mind 
and imagination. It was the wrong way to set about it; she could not 
re-enter the _Cranford_ world at the point at which she had left it, 
nor was this unnecessary coda needed for a work which, though 
episodic in origin, had been rounded to a unity. Mrs. Gaskell herself 
never thought very highly of it while her daughters persuaded 
Ward to ignore it when editing the Knutsford edition as the 
standard collection of her work. It was a wise decision. Yet nothing 
could show more clearly than the existence of this story the 
decisive move away from the mood and subjects that had occupied 
her since _My Lady Ludlow_, just as nothing is more effective than 
a comparison with _Cousin Phillis_ to reveal the extent to which 
both her power as a writer and her conception of the _Cranford_ 
world had developed. *5*

It was a help that at this time life was becoming easier for her. She 
was able to take frequent holidays away from Manchester, which 
she still disliked and which depressed her, travelling to the South of 
England, to France and even to her beloved Rome once again. There 
is also the point, made earlier, that she no longer had to write the 
sort of story that fitted the policy of _All the Year Round_, for the 
_Cornhill_ was open to her. It was owned by George


*5* 'A Cage at _Cranford_' tells how Miss Pole was sent a 'cage' from 
Paris. It is the word used for the new fashion of petticoat hoops, hut 
_Cranford_ society is ignorant of it. The little circle assumes that it 
must be a new type of parrot cage and it is adapted for Miss Pole's 
parrot until the disconcerting truth is revealed.

-- 194 --

Smith, her publisher and her friend, she could write to suit herself 
and be paid far more than she could earn by a series of stories for 
Dickens. This is not an attempt to make Dickens out to be a villain of 
the editorial sweat-shop; he was a competent and generous editor. 
But Smith and the _Cornhill_ initiated a new policy of liberal 
payment and monthly production, and put up the money to attract 
the best contributors. Dickens offered Mrs. Gaskell Ł400 in 1860 for 
a full-length novel for _All the Year Round_, whereas Smith had 
offered Ł1,000 for the direct publication of _Sylvia's Lovers_ and 
Ł2,000 for the serial and publication rights of the new novel that 
turned out to be _Wives and Daughters_. Moreover The _Cornhill_ 
required only monthly parts spread over eighteen months while 
_All the Year Round_ required weekly parts over eight months. For 
someone like Mrs. Gaskell, whose novels developed slowly and 
depended on depth of detail and observation rather than dramatic 
incident, the long monthly parts and the extra year allowed for 
completion were infinitely preferable. *6*

The world which Mrs. Gaskell creates in _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives 
and Daughters_ is essentially that of _Cranford_, but it is a world 
that has changed with time and experience. It takes up at a point 
beyond that where _Cranford_ left off; although physically it has 
the same setting inspired by Knutsford and its surroundings. We 
can date the shift if we wish, thanks to Mrs. Gaskell's habit of social 
observation and historical reference. The card from Holdsworth that 
shatters Phillis's hopes and health arrives through the local post-
office which was set up after the recent penny post reform (of 
1840) and this puts the main part of the story in the late eighteen-
thirties. _Wives and Daughters_ presents an interesting problem. It 
is dated by the statement that:

     Five-and-forty years ago, children's pleasures in a country 
     town were very simple . . . *7*

which would put the action approximately in the eighteen-twenties. 
But Roger Hamley's career has parallels to that of


*6* For the dealings with Dickens see _Hopkins_, Chap. 8. Gettman, 
_A Victorian Publisher_, C.U.P., 1960, gives a full picture of 
contemporary publishing, see especially p. 147 for the launching of 
_The Cornhill_. When she needed money she drew an advance from 
*7* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 2.

-- 195 --

Darwin, whose voyage in the 'Beagle' which began in 1831 became 
well known after he had published his journal. Furthermore there is 
a statement that Lady Cumnor takes her daughter to:

     the railway station on this new line between Birmingham 
     and London . . . *8*

The London-Birmingham line was opened in 1838. *9* It would 
seem that although Mrs. Gaskell was concerned to present an 
accurately detailed picture of her country town in the eighteen-
twenties, her imagination as I shall show was occupied with the 
problem of social change at a later date, and that the odd reference 
creeps in unconsciously to betray this. The important point is that 
although her 'dating' references seem to give an incidental reality to 
the setting, this type of dating is less important than the general 
impression which Mrs. Gaskell conveys that we are in a society in 
which the world of technology or science is naturally present. 
_Cranford_, like the two final novels, could be called near-
contemporary in dating: after all it mentions Dickens and has a 
railway. But it is about an old-fashioned society whose members 
are middle-aged; the delightful Amazons live back towards their 
past. The near contemporary world of the later work is a young 
world, the sons and daughters treading on the heels of their parents 
and reaching towards the future. The _Cranford_ generation is still 
to be seen, admirable, worthy of respect and love, but old-fashioned 
and slightly absurd. There are very few outstanding novelists 
whose final work can be confidently claimed as the best, fewer 
whose final novels are as fresh, and younger, than the early ones.

The social world has also expanded. This had begun to happen with 
_My Lady Ludlow_, whose society ranged from aristocrat to farmer. 
But both _Cranford_ and _My Lady Ludlow_ were dominated by a 
'genteel' or 'superior' class; in _Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and 
Daughters_ we have middle-class-though equally interesting - 
people in command. Moreover, with the interest moving towards 
the present there is less detail of traditions and customs,


*8* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 705.
*9* E. L. Woodward, _The Age of Reform_, Clarendon Press, 1954, p. 

-- 196 --

more concern with the emotions and behaviour of the characters. 
Mrs. Gaskell chopped and changed in her normal way over the title 
of _Wives and Daughters_ but she never altered the sub-title - 'An 
Every-Day Story'.

We are back in a basically good and optimistic world which is on 
the whole in harmony with the pleasantness of the setting, while 
the setting itself is the mellow and serene one of the _Cranford_ 
world. Yet it is a more serious world. Earlier stories of the 
_Cranford_ world, not the least _Cranford_ itself, had accepted the 
presence of suffering and unhappiness, but _Cousin Phillis_ and 
_Wives and Daughters_ bring experience and maturity to bear on it; 
the human sympathy with the characters she creates is deeper and 
more comprehensive.

She wrote from the centre of a world and a set of values which 
were part of her own nature. For this reason she no longer has to 
prove anything or bring any particular standard, such as that of 
religion, forward; she needs only to demonstrate. _Wives and 
Daughters_ does not present an ideal world but it suggests how 
much better an inherently imperfect world could be if certain ideals 
of conduct were attempted. Moreover, because of this symbiosis of 
Mrs. Gaskell and the _Cranford_ world, she could at the same time-
it is a mark of her dealing with it-step away. The narrator is once 
again the observer; a bit more ironic, with more bite in her 
observation of character to match new insight and power as a 

Above all it is a stable, assured world. In _Cranford_ there is the 
sense of something fragile, something passing; change will occur but 
it is resisted and pushed as far as possible out of sight. In her final 
work Mrs. Gaskell accepts change, individual and social, as one of 
the essentials in the world she depicts. It may cause individual 
pain, but the world she sees is securely based. Because of this there 
is once again room for humour. From 'Lois the Witch' to _Sylvia's 
Lovers_ seriousness had implied gloom. There was the occasional 
sparkle, for Mrs. Gaskell's acute sense of the ridiculous and her 
fundamental optimism could not be constantly repressed, but we 
have seen the tally of stories she produced. Now the strain of 
morbidity and depression is past, and though 'the eternal note

-- 197 --

of sadness' is carried over into _Cousin Phillis_, no one, by any 
stretch of the imagination, could call it a gloomy book. Humour 
reasserts itself with the _Cranford_ world.

_Cousin Phillis_

The story of _Cousin Phillis_ is simple enough; it amounts to little 
more than an episode. Paul Manning tells it, a young lad away from 
home for the first time as assistant to the supervising engineer of a 
new branch railway line. To please his parents he visits, with little 
hope of pleasure, a distant relative - Mr. Holman, the dissenting 
minister-farmer of Hope Farm-and so enters the pastoral world 
inhabited by his cousin Phillis. After a time his chief, Edward 
Holdsworth, is invited to the farm. Holdsworth is travelled, 
sophisticated, cultured; but he is fascinated by the way of life of the 
farm and by the mixture of beauty and intelligence in Phillis, while 
Phillis in turn is attracted by his qualities. Nothing happens 
outwardly, but an unspoken love grows between them, and when 
Holdsworth is suddenly called away to Canada Phillis becomes 
depressed and languid. Paul in his inexperience cheers her by 
revealing that Holdsworth had confided in him an intention of 
returning one day to marry her, and she is happy for a time until 
news arrives that Holdsworth has married. This second blow after 
the false spring of confidence is too much; Phillis falls ill and nearly 

The story avoids the dramatic and avoids incident, and in doing so 
also avoids the need for rather obvious plot-making that Mrs. 
Gaskell sometimes reverted to. The only weak point is in fact when 
she has to provide the turn in what little plot there is; Holdsworth 
vanishing with an urgency that betrays, though not too obviously, a 
push from the author. Apart from this, the story is simply the 
round of life at the farm and the stages in the growth and despair 
of a young girl's love; owing its density of texture to the wealth of 
its descriptive detail and to the sensitive and subtle observation of 
the emotions of Phillis, her father and Paul as they move in and 
along with the life of Hope Farm. Sympathy for individual suffering, 
affectionate observation of a way of life she loved, each called out 
narrative qualities that Mrs. Gaskell

-- 198 --

excelled in; they were never fused more completely than in _Cousin 
Phillis_. In showing in detail how it emerges as a development from 
her previous work it will be possible also to pay proper attention to 
the complexity that underlies its surface simplicity.

Mrs. Gaskell draws strength from a return to the memories of her 
youth, and _Cousin Phillis_ is among other things a salute to 
memory. Hope Farm, with its imposing entrance flanked by pillars 
topped with stone balls, is Sandlebridge near Knutsford where her 
Holland relatives lived; Ebenezer Holman may have touches of the 
grandfather she barely remembered. *10* More important is the 
countryside whose beauty and peace pervades the story. In 
returning to the scenes of her youth she is also revisiting the source 
of her attitudes and beliefs, but this is no mere return to the past. 
Her values were associated most vividly and pleasantly with it, and 
are revitalized by contact with it, but she is no longer lingering 
affectionately in an outmoded way of life. _Cranford_ and the 
modern world are moving together; life at Hope Farm is as practical 
and purposeful as life in Manchester.

The setting has the tranquillity and loveliness of the _Cranford_ 
world, more so than in _Cranford_ itself which concentrates on the 
little town and its society. It is pervasive, working directly on the 
senses, so that Paul:

     fancied that [his] Sunday coat was scented for days 
     afterwards by the bushes of sweetbriar and the fraxinella 
     that perfumed the air. *11*

Even time is marked by colours and scents, as are the activities of


*10* She would of course have heard anecdotes about him. 
Nevertheless Holman, magnificently individual as he is, has traits in 
common with other Dissenting patriarchs. Margaret Shaen, one of 
the three talented Winkworth sisters, whose grandfather Dickenson 
and his brother were disinherited for following Whitefield, 
describes the way they ran their households:
     Besides the regular family worship, always conducted extempore 
by the head of the house, nothing special was undertaken without 
prayer, and the Scripture injunction, "if any be merry let him sing 
psalms," was literally followed, hymn singing being the constant 
recreation when the work of the day was over.             op. cit., p. 5. 
     Mr. Gaskell gave the Sisters lessons (in History, Composition, 
Chemistry and Greek) and they became friends of the family. Some 
such reminiscence may well be one of the sources for the character 
of Holman. But Mrs. Gaskell did not need to look further than the 
personality and polymathian mind of her own husband for other 
*11* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 12.

-- 199 --

the seasons. It is not, however, a world cut off from progress, or for 
that matter from suffering, nor are the Manchester virtues of 
energy and practicality excluded. The meeting of the two is 
symbolized in the arrival of Paul's father, the self-made engineer, to 
visit Mr. Holman:

     It was odd and yet pleasant to me to perceive how these 
     two men, each having led up to this point such totally 
     dissimilar lives, seemed to come together by instinct, after 
     one quiet straight look into each other's faces.

and in no time they are exchanging information. Mr. Manning:

     had his little book that he used for mechanical memoranda 
     and measurements in his pocket, and he took it out to 
     write down "straight back," "small muzzle," "deep barrel," 
     and I know not what else, under the head "cow." *12*

while he in turn has to explain a book on dynamics to the minister, 
after having suggested a new design for a turnip-cutter. 
Nevertheless when Mr. Manning suggests to Paul that he might do 
worse than marry Phillis, Paul hastily backs away from the
suggestion. Mrs. Gaskell is no longer interested in using her ~ 
individuals for the sort of neat social solution that concludes
_North and South_.

What gives emotional depth to Phillis's suffering is that standards 
of conduct as well as individual emotion are involved. The contrast 
is a subtle one worked out in terms of shallowness and depth of 
character, yet it is at bottom a conflict between true and false 
values. Holman and Manning can take to each other because they 
share basic attitudes as well as intellectual curiosity; both are men 
of integrity and their contrast is of external circumstances only. 
Phillis and Paul are their fathers' children, inheriting common 
standards. That is why Paul, the representative of the new world of 
technology, can find himself at home in the pastoral world of Hope 
Farm, with its classical outlook (shown in the love


*12* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 33. Mr. Manning comes from Birmingham, 
not Manchester. This change maybe delicacy on Mrs. Gaskell's part; 
an effort not to betray too obviously the character of James 
Nasmyth. It may also be an unconscious realization of having finally 
freed herself from the pressure of Manchester.

-- 200 --

of Virgil and Dante). *13* He is the perfect narrator, bridging the 
two outlooks while we learn through the eyes of his innocence and 
gradual experience to distinguish the solid from the superficial. He 
is posed between two admirations, the older for his chief, Mr. 
Holdsworth, the newer for Hope Farm. When the two are brought 
together their standards are tested against each other; providing 
the twin framework of opposing values which supports the idyllic 
surface of the story.

Some uneasiness is already in Paul's mind when he brings the 
convalescent Holdsworth the invitation to stay at Hope Farm, and 
Holdsworth is perceptive enough to sense it and chaff him about it:

          "Manning," said he, "I see you don't think I am half good 
     enough for your friends. Out with it, man!"
          "No," I replied boldly. "I think you are good; but I don't 
     know if you are quite of their kind of goodness." *14*

The brief exchange pin-points the difference. Holdsworth is, as Paul 
says, good in his own way; a generous, kind, intelligent and cultured 
man, but lacking the 'seriousness' of Holman and his daughter. His 
'random assertions and exaggerated expressions jar on his host; he 
has to check his conversation while betraying his essential levity in 
the private reflection that:

     really it is very wholesome exercise, this trying to make 
     one's words represent one's thoughts, instead of merely 
     looking to their effect on others. *15*

His lack of discrimination is revealed through his literary taste, 
when he suggests sending a copy of I Promessi Sposi, 'a capital 
novel by Manzoni' to help Phillis improve her Italian for Dante. He 
brushes aside Paul's doubts about sending a novel with:

     Pooh! What can be more harmless? Why make a bugbear 
     of a


*13* The Dante revival in the early nineteenth century was an 
important feature of the cultural scene. See Jack, _English Literature 
1813-32_, Clarendon Press, 1963. Dante and Virgil would indicate a 
serious participation in the nineteenth-century cultural outlook. 
Deborah Jenkyns, we recall, remained with Dr. Johnson.
*14* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 42.
*15* ibid., p. 51.

-- 201 --

     word! It is as pretty and innocent a tale as can be met 
     with. You don't suppose they take Virgil for gospel? *16*

His many good qualities appeal to the father as well as the 
daughter, though Holman has reservations about his 'want of 
seriousness' which prove justified in the injury it causes. He has 
sufficient sensitivity to respond to Phillis's finer nature, although 
her influence fades with time and distance, nor can he be blamed 
for Paul's indiscretion in revealing to her the love he had refrained 
from putting into words. He is to blame for a want of moral 
discrimination, for a carelessness about standards rather than a lack 
of them. He has the finer polish but the coarser sensibility.

The dominant figure in the story is without doubt the Reverend 
Ebenezer Holman, and he represents in action, as I have suggested, 
the virtues of the _Cranford_ and Manchester worlds. He has the 
energy and capacity for work of a successful industrialist, the 
intellectual curiosity and force of the new breed of self-made 
engineers. At the same time he has the simplicity of character, 
honesty and tenderness that make him kin to Captain Brown of 
_Cranford_. His religion is part of his humanity but as always with 
Mrs. Gaskell humanity comes first. It is religion worn like an old 
coat, comfortable, easy, for use rather than show, as far removed as 
possible from the eager piety of _Ruth_. We can gauge the 
minister's religion before we meet him; he has nick-named his side 
door 'the curate', while the front door 'handsome and all for show' is 
'the rector'. He will close a day's work with a psalm, interrupt a 
prayer to make sure a sick animal is being looked after. He refuses 
to separate religion from honesty of feeling any more than from 
practical affairs, it is a personal faith that supports him, not the 
form of it: 'Brethren' he replies to the platitudes of his fellow 

     Brethren, God will strengthen me when the time comes, 
     when such resignation as you speak of is needed. Till then 
     I cannot feel it; and what I do not feel I will not express, 
     using words as if they were a charm. *17*


*16* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 51. Manzoni's novel was published in 1827, 
and was greatly admired. but 'pretty and innocent'!        
*17* ibid., p. 104.

-- 202 --

This is the religion of love that Mrs. Gaskell has postulated in _Mary 
Barton_, the support in distress that had sustained Lois. It is strong, 
assured, so that its shallow counterparts can be observed with the 
same penetration as Holdsworth's conduct, as part of an insufficient 

There is another sign that Mrs. Gaskell, as a novelist, had come 
'home'; for the first time in her serious work she is able to create 
the stable, compact family group that she herself had never known 
as a daughter. It is fairly obvious that in the portrait of Mr. Holman 
and of Mr. Gibson in _Wives and Daughters_ she is creating the 
missing father of her childhood, endowing them with authority as 
well as love. It is noticeable that Mrs. Holman is a shadowy figure 
on the fringe of the father-daughter relationship. They are in this 
sense idealizations, but conceived with a woman 5 sharp eye for 
male fallibility, so that we get intensely individual and human 
portraits. Phillis is what she is because her father was there to 
guide and teach her, yet as Paul shrewdly realizes there has been a 
weakness in the upbringing which has made it easier for events to 
take their shape, and for which Holman is responsible. There has 
been this time an excess of care:

     I could not help remembering the pinafore, the childish 
     garment which Phillis wore so long, as if her parents 
     were unaware of her progress towards womanhood. 
     Just in the same way, the minister spoke and thought 
     of her now, as a child, whose innocent peace I had 
     spoiled by vain and foolish talk. I knew that the truth 
     was different, though I could hardly have told it now . . .

Hope Farm is Mrs. Gaskell's first real attempt since _Cranford_ at 
depicting a stable society. It is complete as a family, nobody dies, 
and it extends to the farm community. Small as it is, it has its 
gradations of duty and class firmly entrenched and generally 
accepted; family and workers eat together, but in two rooms with 
the door open. It is singularly free from worry; we never hear of 
money, neither do we hear of poverty. The minister dismisses the 
half-wit Timothy from natural irritation, he re-employs him from 
natural sympathy; love, of family or neighbour or


*18* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 98.

-- 203 --

dependent or employer, unites them all, and all that Holman can 
say at the moment when he realizes the truth is:

     Phillis! did we not make you happy here? Have we not 
     loved you enough? *19*

Holdsworth's betrayal of Phillis-for that is the effect of his marriage 
- can be seen then as a betrayal of the fundamental standards of 
the community into which he has been accepted. 

The course of Phillis's emotions is charted against this background 
of belief and setting, but to understand the insight behind it we 
must turn back to biography for a short time. Mrs. Gaskell's 
daughters were at various stages of the change from adolescence to 
womanhood when _Sylvia's Lovers_ and _Cousin Phillis_ were being 
written; during this period she watched the first of her daughters 
become engaged and then married, and her letters show that she 
was an acute as well as an emotionally involved observer. The 
effect is immediately noticeable in her work. Margaret Hale in 
_North and South_ thinks and behaves like a mature woman; Sylvia 
Robson, Phillis and finally Molly Gibson are, to use Proust's phrase 
'les jeunes filles en fleur'. Phillis is not, however, a repetition of 
Sylvia; it should be clear by now that Mrs. Gaskell was moving, 
though on a restricted scale, to a subtler and more complex pattern. 
Sylvia dominates her setting and is seen from within. Phillis does 
not stand out in the same way, though the interest in her as an 
individual is no less; she is part of the setting and both have to be 
understood if we are to appreciate her. We see her visually, we are 
constantly given little tableaux in which she is presented as an 
integral part of the total scene, her calm and confidence both draw 
from and add to the general impression of tranquillity and stability 
that is established in the first half of the novel before she and 
Holdsworth meet. Paul's recollections of her as she was before this 

     rise like pictures to my memory, and in this way I can 
     date their succession; for I know that corn-harvest must 
     have come after haymaking, apple-gathering after 
     corn-harvest. *20*


*19* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 99.
*20* ibid., p. 54.

-- 204 --

The stages of her love and despair are counterpointed with the 
steady cycle of farm life, and even her passion for learning that she 
shares with her father is a part of her individuality which is at the 
same time an essential element in the atmosphere of Hope Farm. 
When she collapses there is more than her own fate at stake, Hope 
Farm and all it stands for are involved. Her recovery and 
determination to:

     go back to the peace of the old days. I know we shall; I can, 
     and I will! *21*

 is not only a personal victory; the 'I' and the 'we' are contained 

_Cousin Phillis_ is often referred to as an idyll, an evaluation that 
puts the emphasis on the descriptive setting of pastoral life. The 
idyllic element cannot be denied, but no idyll would make the 
impression that _Cousin Phillis_ does. The tale of individual sorrow 
gains its depth and emotional power, as I have tried to show, from 
having its roots in fundamental issues. Its success depends, of 
course, on the manner in which it is carried out; the naturalness of 
the narrative style and dialogue, the precision of detail, the 
symbolism of the descriptions are all part of the skill which 
maintains an exceptional unity of mood and tone. The writing 
appears to have benefited also from the relaxation of strain that has 
been noticed. The humour which filters through her observations of 
men and manners and which lightens the texture of the narrative 
must also be emphasized. _Cousin Phillis_ is outstanding in its own 
right, the finest example of her favourite form, the short novel. It is 
also the preliminary to her final achievement.


*21* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 109.

-- 205 --


_The Final Synthesis: II
'Wives and Daughters'_

THE plot of _Wives and Daughters_ is complex in detail, for it 
follows the changes within a number of family groups whose 
relations with each other are also important. A pattern of parallels 
and contrasts emerges. In order to make the pattern clear, and to 
allow discussion without the need for continual explanation, the 
following brief summary is given.

Molly Gibson is the daughter of Mr. Gibson, the widowed doctor for 
Hollingford. As she grows up, he feels the need for someone to 
guide and advise her, and he thinks about marrying again. She is 
sent to stay with the Hamleys to avoid Coxe, the amorous student-
apprentice who woke Mr. Gibson's fears, and Mr. Gibson does 
nothing further till circumstances make him meet Mrs. Kirkpatrick 
several times. She is an ex-governess and partial parasite of the 
Cumnors (who always call her by her maiden name, Clare), now a 
widow and desperate to escape from the pinching existence of 
school-teaching. Her superficial qualities of elegance and manners 
impress the doctor while his anxiety over Molly is fresh, and he 
proposes without giving himself time for reflection. The adjustment 
of Mr. Gibson and Molly to life with a vain, selfish and superficial, 
though not bad, woman is one of the main themes. The marriage 
also brings Mrs. Gibson's attractive and self-contained daughter, 
Cynthia, into the household.

Squire Hamley, who has an obsession about his family dignity, pins 
his hopes for the restoration of the Hamley prestige on his elder son 
Osborne, who is considered by all to be brilliant: the younger son 
Roger is regarded as only a steady plodder. Osborne inexplicably 
fails at Cambridge. The main reason is a clandestine

-- 206 --

marriage to a Roman Catholic French serving-girl, AimŽe, which he 
dare not mention to his rigidly patriotic, proud and Protestant 
father. Disappointment and lack of confidence breed an antagonism, 
and Mrs. Hamley, who might have been able to learn the truth and 
smooth matters over, dies. In the meantime the Squire has become 
fond of Molly, short of wanting his sons to fall in love with a 
doctor's daughter, while Roger has helped her face up to the shock 
of her father's second marriage. Molly learns by accident of 
Osborne's secret. While Osborne trifles away his time, Roger 
emerges as a brilliant young scientist who is asked to the Towers 
(the Cumnor house) as a man of rising reputation.

Osborne and Roger visit the Gibsons, and Mrs. Gibson busily sets 
about match-making between Cynthia and Osborne until she 
eavesdrops on her husband to find out that Osborne is fatally ill. 
The plans are switched to Roger, the next in line, who is genuinely 
in love with Cynthia. They become engaged at his request, but 
Cynthia demands it should not be made public. Molly is slowly 
realizing that she herself is in love with Roger, who goes off to lead 
an expedition into Africa.

Cynthia later reveals to Molly that when she was younger she had 
written some indiscreet letters to Preston, Lord Cumnor's agent, and 
that Preston is now blackmailing her into marriage. Molly 
reluctantly agrees to help, but in the process of meeting Preston 
and finally getting the letters back, she finds herself compromised 
in the eyes of Hollingford, and becomes the centre of a scandal. 
Because of the pledge to secrecy she refuses to explain the situation.

The Cumnor family lords it with benevolent patronage over 
Hollingford, Lady Cumnor being the real power. The heir, Lord 
Hollingford, is a scientist who is a friend of Roger; the younger 
daughter, Lady Harriett, has grown to know and like Molly. When 
she hears of the scandal she parades round Hollingford with Molly 
on her arm, and so restores her reputation. Then Osborne dies, and 
Molly feels able to reveal his secret that has been weighing on her. 
She goes to look after the Squire, Osborne's wife and child arrive, 
and there is an uneasy reconciliation. Cynthia in the meanwhile 
reveals that she does not love Roger, and insists on

-- 207 --

breaking off the engagement, writing to Roger and to the Squire. 
Molly, worn out physically and mentally by the strain of events, 
collapses. While she is slowly recovering, Cynthia becomes engaged 
in a matter-of-fact manner to a wealthy lawyer, whom she fairly 
quickly marries.

Roger has provided money for the Squire to put the estate in order, 
and has been secretly helping to maintain Osborne and his wife. He 
returns home on learning of Osborne's death, to settle affairs and 
see Osborne's son recognized. He realizes that his love for Cynthia 
was an infatuation, and begins to fall in love with Molly, whose 
worth the Squire has also come to value. He has to leave again to 
complete his African expedition.

When Mrs. Gaskell died the novel was nearly completed, one 
instalment being required. Her intentions were known; Roger will 
return to marry Molly, the Squire will be delighted, Osborne 5 son 
will carry on the Hamley name. Even without this specific 
knowledge the lines of the conclusion, with its reconciliations and 
adjustments, are clear from what was already written. For purposes 
of discussion therefore I shall talk of the novel as though it were 
complete, with Roger and Molly safely married.

_Wives and Daughters_ was written in Italy, in France, in 
Hampshire, but hardly at all in Manchester. The industrial city 
vanishes entirely, even by reference, from her final work; the 
rejection is complete. *1* But as I have tried to show, she was 
rejecting one particular manifestation of change, the industrial city, 
that created a physical and spiritual meanness for men's lives. 
Moreover as a novelist she liked to be able to observe human 
nature with some detachment, and it was difficult to achieve this 
for a world in which nature was distorted by pressures of poverty 
and strife, and which depressed her. Dickens had no brief for slum


*1* The novel was also part of a deed of practical rejection. With the 
help of the Ł2,000 that Smith offered for it she bought the house at 
Holybourne in Hampshire where she died while still writing it. Her 
intention was to persuade her husband to retire and leave 
Manchester. Such a hope argues either a misconception of her 
husband's character that persisted through more than thirty years 
of marriage (an argument sometimes used by those who believe her 
marriage to have been not particularly successful) or, more 
probably, a desire to get away from Manchester that led her to use 
every stratagem possible. It would have been, at the least, a 
country home where she could spend much of her time.

-- 208 --

conditions, but he had an imaginative power that enabled him to 
handle them creatively by endowing their constituents with 
qualities of the grotesque and fantastic. This type of creative 
transfiguration was beyond Mrs. Gaskell; she wrote as an observer 
about the reality she saw, and found that too harsh and dismal a 
reality cramped her _as a novelist_ (her charitable work never 
ceased). To say this is to say nothing depreciatory; a novelist selects 
from all possible aspects of reality those which carry most meaning 
for him and which he finds to be sympathetic. Reality can too easily 
be confused with an interpretation of 'realism' that emphasizes the 
grim and sordid. The reality Mrs. Gaskell finally chose was a 
perfectly 'real' one even if not contemporary; within it she was able 
to handle human nature and develop to the full her particular 
ability as a novelist. Any limitations of that ability must be 
attributed not to the scene she chooses-George Eliot confined herself 
often to a similar period and setting-but to the qualities she 
brought to the handling of it.

She did not, however, reject the idea of change, nor the new 
knowledge that was transforming society; her retreat into the 
immediate past helps her to provide oblique commentary on the 
present. The new forces are symbolized for Hollingford-the final 
manifestation of the _Cranford_ world-by science. This 'science' is 
admittedly rather vague and reasonably gentlemanly, something 
biological and anatomical and not at all dirty or ugly; it harmonizes 
with the charm and quietness of its surroundings. But it is science. 
The hero, Roger Hamley, will make his way in the world by it 
instead of being a 'gentleman' and relying on the merit of a name 
that precedes Domesday; he has the vigour and practical outlook of 
a new attitude. He will create a social precedent by marrying the 
daughter of the local doctor, who is himself a man of scientific mind; 
he will meet on equal terms with the heir of the Cumnors who is 
also a scientist. These three scientists form a nucleus that is ready 
to take over from the older generation and lead Hollingford to a 
newer age.

It is important for this purpose that Hollingford should show a 
representative social range, and it gives a cross-section of country 
society from duchess to labourer, concentrating however on the

-- 209 --

professional and smaller landed classes. The centre of the story is 
placed in the class Mrs. Gaskell knew best, the professional middle-
class; the resulting authority and confident insight into behaviour 
and attitude is part of the quality of _Wives and Daughters_. But 
the inclusion of the Hamleys and the Cumnors brings in the other 
leaders of social opinion, while the marriage of Roger and Molly 
recognizes the merging of landed and professional classes in a 
period of transition. At the same time there is no question of the 
idea of a social hierarchy crumbling; acceptance of class distinction 
and class obligations is part of the stability of the community, 
unlike the industrial scene where mill-worker becomes wealthy 
industrialist in one generation and commercial success is the 
criterion of position. Lady Harriet's 'blood has boiled' over her 
aunt's behaviour, as she tells Molly, because:

     Any one who earns his livelihood by any exercise of 
     head or hands, from professional people and rich 
     merchants down to labourers, she calls 'persons.' She 
     would never in her most slip-slop talk accord them 
     even the conventional title of 'gentlemen' . . . 

(We can recall Thornton, and his mother's proud boast of his 
qualities.) Lady Harriet's protest includes the lumping together as 
well as the inordinate pride; she also attacks the type of people who 
are 'unnatural in their exaggerated respect and admiration' for 
hereditary rank. But in adding, to Molly:

     You at least are simple and truthful, and that's why I 
     separate you in my mind from them, and have talked 
     unconsciously to you as I would - well! now here's another 
     piece of impertinence - as I would to my equal - in rank, 
     I mean; for I don't set myself up in solid things as any 
     better than my neighbours. *2*

she reveals in perfect simplicity a complex attitude in which the 
recognition of individual merit and the inevitability of rank 
distinction merge.

These two elements, of accepted social order and of respect for 
individual qualities, had been important ingredients of the panacea 
Mrs. Gaskell had suggested in her first novel for the


*2* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 184-5.

-- 210 --

disordered society of Manchester, with religion as the essential 
solvent. Sixteen years later, with the urgency of the late forties 
gone, she contemplates a different society whose behaviour-like 
that of _Cranford_ - is firmly based on Christian ethic and morality; 
active religion needs little mention. In her diary of her trip to 
France in 1862, which was written up and published in 1864 while 
_Wives and Daughters_ was being written, she pays tribute to 
Madame de Circout by making this point:

     I think it is Dekker who speaks of our Saviour as "the 
     first true gentleman that ever lived." We may choose 
     to be shocked at the freedom of expression used by the 
     old dramatist: but is it not true? Is not Christianity at the 
     very core of the heart of all gracious courtesy? *3*

The occasional natural prayer, the thought of God in moments of 
great distress, this is all; the every-day story is concerned with 
details of every day. There is still the satirical flick at exaggerated 
religiosity; we note the Methodist cook who refused to prepare 
French dishes, *4* there is a side glance at the coming of 'muscular 
Christianity' (another indication of how the contemporary world 
was in her mind); *5* while the velvet-bound Bible and Prayer 
Book that are Lady Cumnor's wedding present to Cynthia are also 
Mrs. Gaskell's final comment on a religion that gives importance to 
convention and display. Osborne's marriage to the Roman Catholic 
AimŽe raises a more serious issue. Mrs. Gaskell's treatment of 
religion had always been non-sectarian; a corollary of her dislike of 
prejudice as well as a facet of the love that was a central feature of 
her Christianity. Once before, in _North and South_, she had 
approved marriage to a Catholic, but in that novel Margaret's 
brother and his wife had stayed in exile. AimŽe is similarly not a 
schemer; our sympathy is demanded for her. Moreover, in letting it 
be implied that the infant and Protestant heir to the Hamleys of 
Hamley will be brought up by a Roman Catholic-for this is surely 
implied in the solution of having the child live with its mother in a 
lodge on the estate - Mrs. Gaskell shows herself responsive to a 
further and important aspect of


*3* _Cousin Phillis_, p. 643. Mme de Circout, who died in 1863, was 
a friend of Mrs. Gaskell and well known in French society.
*4* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 203.
*5* ibid., p. 30.

-- 211 --

change in social attitudes. She uses the Hamley family throughout 
_Wives and Daughters_ to embody both tradition and, in the person 
of the squire, resistance to change; the religious aspect of this 
episode should not be overlooked. On the whole, however, we 
should note the number of scenes in which there is no appeal to 
religion but which would have been given some comment in earlier 
novels; for example the episode in which Molly breaks down on 
hearing of her father's proposed marriage and Roger comforts her is 
conducted solely on the level of natural emotion and good advice. 
Molly's words later to Roger sum up, perhaps, the approach:

     I daresay it seems foolish; perhaps all our earthly 
     trials will appear foolish to us after a while; perhaps 
     they seem so now to angels. But we are ourselves, you 
     know, and this is _now_, not some time to come, a long, 
     long way off. And we are not angels, to be comforted 
     by seeing the ends for which everything is sent. *6*

Mrs. Gaskell had travelled a long way from _Mary Barton_, even 
from _Sylvia's Lovers_, to write that last sentence.

Within this process of change the particular world of _Cranford_ is 
still represented, now seen specifically as an older generation which 
is to one side of the main stream of progress. The Misses Browning 
may really be considered as a fourth 'family' in this respect, 
alongside the Gibsons, Hamleys and Cumnors. They are the leaders 
of respectable Hollingford society, and it is this society whose moral 
standards and judgements are the arbiters of conduct. It condemns 
Molly, and the sceptical self-sufficient Mr. Gibson accepts its 'non-
fiat'; it equally condemns the duchess who fails to dress up to her 
position for the Charity Ball:

     Such a shabby thing for a duchess I never saw; not a bit 
     of a diamond near her! *7*

as Mrs. Goodenough complains, and Lady Harriett has to force her 
family into special affability to remedy its guest's refusal to meet 
the obligations of her rank. _Cranford_ is still powerful. The Misses 
Browning are guardians and propagators of old but vital


*6* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 554.
*7* ibid., p. 338.

-- 212 --

principles of integrity-their own trial comes when they feel forced 
to condemn Molly. Their manners and conventions may be shown to 
be slightly ludicrous, never their principles.

The treatment of this _Cranford_ element is revealing, for it shows 
an unconscious shift of attitude by Mrs. Gaskell. There is evidence 
that as the novel developed so the two sisters began to merge in 
Mrs. Gaskell's imagination with Deborah and Matty Jenkyns of 
_Cranford_. At the beginning they are:

     tall, handsome women, past their first youth, and inclined 
     to be extremely complaisant to the widowed doctor. *8*

They were friends of his dead wife and are contemporaries of his 
social circle; Phoebe even has passing hopes of being the second 
Mrs. Gibson. But the _Cranford_ aspect grows; they assume the 
habits, antiquated customs, and even the speech of the _Cranford_ 
ladies. By the end of the novel they are no longer seen as Mr. 
Gibson's contemporaries; they have aged beyond the chronology of 
the story while the Deborah-Matty relationship is pronounced. All 
these aspects are clearly present in the episode when the elder Miss 
Browning has boxed Phoebe's ears for reporting the gossip about 

     "Phoebe, I'm really sorry I boxed your ears; only I should 
     do it again, if you said the same things." Phoebe sate down 
     by her sister, and took hold of _one of her withered hands_, 
     and began caressing it . . . *9*

They have slipped further back into the past. This has an 
interesting result, for while working ostensibly with two 
generations, Mrs. Gaskell spreads her observations of continuity and 
change over virtually three, so that the younger generation by 
contrast appears more modern'; yet another indication that the 
contemporary situation is in her mind.

The traditional _Cranford_ world is, then, present in person, as it 
was not in _Cousin Phillis_. There is little need to enlarge on what


*8* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 9. Molly is twelve when the story 
*9*  ibid., p. 594 - my italics. Molly is now nineteen. Incidentally. it 
is impossible to give Miss Browning a first name (bearing in mind 
the convention of calling the eldest daughter 'Miss'). Mrs. Gaskell 
calls her successively Sally (p. 10), Clarinda (p.170) and Dorothy (p. 
329) - about the best of many examples of her carelessness with 

-- 213 --

has previously been said about the setting. Nature is always close at 
hand; comforting, influencing, and reflecting with descriptive 
symbolism the sequence of events and emotions. One passage is 
worth quoting, for it throws light on Mr. Gibson. The comment 
occurs as the doctor rides along turning over his problems in his 

     The country surgeon felt the beauty of the seasons, 
     perhaps more than most men. He saw more of it by day, 
     by night, in storm and sunshine, or in the still, soft cloudy      
     weather. He never spoke about what he felt on the subject; 
     indeed, he did not put his feelings into words, even to 
     himself But, if his mood ever approached to the 
     sentimental, it was on such days as this. *10*

This is important for our knowledge of this self-contained, logical 
and outwardly emotional man who is the main ironic observer in 
the narrative, and of Mrs. Gaskell's attitude to 'sentiment' which 
will be dealt with shortly.

The details of an antique world, of room ornaments wrapped in 
cap-paper *11* and of three-cornered notes, *12* are 
correspondingly diminished, whereas in _My Lady Ludlow_, which 
had also dealt with change, it was the centre from which change 
was observed. Similarly the feudal paternalism which Lady Ludlow 
represented is seen as belonging to the generation of the Misses 
Browning; the influence of the Towers is on the wane. It flatters the 
snobbish Mrs. Gibson, but is rejected by Molly until the personal 
qualities of Lady Harriet recommend themselves; it is held at a 
distance by Mr. Gibson. Personal relationships such as those 
between Roger and Lord Hollingford or Molly and Harriet replace 
the patron-client attitudes.

Professor Kathleen Tillotson has pointed out how much of the 
quality of certain novels-she quotes _Wives and Daughters_ and 
_Middlemarch_ - can be missed by the modern reader not having 
'due recognition of their setting in an England forty years before the 
date of writing'. *12* This quality is one of the excellencies which 
makes _Wives and Daughters_ 'one of the greatest novels about the


*10* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 423.
*11* ibid., p. 170.
*12* ibid., p. 511.
*13* _Tillotson_, p. 92.

-- 214 --

past' *14* although the relevance of the situation and the occasional 
reference are, as has been pointed out, contemporary. Mrs. Gaskell 
is observing with the insight of lived experience and affection; the 
integration of character, action and background is complete. The 
opening scene illustrates this; the description of Molly's room moves 
in and out of an awareness of what it was like to wake up as a 
young girl in such a room. The detailed description of a bonnet on a 
stand, while setting the period, is immediately humanized, for:

     there was a neat little quilling inside, every plait of 
     which Molly knew; for had she not made it herself the 
     evening before, with infinite pains? and was there not 
     a little blue bow in this quilling, the very first bit of such 
     finery Molly had ever had the prospect of wearing? *15*

The leisurely creation of setting and character that Dickens had 
grumbled at is never dull, never uninteresting, for the two grow 
together with a life that absorbs the reader.

We can now sum up the social background and significance of 
_Wives and Daughters_ briefly. Mrs. Gaskell takes an optimistic 
view; she can see the process of transition occurring without 
disaster to the social framework. But she avoids any direct dealing 
with the industrial world; instead she reaches back into the past to 
the way of life which carried her values and affections, and 
recreates it in such a way that it is seen moving steadily into the 
future. From the vantage point of a further hundred years we might 
interpret this as side-stepping the major issue, seeing Mrs. Gaskell 
as denying the inevitable in imagining a situation where the world 
of _Cranford_ in its physical and communal aspects would thrive. 
There would be some truth in this, but it would ignore the facts that 
she grasps the central problem and that this world has indeed 
proved to be vital enough to survive within an industrialized 
country, its values still important. At least she was the only one of 
the major Victorian novelists who really knew the industrial city 
intimately. (London, then as now, was more and less than a 
manufacturing centre; it is interesting that in her last novel Mrs. 
Gaskell still sees it as the centre of the fashionable, extravagant way


*14* _Tillotson_, p. 105.
*15* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 1-2.

-- 215 --

of life or of ambition that it had been in _North and South_.) She 
had appreciated its virtues, and proclaimed that its inhabitants 
were individuals and human beings. She had accepted that 
progress, in the technical and scientific sense, was one of the facts 
of existence, but her nature and her art finally rejected the cities it 
produced. We may remind ourselves after all that not until the 
following generation were novelists to suggest that the industrial 
revolution should be abolished, as Morris did when he dreamed of 
John Ball.

_Wives and Daughters_ develops as a novel through the social 
observation of a community and its individual members, related to 
the close analysis of a young girl's emotions in which Mrs. Gaskell 
had become interested. The distinction between the two approaches 
is obviously not a rigid one; Molly's feelings, for example, have 
social as well as personal consequences which are reflected in her 
conduct. But it provides a convenient way of looking at the novel. 
Mrs. Gaskell, as her sub-title implies, is examining every-day 
behaviour and the attitudes that control it. Admittedly it is not 
every day that heirs to country estates marry penniless foreign 
papists, that young girls are blackmailed for foolish promises, or - 
especially in mid-Victorian England - young scientists set off to 
explore Africa. Yet the sub-title is accurate in its emphasis. These 
dramatic features are necessary incidents of plot; the real interest is 
in the feelings and behaviour between father and son and not in the 
romance of the marriage; not in blackmail but in the emotions of a 
young girl apparently caught in a trap. They are types of emotional 
pressure. And by far the greater part of the novel is concerned with 
the relationships at the heart of every-day life, those of marriage, 
family ties and social intercourse.

At the centre is the Gibson family with its unmatched halves and 
contrasting temperaments. It is the sort of situation that Jane 
Austen created, stepped down to a lower and less wealthy social 
level-in this respect Mrs. Gaskell is the less romantic-with the 
minimum of dramatic incident in order to permit detailed 
observation of character. It is difficult not to believe that Jane 
Austen was an influence on Mrs. Gaskell; in particular the shades of 
Mr. and

-- 216 --

Mrs. Bennett seem to nod behind Mr. and Mrs. Gibson. Miss Hopkins 
shrewdly comments that:

     In the creation of Mrs. Gibson, in _Wives and Daughters_, 
     she has learned what Jane Austen well understood: the 
     art of making stupidity interesting. *16*

It can be added that she had also learned the art of making conduct 
the vehicle for moral satire. _Wives and Daughters_ has this in 
common with all Mrs. Gaskell's work, that at heart it deals with 
morality; it is a study of principles, or the lack of them, controlling 
conduct. It differs in that within the comedy of the novel her 
satirical gift is allowed full expression. Mrs. Gibson, the main 
instrument for it, is a not-so-distant cousin of Mr. Bradshaw in 
_Ruth_, but Mr. Bradshaw is subdued by the predominantly serious 
and didactic tone of the story in which he appears. Mrs. Gibson 
blossoms in her environment.

Her importance is that she cares only for the surface aspect of the 
standards which other characters obey or, when they do not, like 
Osborne and even Cynthia, suffer for it in their consciences or in the 
consequences. She carries the weight of Mrs. Gaskell's moral 
indignation, even though that indignation is tempered by tolerance 
and a readiness to allow such virtues, for example attempted 
fairness and a desire to be a good wife according to her lights, as a 
superficial and selfish character can have. The result is a portrait 
that rises above the comic; its comedy carries moral judgement, all 
the more forceful because the author herself on the whole refrains 
from passing judgement either by comment or by manipulation of 
the plot. Mrs. Gaskell is, however, careful to avoid attributing any 
intentional evil to her, for this would be out of place in both the 
inertia of her character and the _Cranford_ world. Her quality is 
summed up when she has to discuss Cynthia's return with her 
husband-to-be. Mr. Gibson's attitude assumes natural maternal 
affection, Mrs. Gibson's is concerned with the presence of an 
attractive grown-up daughter:


*16* _Hopkins_, p. 143. In the first of her '_Cranford_' type stories, 
'Mr. Harrison's Confessions'. we find that Jane Austen, Dickens and 
Thackeray are the three novelists mentioned as being in the 
narrator's bookcase. _Emma_ is quoted in 'Cumberland Sheep-
shearers' (_Ruth_, pp. 469-70).

-- 217 --

     Mr. Gibson believed that Cynthia Kirkpatrick was to 
     return to England to be present at her mother's 
     wedding; but Mrs. Kirkpatrick had no such intention. 
     She was not what is commonly called a woman of 
     determination; but somehow what she disliked she 
     avoided, and what she liked she tried to do, or to 
     have. *17*

We catch in this passage an echo of the moral strenuousness that 
appeared in earlier work. But Mrs. Gibson can do little real harm, 
for she becomes subject to the restraints that govern the world and 
the family she enters. The danger of such lack of positive standards 
lies in the abdication from moral responsibility when there is 
nothing to replace it, and this we can see in the permanent harm 
done to Cynthia during her upbringing, a harm aggravated by lack 
of true affection.

On the whole, however, it is a stable world, its stability resting not 
only on the traditions of an ordered social hierarchy but in the 
acceptance by individuals of its standards and in the confidence 
which is based on family affection and trust. Its conventions are 
soundly based and it is worth remembering that a woman such as 
Mrs. Gibson, who has no other restraint to her selfishness, lives by 
conventions. Cynthia is saved by becoming part of one of the 
families which create the social climate, and by the restoration of 
the atmosphere of affection and trust; conversely the greatest 
Hamley misfortune is the death of Mrs. Hamley, who was the centre 
of love and trust for her own household and who might have 
prevented the estrangement between Osborne and his father. Molly 
says of Osborne's marriage that it had:

     a sense of concealment and uncertainty about it all; 
     and her honest, straightforward father, her quiet life 
     at Hollingford, which, even with all its drawbacks, was 
     above-board, and where everybody knew what 
     everybody was doing, seemed secure and pleasant in 
     comparison. *18*

She is herself forced into concealing her actions when dealing with 
Preston on Cynthia's behalf, with the resulting condemnation by 
local society and what could have been a breach with her father


*17* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 138.
*18* ibid. p. 24

-- 218 --

were it not for the affection between them. The comment Molly 
passes on her own action may serve to mark a distinction which is 
germane to the narrative point of view:

     I'm sure it was not wrong in morals, whatever it might 
     be in judgement. *19*

We are reminded at one stage of the novel that Mr. Gibson:

     surgeon though he was, had never learnt to anatomise 
     a woman's heart . . . *20*

The comment occurs after Cynthia's engagement to Roger Hamley, 
when an invitation from the Squire for lunch is met by Cynthia and 
her mother with vacillation and apparent indifference, instead of 
the pleased acceptance that seems obvious to the man. It is an 
important comment for it suggests that Mrs. Gaskell is doing the 
anatomizing that is beyond the doctor's logical brain, and that a 
woman's heart is thought of in connexion with love. The second 
point is reinforced by a preceding reflection from the baffled Mr. 
Gibson, who was:

     almost ready to vow that he would never again meddle 
     in any affair in which women were concerned, which 
     would effectually shut him out from all love-affairs for 
     the future. *21*

_Wives and Daughters_ is the fullest as well as the final expression 
of Mrs. Gaskell's attitude to love in the narrower 'romantic' sense 
and to the various emotions which attach themselves to its label. 
We may distinguish many varieties in the course of events. There is 
the romantic love of Osborne and AimŽe, jumping barriers of class 
and religion, and the nostalgically haloed first love of Mr. Gibson for 
the Jeannie he never married. *22* Infatuation is represented by 
Roger's love for Cynthia, and in its comic calf-love state by the 
apprentice Coxe's desperate feelings for Molly. Sexual desire, though 
it could not be openly stated, is clearly behind Preston's


*19* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 603.
*20* ibid., p. 460.
*21* ibid., p. 460.
*22* ibid., pp. 53 and 162. This repeats Mr. Manning's 
reminiscences in _Cousin Phillis_, p. 36.

-- 219 --

pursuit of Cynthia. *23* All these are grouped round the central 
characters of Molly, whose love for Roger is in the tradition of the 
quiet, deep and selfless attachment which is the ideal standard, and 
of Cynthia who is incapable of such depth of feeling and whose 
emotions have retired behind a protective selfishness that is 
difficult to throw off:

To complete the picture we need also to include the result of love, 
which in Mrs. Gaskell's world is marriage (or of course, the memory 
of what might have been. Miss Matty was only the first of many 
characters who never spoke their love, or hoped in vain). There are 
four marriages in the novel; the Hamleys, the Cumnors, the Gibsons 
and the abortive union of Osborne and AimŽe. The last is 
deservedly a failure by Mrs. Gaskell's standards because Osborne 
never allows it to become a family unit, it is founded on deceit and 
separation. The Hamleys are still in love, their marriage has been a 
happy one, but at the expense of Mrs. Hamley's sacrifice to her 
husband's prejudices:

     She gave up her visits to London; she gave up her 
     sociable pleasure in the company of her fellows in 
     education and position... He loved his wife all the more 
     dearly for her sacrifices for him; but, deprived of all 
     her strong interests, she sank into ill-health; nothing 
     definite; only she never was well. *24*

The Cumnor marriage has lost any romantic tinge it may have had, 
but robustly survives on solid affection, respect, tolerance and, in 
this case, the wife in control. We learn little about Mr. Gibson's first 
marriage save that it was not to Jeannie; that he was fond of his 
first wife but not violently in love, and that she died young. His 
second is a misalliance that shakes down into a way of life, 
irritating at the personal level but fulfilling its job at the 
conventional level by creating a home and looking after the social


*23* Rosamond Lehmann has some interesting remarks on this 
aspect, and on Mrs. Gaskell's breadth of outlook. She notes 'the 
insistent sexuality of Preston's manner with attractive women' and 
comments that 'all this, though interpreted within the literary 
conventions of the day, is the reverse of a "baffled" approach. We 
do not need to he told what it is he counts on when he tells Cynthia 
that he can make her love him after she has married him.'
'A Neglected Victorian Classic', _Penguin New Writing_, No. 32, 
1948, p.94.
*24* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 45-6.

-- 220 --

aspects of upbringing. None of these, it will be noted, are marriages 
of true minds, none is a properly balanced partnership; this is an 
omission for Molly and Roger to remedy.

Mrs. Gaskell distinguishes clearly between the emotions of love and 
the state of marriage, and _Wives and Daughters_ is at least as 
much about the latter as the former. She obviously sees that ideally 
they can combine, equally obviously her realism recognizes that 
this is a rare occurrence. Because of this, and because of the vital 
part played by marriage in the scheme of things, she sees it on the 
whole as a relationship in which common sense and sound 
principles are the main elements. If-and the occasional references 
to early 'true' love suggest it - Mrs. Gaskell was compensating for a 
romantic nature that had little outlet in the busy household and 
preoccupied husband in Manchester, it is a romanticism that is not 
allowed its head. From the very beginning of her work marriage is 
seen as a sober business bound up far more with the idea of the 
family than of individual attraction. _Mary Barton_, we may recall, 
does not end with Mary in Jem's arms, but standing with her child 
'watching the return of her husband from his daily work'. *25* 
Because this relationship is emphasized, man and wife in marriage 
move within the range of the social observer and become therefore 
a target for Mrs. Gaskell's irony. Mr. and Mrs. Gibson develop from a 
succession of husbands and wives, of whom the Bradshaws, the 
Hales and the Robsons are a fair sample.

Nevertheless one cannot find anywhere in her work the slightest 
suggestion that marriage can be broken up, unless death does the 
parting. Her religious beliefs, and her view of the obligation on the 
home to provide a centre of stability and moral responsibility, 
would largely account for this. Love as the destroyer of marriage is 
not considered, but then her descriptions of any love worth 
considering ignore sexual attraction. *26*


*25* _Mary Barton_, p. 457.
*26* The importance of marriage and the family in Victorian society 
has often been commented on; see e.g. Houghton, _The Victorian 
Frame of Mind_, Yale U.P., 1957, Chap. 13. lam concerned here only 
with Mrs. Gaskell's views, but she is also to be seen as sharing in a 
common set of opinions, modified by the extent to which she sees 
one aspect as more important than another.

-- 221 --

In its aspect as a love story, _Wives and Daughters_ can be clearly 
seen as a continuation of the analysis begun with _Sylvia's Lovers_. 
Molly Gibson is yet another study in the temperament and emotions 
of a young girl growing up and falling in love, although the 
character is no stereotype. Once again we can link the heroine to the 
author's observation of her own family; now advanced a further 
stage, for first love is finally successful. To conclude the 
biographical element we have to turn to the male side of the story.

Roger Hamley's career is patently based on the public career of the 
young Darwin, but Darwin would hardly have been the model for a 
young man in love, even had Mrs. Gaskell known him well enough. 
The romance of Africa and exploration that was beginning to invade 
the Victorian imagination is also obviously behind the vague outline 
of Roger Hamley's journeys; Burton's travel books on his various 
expeditions were making their impact in the years before _Wives 
and Daughters_ was begun, while Speke's account of the discovery 
of the Nile appeared in 1863. Africa was news. Yet Africa and 
exploration provided only the romantic glow behind a solidly 
detailed character, and that character she abstracted from her son-
in-law, Charles Crompton, Q. C., together with many minimally 
altered details of his career:

     He has almost perfect health, and perfect temper. _I_ 
     should have said _not_ clever; but he was 4th wrangler at 
     Cambridge and is a Fellow of Trinity, and is getting on 
     very fast in his profession; so I suppose he has those 
     solid intellectual qualities which tell in _action_, though 
     not in _conversation_. But his goodness is what gives me 
     the thankfullest feeling of confidence in him . . . Mr. 
     Crompton is not exactly a Unitarian, nor exactly Broad 
     Church,-but perhaps rather more of the latter than the 
     former. He is so good-principled he may be called a 
     religious man; for I am sure the root of his life is in 
     religion. But he has not imagination enough to be what 
     one calls _spiritual_. It is just the same want that makes 
     him not care for music or painting,-nor much for poetry. 
     In these tastes Florence is his superior, although _she_ is 
     not 'artistic'. Then he cares for science,-in which she is 
     at present ignorant. His strong, good _un_sensitive 

-- 222 --

     is just what will, I trust, prove very grateful to her 
     anxious, conscientious little heart. *27*

This is an accurate outline for Roger Hamley, not only in the detail 
of his background, but as a sketch of his character and the basis for 
his relationship with Molly Gibson. Adapting living people to fiction 
is a commonplace of novel-writing that needs no special comment 
in itself; we need note only that Mrs. Gaskell is still the acute 
observer, sensitive and sympathetic to younger people and 
attitudes. (Roger Hamley, it need hardly be added, is not simply a 
description of Charles Crompton; imagination went to work on the 
characteristics Mrs. Gaskell observed and liked.) The freshness and 
vitality of _Wives and Daughters_ springs as much from its 
truthfulness to youth, her delight in it and in the optimism and 
happiness it reflected, as to the delight and renewal of interest she 
found in recalling the environment of her own youth from the 
vantage point of experience. The viewpoint and attitudes of both 
generations are blended in the novel, just as the interests in social 
history and in the psychology of characters are blended. The author, 
in stepping back towards her past, is tacitly accepting the 
climacteric of her own generation and recognizing the growing 
authority of the next.

Molly Gibson is in many ways the summation of the qualities that 
Mrs. Gaskell admired and which appear to a varying degree in most 
of her heroines. She is affectionate, self-reliant, honest and natural, 
with vitality and intelligence. Mrs. Gaskell does not fall into the 
error common in Victorian literature, and which mars many of 
Dickens's novels, of making the heroine little more than a symbol of 
the feminine principle in a man 5 world. One reason is that she 
writes as a woman. *28* A second is that she is too honest and


*27* _Letters_, pp. 105-6, 13 July 1863. The italics arc Mrs. 
Gaskell's. Crompton married Florence Gaskell in September of that 
year. An outline of _Wives and Daughters_, not yet titled, was ready 
in May, 1864. Another daughter, Marianne, was engaged to her 
cousin Thurston Holland (also a barrister) in the later part of 1864. 
Marianne's family nickname was Polly, and Polly-Marianne is 
perhaps more than co-incidentally close to the Molly-Mary of her 
heroine. It is hardly surprising that Cynthia marries into the law.
*28* Not that women were free of the error, they often supported 
it. Compare Mrs. Gaskell's first description of the grown-up Molly, 
looking at herself in a mirror:
     She saw a slight, lean figure, promising to be tall, a 
     complexion browner than cream-coloured, although in a 
     year or two it might have that tint; plentiful curly black hair,

-- 223 --

accurate an observer to accept an abstraction. (It is possible that 
she was influenced also by the new type of heroine who had 
emerged in fiction, a woman capable of being an equal partner to a 
man in marriage.) What sets Molly apart from Sylvia Robson and 
Phillis Holman is that she is successful. In terms of the novel (i.e. 
leaving aside the fact that in real life Florence Gaskell had married 
Charles Crompton) this can be attributed to two causes. The first is 
that her qualities of temperament and training are in equilibrium. 
Eagerness, energy, strong emotions, impetuosity, are balanced by 
self-control, unselfishness, a willingness to learn, and so on. The 
tension required to maintain the balance, together with the 
impulses that lead to conduct disturbing the balance, are what 
make Molly Gibson a singularly successful and interesting portrayal 
of a good and not particularly complex character. The second cause, 
which also controls the first, is that circumstances have favoured 
the way her character has been moulded. If we look back from 
Molly Gibson down the line of Mrs. Gaskell's heroines, we can see 
that they have a family resemblance in temperament. Differences in 
character emerge as to a great extent due to differences in 
environment and upbringing, while misfortunes are directly related 
to failure in one or both. Molly is _par excellence_ the product of 
stable surroundings, a secure and affectionate home and a sound 
upbringing in a well-ordered community.

Which is precisely what Cynthia is not. She is as much the contrast 
to Molly's upbringing as she is to Molly's character. Her background 
is one of poverty and pretence, of insecurity and the sense of being 
unwanted, with, instead of a father to lean on, a


     tied up in a bunch behind with a rose-coloured ribbon; 
     long, almond-shaped, soft grey eyes, shaded both above 
     and below by curling black eyelashes. (_Wives and 
     Daughters_, pp. 72-3)

with Mrs. Henry Wood's heroine in The Channings (1862):

     Constance was standing against the window. She was of 
     middle height, thoroughly ladylike and graceful; her 
     features fair and beautiful, and her dark-blue eyes and 
     smooth white brow wonderfully like [her brother's]. She 
     wore a muslin dress with a delicate pink sprig upon it, 
     the lace of its open sleeves falling on her pretty white 
     hands, which were playing unconsciously with a spray 
     of jessamine while she listened to her brothers as each 
     spoke. (Everyman Edition, 1924, p. 22.)

The first describes an individual, the second an abstraction, even 
when the clichŽ-ridden style of Mrs. Wood is discounted.

-- 224 --

vain and shallow mother. She has been frightened off love by the 
result of her adolescent infatuation for Preston, and has grown up 
fighting her own battles in a world where trust and affection have 
appeared as traps. Cynthia's problems can be more easily 
understood today, as can the defensive and prickly reaction.

There is nothing mechanical about the contrast between the two 
characters; they are created as individuals in their own right. And 
through Cynthia Mrs. Gaskell has yet another angle of vision for the 
observation of love. The honesty that leads to the breaking of the 
engagement with Roger because:

     the truth is, I do not love him. I like him, I respect him; 
     but I will not marry him.

makes quite clear for us what Mrs. Gaskell regarded as the essential 
basis for marriage, while the subsequent remark-which could stand 
as example for the multitude of comments which show her shrewd 
discernment of human nature:

     It is such a relief to feel free again. It wearied me so to 
     think of straining up to his goodness. *29*

brings even perfection into the observer's range as creating a 
problem in relationships.

Mrs. Gaskell sets herself one problem that she fails to solve 
satisfactorily; the treatment of love in _Wives and Daughters_ 
shows a failure to carry the analysis right through and an 
endeavour to reconcile conflicting attitudes. It is plain that Mrs. 
Gaskell has in her mind a clear idea of what love and marriage 
ought to be. Love-which can only be properly considered in terms 
of marriage
-is a deep but not violently passionate relationship, an extension of 
affection in which the senses have little or no part, founded on 
mutual attraction of character. It never takes leave of its senses, it 
rather keeps within hailing distance of common sense. Love and 
marriage from this point of view, however pleasurable, fall within 
the pattern of conduct and duty. Yet at the same time she is aware 
of love as a far more potent and disturbing force. The brain fever 
that Sylvia, Phillis and Molly all succumb to may be


*29* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 636.

-- 225 --

a conventional way of handling a crisis in a heroine's love life, but 
the convention provides for a state of mental and emotional conflict 
which was recognized before the theory of repression was known. 
Cynthia's fear of Preston and her otherwise exaggeratedly cynical 
self-control likewise suggest a passionate nature being held in 
check. In her perception of emotions and reactions, within the range 
she sets herself, Mrs. Gaskell is as acute and subtle a creator of 
character as any of her contemporaries.

The romantic streak to her imagination occasionally distorts the 
sharpness and accuracy of her vision. Luckily this is rare, for Mrs. 
Gaskell as we have seen avoids whenever possible having to discuss 
love itself or to depict love scenes. But it does occur. When Cynthia 
suddenly accepts and quickly marries Mr. Henderson, she 
comments to Molly after the engagement:

     I believe I cared for him when he offered all those 
     months ago, but I tried to think I didn't; only sometimes I 
     really was so unhappy, I thought I must put an iron band 
     round my heart to keep it from breaking, like the Faithful 
     John of the German story-do you remember, Molly? *30*

But the comment is out of character as well as being of dubious 
application to the agreeable, conventional lawyer we briefly meet; it 
is a sacrifice of realism on the sacred altar of marriage. The Cynthia 
of this speech talks like Molly, not like the girl who fears Preston 
and has developed an armour of irony. Molly's own reflections 
when she has heard Preston lay claim to

     Roger! oh, Roger !-far away in the mysterious darkness 
     of distance - loving as he did, (ah, that was love! that 
     was the love to which Cynthia had referred, as worthy 
     of the name!) *31*

show passionate feeling that is outside her range. Such forced 
expressions show by their language that Mrs. Gaskell is trying for 
an emotion which is beyond the normal range of her analysis. Apart 
from such rare occurrences she takes good care to keep emotion 
and sentiment under control.


*30* _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 700-1.
*31* ibid., p. 539.

-- 226 --

_Wives and Daughters_ deals largely with emotional matters; its 
plot develops round love stories and family crises, yet with a few 
exceptions it triumphantly avoids falling into sentimentality. 
Sentiment is kept under control by the method of narration and by 
a strongly anti-sentimental note that is deliberately introduced 
throughout the narrative and which is part of the attack on false 
emotions that in places sharpens into satire, mainly at the expense 
of Mrs. Gibson. At the same time the contrast with honest feeling is 
made, another of the contrasts by which the novel makes its effect. 
Mr. Gibson, whose comments play a large part in setting the tone of 
the narrative, is also willy nilly a lover, acutely conscious of being a 
widower, who, as Molly observed:

     disliked his position as a middle-aged lover being made 
     so evident to the men in waiting as it was by Mrs. 
     Kirkpatrick's affectionate speeches and innuendos. He 
     tried to banish every tint of pink sentimentalism from 
     the conversation, and to confine it to matter of fact . . . *32*

an attitude he maintains into marriage, which he finds can be a 
reasonably comfortable domestic state, but only:

     when Mrs. Gibson was moderately sensible, and not 
     over-sentimental, he mentally added . . . *33*

Any fanciful nonsense about love and marriage is inevitably 
brought into contrast with this particular wooing and marriage 
which stays in the foreground of events, while for contrast of a 
different sort there is the tragedy of Osborne's ill-advised piece of 
romantic behaviour. And to make her attitude perfectly clear, she 
grafts her own comment on to Roger's rhapsodic reflections about 
the perils of his journey and an idealized Cynthia waiting sweetly at 
home for him:

     with all a lover's quickness of imagination and triteness of 
     fancy, he called her a star, a flower, a nymph, a witch, an 
     angel, or a mermaid, a nightingale, a siren, as one or another 
     of her attributes rose up before him. *34*

Nor, it is worth pointing out, do we ever see an actual love scene 
between either Molly and Roger or Osborne and AimŽe, the only


*32* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 151.	
*33* ibid., p. 373.	
*34* ibid., pp. 429-30.

-- 227 --

genuine pairs of lovers in the novel. The emotional tone is subdued 
to that of every-day behaviour.
There are however scenes of genuine pathos, such as the death of 
Osborne and earlier the death of Mrs. Hamley. Here the touch is 
exact, while control is maintained by mediating the scenes through 
observers - mainly Molly and Mr. Gibson - and by constantly 
shifting from emotion back to the practical level through action and 
Molly and Mr. Gibson are more than major characters in the story. 
_Wives and Daughters_ is too long and too complicated a novel to be 
controlled by the narrative device of an observer within the action, 
such as Mary Smith in _Cranford_ or Paul Manning in _Cousin 
Phillis_. Nevertheless Mrs. Gaskell keeps her objectivity by retiring 
often behind the father and daughter; it is chiefly through their 
eyes that we see and feel. This double viewpoint has many 
advantages; they are at the centre of events, and their own 
relationship, which is an important part of the action, is seen from 
both sides. Between them they set the narrative tone. Both are 
emotionally honest, blessed with common sense, have intelligence. 
At the same time it is possible for Mrs. Gaskell to switch from the 
more ironic and logical remarks of the doctor to the greater 
sensibility and sympathy of Molly as occasion demands, a useful 
method for handling the psychology of Molly's development. The 
astringency and irony of the novel owe a great deal to Mr. Gibson, 
'sparing of his words, intelligent, and slightly sarcastic' *35* whose 
voice is undoubtedly that of Mrs. Gaskell as observer of men and 
manners, as Molly is the voice of her sensitivity.
It would be wrong to leave _Wives and Daughters_ without drawing 
attention to the moral patterning which unites it with her earlier 
work. Like _Cousin Phillis_ it refrains from drawing conclusions or 
passing judgements, but its complex plot sets up patterns which are 
only faintly discernible in the shorter work, while the sequence of 
events that combine into the plot is a moral one. The lesson of love 
and forgiveness which Job Legh preached to John Barton and Mr. 
Carson after the murder of Carson's son is


*35* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 40.

-- 228 --

the same lesson that Squire Hamley learns for himself without 
changing his character. Reward and punishment follow diversely 
but without rigidity; Molly is rewarded for her selfless love, Mr. 
Gibson punished for his selfish motives in the desire to find a 
substitute mother for her. Behind the moral pattern lies the idea of 
love. All the different 'loves' that have been discussed have finally 
to be measured against the greater concept of love that is a 
precondition for a Christian society, and against the tolerance that 
should accompany it.
But it would be equally wrong to end a discussion of _Wives and 
Daughters_, even one that is concerned with examining the 
attitudes behind it, on too heavy a note. It is a novel that lives and 
will stay alive for the humour and sympathy in the description of 
characters, incidents and society through whom the author's view of 
life emerges. We enjoy it, and it moves us, for the same reasons that 
we enjoy or are moved by the novels of Jane Austen and George 
Eliot, although enjoyment and emotion are shaped to a different 
balance. Perhaps we may take the creation of Mrs. Gibson as Mrs. 
Gaskell's ironic salutation to the imperfect world that, in spite of the 
suffering it caused, gave her so much amusement to observe.

-- 229 --


_The Development of Technique: Form_

WHEN Mrs. Gaskell wrote the biography of Charlotte Bront‘ she had 
an opportunity to play the critic, yet there is virtually no critical 
comment in the book, nor do her letters show much concern with 
theory. Charlotte Bront‘'s own comment on her has been often 

     Do you, who have so many friends - so large a circle of 
     acquaintance find it easy, when you sit down to write, to 
     isolate yourself from all those ties, and their sweet 
     associations, so as to be your _own woman_ . . . *1*

It is a comment that reflects Mrs. Gaskell's own protestations as she 
began her career:

     _Women_ must give up living an artist's life, if home duties 
     are to be paramount. *2*

and anyone who wishes to show that she was in fact a conscious 
artist with a fine control of her craft must admit that she lays 
herself open to adverse criticism in her protestations that being an 
author is a subsidiary and spare-time occupation. Yet she is not the 
dilettante that she makes out. There is a growing body of evidence 
to show that the Victorian novelists as a whole were careful and, at 
their best, inventive craftsmen in their work, and Mrs. Gaskell was 
no exception. It would be curious if she were. She wrote for nearly 
twenty years, was a friend of many of the


*1* _Life_, p. 615. Charlotte Bront‘'s italics.
*2* Letter to Tottie Fox, _Haldane_, p. 249, where it is placed after a 
letter dated March, 18S3. But a reference to Watts in a postscript 
would place it in the first half of 1850. The correspondence on G. H. 
Watts the artist in _Rylands_, pp. 14-19, makes this clear.
-- 230 --

leading writers of her day, and had as her editors and publishers 
first Dickens and then Thackeray and George Smith. *3* It is 
difficult to see how she could have avoided discussing her work 
sometimes at the professional level. Some proof of her awareness 
can be deduced from her own comments, but the chief evidence 
must come from an examination of what and how she wrote. Thirty 
years ago David Cecil said of her:

     Her talent, too, is a Victorian talent, fertile, intuitive, 
     uncritical. Her rambling, unequal, enthralling novels, full 
     of providential chances and comic character-parts and 
     true love rewarded in the last chapter, are typical 
     Victorian novels. *4*

(although he goes on, curiously, to say that she is 'eminently an 
artist'). We can agree at least on one point; if the skill shown by 
Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot and others is the standard, then 
she is typical of it. It was a high one.
While still talking in general terms we may turn back to the _Life_ 
for initial confirmation of this view. Although Mrs. Gaskell refrained 
from criticism, she paused when she reached the stage where she 
had to deal with her friend - and subject - as author as well as 
individual, and wrote in a paragraph that is patently personal and 

     Henceforward Charlotte Bront‘'s existence becomes 
     divided into two parallel currents - her life as Currer Bell, 
     the author; her life as Charlotte Bront‘, the woman. There 
     were separate duties belonging to each character - not 
     opposing each other; not impossible, but difficult to be      
     reconciled. When a man becomes an author, it is probably 
     merely a change of employment to him . . . But no other 
     can take up the quiet regular duties of the daughter, the 
     wife, or the mother, as well as she whom God has 
     appointed to fill that particular place: a woman's principal 
     work in life is hardly left to her own choice; nor can she 
     drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an 
     individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents 
     that were ever bestowed. And yet she must not shrink 
     from the extra responsibility implied by the very fact of 
     her possessing such talents. She must not hide her gift in 
     a napkin; it was meant for the use and service of others. 
     In a humble and faithful


*3* Furthermore her husband and first adviser was a Professor of 
English. But this is a two-edged piece of evidence.	
*4* op. cit., p. 199.

-- 231 --

     spirit must she labour to do what is not impossible, or 
     God would not have set her to do it. *5*

She adds, 'I put into words what Charlotte Bront‘ put into actions', 
but she is rather putting into words her own feelings. In the 
biography she emphasizes her friend's domesticity and sense of 
duty, but she overstates the case here. There had been time and 
solitude for Charlotte Bront‘ to write in, as her own comment 
quoted earlier shows. It was Mrs. Gaskell who fretted at not being 
able to change her employment and who was yet determined not to 
'shrink from the extra responsibility'. She was to make a practice of 
taking her talents away from home in order to exercise them free 
from domesticity.
In the first chapter I quoted the comment from 'Company Manners 
in which she attacks writers who do not bother to acquire some 
expertness' in the art of telling a story. To study her novels is to see 
how she developed her own art. Most of her own comments are 
concerned with style rather than structure, yet the most interesting 
and subtle changes are in the structure and the narrative method. 
Like her great contemporaries she made form significant by careful 
thought and craftsmanship, changing it to suit her ends before ever 
the doctrine of significant form had been formulated.
Because Mrs. Gaskell shaped her fiction to express her themes, it 
has already been necessary to say a good deal about method. What 
follows will attempt to build on what has been previously said 
while tracing the development of her art. And just as a discussion of 
her thought involved considering her method, so an examination of 
the method will come back to the content it presents. Manner and 
matter derive eventually from the same creative impulse.

_Structure and Pattern_

When writing to Mrs. Greg about _Mary Barton_ *6* Mrs. Gaskell 
reinforced her apologia by a long account of how the novel was 


*5* _Life_, pp. 348-9.	
*6* See ante, p. 131.
-- 232 --

     The whole tale grew up in my mind . . . imperceptibly . . . 
     I can remember now that the prevailing thought in my 
     mind at the time when the tale was silently forming 
     itself and impressing me with the force of a reality, 
     was the seeming injustice of the inequalities of 
     fortune . . . I fancied I saw how all this might lead to a 
     course of action which might appear right for a time 
     to the bewildered mind [of her hero] but that this 
     course of action, violating the eternal laws of God, 
     would bring with it its own punishment of an 
     avenging conscience far more difficult to bear than 
     any wordly privation . . . [The book originally formed 
     itself round John Barton] . . . _the_ person with whom 
     all my sympathies went, with whom I tried to identify 
     myself at the time . . .  Mr. Greg has exactly 
     described . . . the very treatment which I am convinced 
     is needed to bring such bewildered thinkers round into 
     an acknowledgment of the universality of some kind of 
     suffering, and the consequent necessity of its existence 
     for some good end. . . .
          [The novel was conceived and begun in illness and 
     sorrow] . . . It is no wonder then that the whole book 
     seems to be written in a minor key; indeed, the very 
     design seems to me to require this treatment. I 
     acknowledge the fault of there being too heavy a 
     shadow over the book; but I doubt if the story could 
     have been realized without these shadows. The cause 
     of the fault must be looked for in the design; and yet 
     the design was one worthy to be brought into 
          [The rest of the letter recounts her protest at having 
     to add material later - probably most of Chap. 37 - to 
     make up the required number of pages.] *7*

The question of purpose has already been dealt with, our concern 
here must be with what Mrs. Gaskell calls the 'design'. It is an 
ambiguous term, for it comprehends design as intention (i.e. 
demonstration of the eternal laws) as well as structure; the two are 
inseparable in her mind. *8* There are several interesting points in 
the letter; the evidence of a creative imagination ('the whole tale 
grew up in my mind') of identification with a character, and of 
stylistic control (the 'minor key'). Of immediate relevance is the 
evidence of conscious control ('how all this might lead to a course of 
action'). The plot structure is developed as a vehicle for


*7* _Mary Barton_, pp. lxiii-lxiv.
*8* Paley's argument by design, when he compared the universe to 
a watch that proves a maker, inevitably comes to mind. It was an 
argument often quoted in the heated theological discussions of the 

-- 233 --

the thematic structure, which is the moral pattern of the intention.
The pattern is a linear one, not completed until the narrative itself 
is concluded, it is the pattern that also controls _Ruth_. Its broad 
features, the demonstration of retribution and reward and the 
movement towards understanding and reconciliation, are ones that 
occur consistently throughout Mrs. Gaskell's work. It is a pattern 
that is shaped by a moral vision and which allows expression to the 
various beliefs that go to make up that vision. But, and this must be 
emphasized, the vision is not straight-jacketed into a framework, 
we do not get a tract. 'The whole tale grew up, the creative 
imagination is at work while the conscious control shapes the action 
and selects the style.
The original plan was in fact extensively modified and elaborated, 
as can be seen from a study of the rough sketch of the plot that 
Mrs. Gaskell drew up originally. *9* Apart from changing round the 
names of the two central families of the Wilsons and the Bartons 
(which makes the first reading of the outline a disconcerting 
experience), there have been radical changes in development and 
detail. The whole of the section covering the alibi and trial for 
example, more than a fifth of the book, seems to have grown out of 
a brief heading: 'How she proves an alibi by Margaret Clegg's help.' 
This entailed not merely the invention in detail of a major episode 
but the creation of the necessary plot clues long beforehand. The 
novel as we have it, though it retains the basic story and its pattern, 
is a work of the narrator's art.
The outline sketch also shows that the original conception was 
organized much more closely round John Barton's catastrophe, 
which is the pattern of an individual life confirming the existence of 
universal moral law. Although such a plot line, with its retribution 
and reward, can be found in all of Mrs. Gaskell's novels, it can be 
said to control only three of them, _Mary Barton_, _Ruth_ and the 
later Sylvia's Lovers, in which we have seen that the balance of 
interests controlling the author's imagination was changing, and 
that the pattern had for once to be imposed. But there is another


*9* A transcript by Clement Shorter is in the Brotherton Library, 15 
q., 10. See Appendix.
-- 234 --

sense in which we can say that Mrs. Gaskell moves naturally to 
wards a design within her structure, and this is in her inherently 
powerful sense of contrast and balance. The early novels show 
something of this in the way in which characters are contrasted, 
Mice Wilson with Mrs. Wilson, Jem with young Carson, Mr. Benson 
with Mr. Bradshaw. It first comes out fully in North and South with 
its highly wrought pattern, and it creates its own problems. That 
novel was, as we have seen, shaped from the beginning into a study 
of contrasts based on the feeling between Margaret Hale and John 
Thornton. The plot acts like a zipper to the two sides of the pattern, 
interlocking them while moving forward. It cannot have the 
inevitability in its conclusion that can be contrived for the history 
of one central character; we know the two sides will come together 
at a convenient point, but there seems no good reason why any 
particular point is chosen, other than convenience or a desire to 
finish. The contrivance of the conclusion is imposed on the pattern 
that the creative imagination has formed. *10*
In _Wives and Daughters_ Mrs. Gaskell solves her problem by 
synthesizing the two approaches, as she had synthesized her 
interest and attitudes. The moral patterns are themselves balanced 
and contrasted. The linear pattern is carried in the various histories 
with their sequences of action and consequences. The conclusion to 
Squire Hamley's history is a delicate balance of reconciliation and 
merited retribution, equally so in its way is Cynthia's marriage. So 
we could go on; justice, moral justice, is seen to be done to all, 
except for Mrs. Gibson who remains pattering on as Mr. Gibson's 
retribution. Yet the framework which holds these histories presents 
a social pattern, in equilibrium; its representatives keeping station 
while they suffer their individual fortunes. If we are ever to talk 
about significant form, then _Wives and Daughters_, for all its 
apparently casual manner, must be considered as an early and 
excellent example.

*10* Mrs. Gaskell claims in her preface that the pressures of 
serialization spoilt the end, in spite of amplification in the hook 
version. Yet she had wanted to add even another balancing element 
with its sub-plot (see Chap. 8). I cannot believe that Mrs. Gaskell 
could have rounded off her conception naturally at that stage of her 
development, she sees the conclusion but has to jump to reach it.

-- 235 --

When Miss Benson suggests that Ruth 'be passed off as a widow', 
the author interrupts the action to comment:
     Ah, tempter! unconscious tempter! Here was a way of 
     evading the trials for the poor little unborn child, of which 
     Mr. Benson had never thought. It was the decision - the 
     pivot, on which the fate of years moved; and he turned it 
     the wrong way. *11*

She adopts the term 'pivot' for a device which she was to use many 
times to set the pattern of the action; many times, as in _Ruth_, it is 
a moral pivot, controlling both the moral pattern and the plot. 
Ruth's early history and seduction are the necessary introduction on 
which the plot structure can be raised; the drama of discovery and 
consequence is inevitable from the moment of the pivotal decision.	

This early and conscious example contains the essential qualities of 
the moral pivot as Mrs. Gaskell often used it. The decision is a moral 
one (to acquiesce in a lie and a deception). The motives behind the 
decision are not necessarily bad (to save Ruth from public censure 
and her child from a bastard's position) but at the same time they 
lead to an evasion of the duty to accept the consequences for an 
action (on Benson's part of sheltering a 'fallen woman', on Ruth's 
part of facing her shame) and betray an element of selfishness. 
Furthermore the decision is not made by the main character but the 
consequences fall chiefly on her. The use of the moral pivot is easily 
recognizable in much of Mrs. Gaskell's work, though its position in 
the plot may vary. In _North and South_ it is placed early in Mr. 
Hale's decision to leave the church and Helstone, it is relatively 
early in _Wives and Daughters_, in Mr. Gibson's decision to marry 
and solve the problem of Molly. In _Mary Barton_ and _Sylvia's 
Lovers_ it is more centrally pivotal; the circumstances which lead 
up to Barton's agreement to murder must be presented, while a full 
presentation of character and background precedes Philip's decision 
to keep quiet about the press-ganging of Kinraid. But in each case 
the decision, once taken,


*11* _Ruth_, p. 121. The sentence reads as though the pivot was 
turned, an abnormal use of the word - unless it is 'the fate of years' 
that is turned.

-- 236 --

locks the pattern into position, demonstrating not simply that 
actions have consequences but also that they carry a heavy 
responsibility for the lives of others who may be affected by them. 
Each pivot moreover is germane to its particular context. In _Ruth_ 
we are reminded by the author's comment that morality is linked to 
sin, for although the tempter is immediately Faith Benson, the very 
word suggests that Satan is near by. Barton's decision is similarly 
accompanied by religious apostrophization. In two cases, those of 
Manasseh Hickson's demand that Lois marry him and of Philip's 
decision, sin and sexuality are linked together, whereas Paul's 
impulsive decision to tell Phillis that Holdsworth loves her is purely 
an emotional one, reflecting his inexperience. The 'morality' 
activating the pivot changes with the interests activating the novels.

It would have been impossible to handle this type of interrelation 
between theme and plot structure without a more than ordinarily 
capable command of plot construction and a correspondingly fertile 
imagination for story and incident. Invention came easily to Mrs. 
Gaskell, she puts into Faith Benson's mouth her own mock apologia:

     I do think I've a talent for fiction, it is so pleasant to 
     invent, and make the incidents dovetail together; and 
     after all, if we are to tell a lie, we may as well do it 
     thoroughly, or else it's of no use. *12*

Mrs. Gaskell took to fiction as to the manner born. Her progress can 
be seen as partly a long education in curbing and controlling to her 
needs a facility for the invention or appropriation of incident, 
particularly of the dramatic type, and subordinating it to the 
analysis of character, emotion, or relationships. One suspects that 
her short stories often acted as a safety-valve for a melodramatic 
streak. She began dramatically enough, her ideas possibly coloured 
by the popularity of the sensation novel and certainly affected by 
the new and thrilling art of detection. She wrote one of the early 
articles in praise of 'the Detective Police' and noted that:


*12*  _Ruth_, p. 149.	

-- 237 --

     there could be no more romances written on the same 
     kind of plot as Caleb Williams; the principal interest of 
     which, to the superficial reader, consists in the alternation 
     of hope and fear, that the hero may, or may not, escape 
     his pursuer. *13*

She was wrong, of course; cops and robbers carry on an eternal 
chase, although now it is the hero (mainly) who pursues; the 
detective story is the modern morality. But she was forecasting her 
own future. Such adventures were not to be her staple. _Mary 
Barton_ was luckily written before she consigned the chase to 
oblivion; for a hundred pages we follow Mary in pursuit of the 
witness who will prove her lover innocent, down the river after the 
boat that is carrying him away, while:

     full of the spirit of the chase, though as yet ignorant of 
     Mary's motives, the men sprung to hoist another sail. 

and watch him burst into the court-room in the nick of time. 
Nothing quite so exciting or self-contained as an episode appears 
again in the novels, if we except the complete digression of story 
within-a-story in _My Lady Ludlow_, but scenes of high drama still 
occur. Margaret flings herself in front of Thornton to save him from 
the rioters, Daniel leads the destruction of the press-gang's 
headquarters, but such incidents although dramatic have not the 
self-justifying element of sheer excitement that was worked into 
the first novel, where murder, fire and rescue are the prelude. Mrs. 
Gaskell turns more and more to analysis. By the end, in _Wives and 
Daughters_, there is little of such drama left.' *5* The villain, if he is 
impressive enough to deserve the name, has his share in the minor 
mystery, but is tamed on an evening walk by the threat of being 
reported to his employer.	

The love of a mystery remained, however, even though melodrama 
was relegated. _Mary Barton_ qualifies also as an early detective 
story, complete with false clues, circumstantial evidence, wrongful 
arrest and an alibi. Typically the mystery is not kept long from the 
reader, but an element of suspense is involved in the


*13* 'Disappearances' (1851), _Cranford_, p. 412.	
*14* _Mary Barton_, p. 342.	
*15* But it still appears in her more off-hand work. 'Crowley Castle' 
has murder, jealousy, revenge, dissipation, remorse and passion as 
its ingredients.	

-- 238 --

nature of its solution. In _Ruth_ we wait to see how the heroine's 
secret will be revealed, and whether her seducer will be able to 
harm her. The detective reappears in _North and South_ with 
Frederick Hale's return and the mysterious death of the threatening 
porter. We have Kinraid's disappearance in _Sylvia's Lovers_, while 
in _Wives and Daughters_ there is not only Cynthia's guarded secret 
but that of Osborne's wife. These are examples of a mystery used to 
create or promote action in the plot, and to give us the suspense of 
'when' or 'how', with Mrs. Gaskell laying the clues with care. If we 
turn to her shorter fiction we find the interest clearly marked in 
such stories as 'The Squire's Story' (a straight detective story), 'The 
Poor Clare', 'The Manchester Marriage' and the long suspense of 'A 
Dark Night's Work'. The creation of a mystery, with its effect on 
those involved, becomes an element in the moral pattern. When 
Margaret Hale lies to Thornton about her brother, it is to preserve 
the necessary secrecy about his being in England, but the lie works 
against her after the need for secrecy has gone. Cynthia 
Kirkpatrick's case is an even clearer one; her whole life is one of 
deception and misery that cannot be lifted until the mystery that is 
the cause the promise to Preston - is cleared up.	

The gradual disappearance of coincidence as a spring to release 
action is another sign that motivation and conduct were becoming 
steadily more dependent on character and natural circumstance. It 
is only too easy to point out the workings of coincidence, to ask why 
Ruth's lover must return, why Thornton has to ride by the station to 
see Margaret and Frederick and why the porter should be one of 
Frederick's crew, why Philip should see Kinraid captured and then 
hear gossip about him every time he is prepared to reveal what 
happened. Coincidence is a staple of the beginner, and some is 
necessary in any action, but clumsy chance is less and less obvious 
as Mrs. Gaskell gains control of her medium. In _Wives and 
Daughters_ there is only the blurting out of Osborne's marriage 
when Molly is present, which hardly affects the action but is used 
to give the reader a piece of necessary information.	

Nor was the progress of 'the whole tale' affected by the	

-- 239 --

demands of serial publication. Even though, of the works we have 
been considering, _Cranford_, _North and South_, 'Lois the Witch'. 
_Cousin Phillis_ and _Wives and Daughters_ appeared serially, they 
were not conceived as serials. Mrs. Gaskell had produced two full-
length novels before she was induced to agree to serial publication 
for _North and South_, which has already been discussed at some 
length. It would be untrue to say that she altogether ignored the 
realities of serialization. The MS. of 'Lois the Witch' is headed 'Lois 
the Witch/Part 1st', and in the top left-hand corner is added 'In 3 
parts', the three sections each being numbered afresh from I. But 
they have respectively 25, 33, and 58 pages, hardly a concession to 
editorial planning, and they follow the natural stages of Lois's life. 
*16* Nor do the episodes pay much attention to that other aspect of 
serial publication 'which normally demands an "effect" of some sort 
at each monthly fall of the curtain', *17* they close undramatically 
but appropriately. _Cousin Phillis_ has four sections for the four 
numbers of the _Cornhill_ which similarly mark stages in the story 
without any sense of climax. In the 'nouvelles', with the distinct 
technique that the shorter form calls for, such stages are more 
naturally and necessarily marked, but the movement is still a 
quietly continuous flow rather than a series of climaxes. In the long 
novels, with their common pattern of introduction and 
development, it is hardly possible to point to one rather than 
another as having been written for serialization.

The continuity and cumulative effect of time, with its accompanying 
stream of experience, is a positive feature in Mrs. Gaskell's work, 
although she does not consciously manipulate it, and for a creator of 
elaborately detailed plots she is peculiarly unable to follow time 
through the calendar. She is not happy with actual dates, she does 
not visualize the actual passing of days and hours as Jane Austen 
did; even when she works from the archive material for _Sylvia's 
Lovers_ the dating sequence is impossible.	


*16* The MS. is in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. It was 
not written for Dickens (the last section may have been meant as a 
double one), but it was published in AYR in its three sections.	
*17*  From _Fraser's_ review of _Vanity Fair_, 1848, quoted in G. 
Tillotson, _Thackeray the Novelist_, C.U.P., 1954, p. 23.	

-- 240 --

She sees change but is not concerned to mark it off on the calendar; 
she is aware of the process of dissolution and alteration, of the 
perspective of tradition; the social historian in her is sensitive to the 
fact that society and manners and conduct alter with it. So 'Morton 
Hall' begins with the statement:

     Our old Hall is to be pulled down, and they are going to 
     build streets on the site.

and moves backwards and forwards over two hundred years to its 

     the street they are going to build right through the 
     rooms through which Alice Carr was dragged . . . is to be 
     called Carr Street. *18*

which creates a continuity even in destruction. We recall the 
opening of _Ruth_, of the _Life_, of _Mary Barton_. Mrs. Gaskell is 
as intensely aware of time's continuum as any novelist. This is no 
less so when she concentrates on the 'present' of a novel, she sees 
her characters moving along and being altered by time's stream. We 
find therefore that it is always clearly marked, but as periods of 
development rather than as segments of a calendar. The seasons as 
they pass are sometimes her measure, as in _Cousin Phillis_, 
sometimes historical or social events are used, and always there is 
the growth of the heroine to maturity as a gauge of innocence and 
experience. The eternal laws reveal themselves on earth, in time, 

     reckoning time by events and thoughts, and not by clock 
     or dialplate. *19*

_Narrative Method_
Mrs. Gaskell begins as a moralizing author who is prepared to step 
forward and point the moral, as an author who intervenes to tell us 
how we should interpret a character or an action. She proceeds, in 
other words, by the method of authorial commentary, using the 
novel as a screen behind which she could speak, as she admitted to 
Furnivall when asked to support by public letter the protest at 
Maurice's dismissal from King's College:


*18* _Cranford_, pp. 446 and 488-9.	
*19* _Mary Barton_, p. 389.

-- 241 --

I could not - physically _could_ not, I believe, speak out more than 
a blurting sentence of abuse, tantamount to the box on the ear, - a 
"That's a downright falsehood," I might say, - or even _worse_, not 
_more_. It is different when speaking as the character in a story - 
or even as the author of a book. Do you think I [could] say or write 
in a letter (except one that I was sure would be regarded as private 
by some dear friend) what I have said both in _Mary Barton_ and 
_Ruth_. It may seem strange and I can't myself account for it - but 
it is 50.20

She ends by withdrawing almost completely from the narrative, her 
authorial omniscience reserved with few exceptions for the task of 
unfolding the story. I have already drawn attention to the way in 
which the _Cranford_ world demanded another, more intimate and 
personal narrator; there is something more to be said of this. But we 
need to know also how she handled what was then the standard 
technique of commentary before we can see clearly how she fuses 
the two types of narration in _Wives and Daughters_.	

In the novels of religious and social purpose she steps in as author 
to augment what the characters can themselves say, at the same 
time identifying herself with the reader, and both herself and the 
reader with humanity at large, with comments such as:

     He was like too many of us: he did not place his future 
     life in the hands of God . . . *21*

Many examples of exhortation or moral lesson have been given in 
previous chapters, and this point I shall not labour. My concern is 
with the extent to which this authorial presence persists.	

The example just given is from a later novel; the comment is cast 
into a form which assumes, and therefore helps to create, a sense of 
common ground for the reader and the author, who has stepped 
humbly back to be one of 'us'. The author as commentator separates 
herself in this way from the more impersonal author


*20* Letter to F. J. Furnivail dated 9 Dec. 1853, Huntington Library, 
ref. FU. 312. Frederick Dennison Maurice (the Ion of a Unitarian 
minister) was dismissed in 1853 from hi, post as Professor of 
English at King's College, London, because of unorthodox views on 
eternal punishment. The 'abuse' would be for Maurice's opponents. 
In a later letter (FU. 314) she agrees to collect signatures for a 
*21* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 187.

-- 242 --

as narrator, the one who talks about 'he'. But the narrator's voice in 
the early work is that of the story teller talking to her audience, 
eager to strike up a personal relationship:
          I must tell you; I must put into words the dreadful 
     secret which she believed that bit of paper had revealed 
     to her.	
          Her father was the murderer. *22*

Or she adopts the tone of familiar knowledge and shared 
background, with the artless air of passing on a story or a piece of 
gossip that suggests equality of experience in the reader as well as 
          I need not tell you how the mother spent the weary 
     hours. But yet I will tell you something. *23*

This is probably the most naive form of narrative comment, and 
disappears from her work as she gains control of her medium, 
although the sense of human kinship is maintained by the 
occasional statement such as:

     you, reader, I, writer, have each our great sorrow bearing 
     down on us. *24*

The omniscient author remains, however, to take short cuts in 

     There is always something aggravating in being told, 
     that the mood in which we are now viewing things 
     strongly will not be our mood at some other time . . . 
     Mr. Bradshaw was not soothed by this last remark of 
     Mr. Benson's. *25*

explanation which can move through a generalization on human 
nature into an item of character analysis that moves us back into 
the main stream of the narration. Such generalizations on humanity 
and society persist to the end, brief observations which are the 
irreduceable minimum of comment that Mrs. Gaskell could not 
dispense with, which are part of her flavour, often used briefly to 
illuminate a scene which does not permit of expansion, as


*22* _Mary Barton_, p. 282.	
*23* 'Lizzie Leigh', _Cranford_, p. 214.
*24* 'A Dark Night's Work', _Cousin Phillis_, p. 434.	
*25* _Ruth_, p. 402.

-- 243 --

when the labourer's daughter-in-law has told Squire Hamley that 
the man is dying:

     Poor people acknowledge the inevitableness and the 
     approach of death in a much more straightforward manner 
     than is customary among the more educated. The Squire 
     was shocked at her hard-heartedness . . . *26*

The easy style and tone is that of the observer, not the moralist, 
and unless we are too rigidly conditioned by the twentieth-century 
reaction against direct authorial comment, the ease and illumination 
of such remarks are part of the attraction Mrs. Gaskell has to offer.	

She remains also consciously in control of the progress of her 
narrative, although unobtrusively and for the most part 
impersonally so, giving as much as possible of its development over 
to dialogue. The length of _Wives and Daughters_ is partly due to 
the fact that we spend so much time listening to what people have 
to say, and how they say it. But she is prepared to be forthright 
when necessary, though skilful in her manner:

     Molly grew up among these quiet people in calm 
     monotony of life, without any greater event than that 
     which has been recorded - the being left behind at the 
     Towers - until she was nearly seventeen. *27*

The reference back is made to connect with the new events, and to 
introduce a new aspect of the Towers in Lord Hollingford's 
relationship to Mr. Gibson. 'Time passes' in a quietly workmanlike 
way. But at one time she openly admits her problem and her 
method while revealing a detachment from her creation:

     These changes in humour and disposition, here described 
     all at once, were in themselves a series of delicate 
     alterations of relative conduct spread over many months - 
     many winter months of long evenings and bad weather, 
     which bring out discords of character, as a dash of cold 
     water brings out the fading colours of an old fresco. *28*

We can see her beginning to stand away from her work and her 
readers in this fashion in _Sylvia's Lovers_, when the analysis of 


*26* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 388.	
*27* ibid., p. 38.	
*28* ibid., p. 482.	

-- 244 --

duct and feeling began to be the major interest. She turns there to 
look at the characters she has created:	

          At this hour, all the actors in this story having played 
     out their parts and gone to their rest, there is something 
     touching in recording the futile efforts made by Philip to 
     win from Sylvia the love he yearned for. *29*

or she can address them direct from the observer-commentator's 
          Ay! go into the warm hearth, mother and child, now 
     the gay cavalcade has gone out of sight, and the chill of 
     night has succeeded to the sun's setting! Husband and 
     father, steal out into the cold dark street, and seek some 
     poor cheap lodging where you may rest your weary bones, 
     and cheat your more weary heart into forgetfulness in 
     sleep! The pretty story of the Countess Phillis, who 
     mourned for her husband's absence so long, is a fable 
     of old times; or rather say, Earl Guy never wedded his 
     wife, knowing that one she loved better than him was 
     alive all the time she had believed him to be dead. *30*

Such comments are exceptional. They suggest, with some allowance 
for the rhetoric which opens the second one, the voice of Thackeray, 
and his influence is a probable one. It may be more than 
coincidental that the girl Kinraid marries went to a school run by a 
Miss Dobbin, and that the selfish and handsome heir of Squire 
Hamley is called Osborne. Mrs. Gaskell admired him and was 
moving into the _Cornhill_ influence, though it is possible that his 
manner is also transmitted through Charlotte Bront‘. *31* The fact 
that they occur at all is a mark of her growing awareness of the 
process of creation.	

The use of the observer within the action has been traced from 
_Cranford_ (although the slightly earlier story of 'Mr. Harrison's 
Confessions' shows by its use of a narrator 'hero' that the process of 
identification had begun), but it was a method that imposed itself 
gradually. The first paper of _Cranford_ looks backward in method 
and tone to the discursive eighteenth-century essayist of


*29* _Sylvia's Lovers_, p. 141.
*30* ibid., p. 497. Did this suggest the title name for _Cousin 
*31* 'A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a 
play, and when I draw up the Curtain this time, you must fancy . . .' 
(_Jane Eyre_, World's Classics, 1955, p. 107) and 'You expected 
bread, and you have got a stone; break your teeth on it, and don't 
shriek because the nerves are martyrized . . .' (_Shirley_, World's 
Classics, 1947, p. 103).

-- 245 --

manners, appropriately for the old-fashioned society described; the 
'I' of the narrator is the friendly and ironic descendent of Mr. 
Tatler, of an age with the people she describes and talking of them 
as an equal. Imperceptibly this 'I' changes. Miss Jenkyns dies, the 
years pass, but the narrator grows younger; she becomes dependent 
on a father for permission to visit her friends; she becomes the 
'poor girl! she did her best I've no doubt,' *32* who brought the 
pretty, neat, middle-aged cap' *33* which disappointed Miss Matty. 
She takes on an identity, introducing herself three-quarters of the 
way through the series and explaining her presence:
     I must say a word or two here about myself. I have 
     spoken of my father's old friendship for the Jenkyns 
     family; indeed, I am not sure if there was not some 
     distant relationship. *34*

finally to answer to the name of Mary Smith when the long-lost 
Peter returns. The objective narrator has arrived. Such a character 
should not however be confused with the type of narrator that 
Isherwood imagined as a camera. Mary Smith, who sets a precedent 
for those that follow, is one with the group she describes, her 
sympathies are actively involved, but she can stand sufficiently 
apart from the central issues to report them clearly, her own views 
and comments touching the narrative with irony.	

It was a method natural to the social observer and easily developed 
to deal with a range of people and emotions by altering the 
character and interests of the narrator. It was used for articles and 
for occasional stories, such as 'Morton Hall' and 'My French Master', 
and when the major effort of the _Life_ was called for, Mrs. Gaskell 
adopted it naturally, leaving characters to speak for themselves in 
their letters and quietly describing background or linking the 
narrative together with little direct intervention. By the time of 
_My Lady Ludlow_ the narrator is fully introduced as a character. 
Margaret Dawson is established in her own right and has a story of 
her own. With _Cousin Phillis_ the narrator has become a major 
character. Paul Manning is catalyst to the action as well as observer, 
his own mind and feelings are important. Mrs. Gaskell has moved 
from the observer to the central intelligence.	


*32* _Cranford_, p. 99.	
*33* ibid., p. 98.	
*34* ibid., p. 141.

-- 246 --

_Wives and Daughters_, as I have pointed out, was far too 
complicated and too long to he narrated in the first person. The 
omniscient author controls it, starting it off and setting the tone of 
easy and comfortable familiarity:
     To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country 
     there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in 
     that town and in that bed there lay a little girl. *35*

The moralist however is almost entirely absent, even the social 
historian as commentator is very much in the background; the 
author as narrator moves the story calmly along, supplying 
background, setting scenes, introducing characters, but keeping her 
personality out. To supply the standard and provide a consistent 
viewpoint from within the novel we have, fully developed, the 'fine 
central intelligence' that was to become a feature of Henry James's 
technique. Not surprisingly James had admired _Wives and 
Daughters_, and before he had himself set up as a novelist had 
drawn attention to 'The gentle skill with which the reader is slowly 
involved in the tissue of the story.' *36*	

Mrs. Gaskell did not control her 'central intelligence' as rigidly as 
James was to in his later novels; her treatment of Molly is closer to 
the idea that James applied to _The Portrait of a Lady_, where he 
was concerned about 'positively organising an ado about Isabel 
Archer,' *37* and retrospectively analysed why he came to see the 
need to concentrate on:

     the view of her relation to those surrounding her. Make 
     it predominantly a view of _their_ relation and the trick [of 
     avoiding too direct a concentration on the heroine] is 
     played . . . "Place the centre of the subject in the young 
     woman's own consciousness," I said to


*35* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 1.
*36* op cit., p. 153. One wonders whether a phrase in the novel 
stuck in his mind. Molly we learn is 'Seventeen. Its a very awkward 
age for a motherless girl.' (p.114.) The phrase is used again in a 
precise context by the precocious Cynthia, about herself and her 
mother: 'As soon as the holidays came round, she was off to some 
great house or another; and I daresay I was at a very awkward age 
for her to have me lounging about in a drawing-room, when callers 
came. Girls at the age I was then are so terribly keen at scenting out 
motives. . they've no distinct notion of what arc the truths and 
falsehoods of polite life.' (p. 545.) This is the basic situation of 
James's _The Awkward Age_.	
*37* _The Art of the Novel_, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950, p. 48.

-- 247 --

     myself . . . Stick to _that_ - for the centre; put the heaviest 
     weight into _that_ scale, which will be so largely the scale 
     of her relation to herself. Make her only interested 
     enough, at the same time, in the things that are not 
     herself, and this relation need n't fear to be too limited. 

I am not of course claiming that Mrs. Gaskell approached a novel, as 
James did, looking for interesting difficulties; my point is that in 
creating a form to contain Molly Gibson and the themes that wove 
themselves into the total vision, she found and successfully used a 
method that enables us to quote from his theory to describe a key 

In the process of developing the appropriate method for this, Mrs. 
Gaskell's most complex novel, the 'I' of the first person narrator is 
merged with the author's narrative omniscience. By the use of an 
oblique form of interior monologue that shades from third person to 
first person and back, we share Molly's feelings and thoughts while 
following Mrs. Gaskell's analysis of them in one continuous process. 
It is a method that develops from the close description of thought 
and feeling, the sense of identification, that was present from the 
start; we can see it coming into use in _North and South_:

     Margaret turned to the envelope: it was marked "Too late." 
     The letter had probably been trusted to some careless 
     waiter, who had forgotten to post it. Oh! what slight cobwebs 
     of chances stand between us and Temptation! Frederick 
     had been safe, and out of England twenty, nay, thirty hours 
     ago; and it was only about seventeen hours since she had 
     told a falsehood to baffle pursuit, which even then would 
     have been vain. How faithless she had been! *39*

The narrator begins the description, but it concentrates on 
Margaret's reactions; only the pronoun 'us' in the first exclamation 
indicates that the author has come in with a generalization; while 
the 'she' of the second exclamation is as much Margaret's as the 
author's. In each case the sudden change to speech-like exclamation 
identifies it with the train of Margaret's thought that surrounds it. 
By the time of _Wives and Daughters_ this type of oblique 
monologue is used consistently and for relatively long


*38* _The Art of the Novel_, p. 51.           
*39* _North and South_, p. 339.	

-- 248 --

stretches, as in the scene where Molly learns of Osborne's marriage, 
of which the following passage is a small part:

     These and similar speeches had given Molly the impression 
     of the future Mrs. Osborne as some beautiful, grand young 
     lady . . . Osborne too, who had spoken with such languid 
     criticism to Mrs. Gibson about various country belles, and 
     even in his own home was apt to give himself airs - only at 
     home his airs were poetically fastidious, while with Mrs. 
     Gibson they had been socially fastidious - what unspeakably 
     elegant beauty had be chosen for his wife? Who had 
     satisfied him, and yet, satisfying him, had to have her 
     marriage kept in concealment from his parents? At length 
     Molly tore herself up from her wonderings. It was of no 
     use: she could not find out . . . *40*

The author is present to indicate stages in Molly's reflection, but for 
most of the time is so closely identified with Molly's disturbed mind 
that its uneven flow takes over the structure of the English and its 
direct questions mingle with the stream of thought. Mrs. Gaskell has 
slipped into Molly's consciousness and speaks from it. Sometimes 
she will use the same device for another character as the viewpoint 
shifts, and the centre of interest moves away for the time from 
Molly; this shift of viewpoint and its accompanying comment is one 
of the chief sources of Mrs. Gaskell's irony. The result is that we are 
fully in possession of emotions as well as facts as the relationships 
develop; in each episode the reader can draw his own conclusions. 
Our attitude is obviously controlled in other ways also, by the style 
and by the selection of events and characters presented. But as far 
as the reader's relation to characters and incident is concerned, the 
author rarely interferes. Once indeed she comes in with a quick 
thrust at slanted narration when she comments on Molly's 
embarrassment at having to tell the Misses Browning of her visit to 
the Towers while conscious of her step-mother's 'critical listening':

     She had to tell it all with a mental squint; the surest way 
     to spoil a narration. *41*
In making these c]aims for a controlling art that moulds the 
structure of Mrs. Gaskell's work, and that develops to accom-


*40* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 243.	
*41* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 726.	

-- 249 --

modate her changing purpose as a novelist, I cannot claim that 
every step and every practice had been deliberated upon; I would 
be very surprised if that were the case. It is possible to show 
however that we are dealing with a writer who is aware of her craft 
and whose achievement is based on a conscious practice of it. This 
consciousness is far easier to demonstrate where style is concerned.

-- 250 --


_The Development of Technique: Style_

THE development of the novelist is reflected interestingly in her use 
of language, although it would give a wrong impression to talk 
simply of a development in style. The novelist of the Manchester 
world moves immediately into dialect, while the novelist of the 
_Cranford_ world records the accents of educated and genteel 
English. The distinction is obviously not clear cut, as the narrative 
element of the dialect novels is written in educated English while 
even in _Wives and Daughters_ a small dialect stratum survives in 
the speech and invitation notes of Mrs. Goodenough and her circle. 
It is easier and more accurate to think of Mrs. Gaskell as a writer 
who uses 'appropriate language' *1* rather than as a conscious 
stylist, in spite of her great interest in words and usage. Her style 
can be compared within its own range to Wordsworth's. It can be 
flat and undistinguished when energy and imagination fail to fill it, 
can become ludicrous when the writer strains for effect, or allows 
sentiment to escape the scrutiny of observation or thought. But also, 
like Wordsworth's, it can achieve a surprising fitness and 
effectiveness when the author's imaginative power and creative 
energy fill it. In _Cranford_, 'Lois the Witch' and _Cousin Phillis_, 
different as those stories are from each other, we could not imagine 
or wish them written otherwise. _Cranford_ probably owes 
something to being written without strain and without the pressure 
of a publication date, in episodes when the author felt like writing. 
The other two are

*1* I borrow the term from Professor Quirk, whose inaugural 
lecture on 'Charles Dickens and Appropriate Language' (Univ. of 
Durham, 1959) covers much ground in a few pages. I give the term 
a slightly different use for my purpose.	

-- 251 --

nouvelles', a form in which she could sustain a creative effort 
without flagging. But when she was not on form, or when her 
stamina came under strain, the style could flag. Only in the _Life of 
Charlotte Bront‘_; when a sustained creative spell was inspired by 
personal sympathy and a desire to know and present the truth, 
does the style hold out at its best over a long work. Yet in its own 
way _Wives and Daughters_ is also successful. There has been 
criticism of its style even by those who admire it, and it is in fact 
fairly easy to point to weaknesses. Yet much of this criticism seems 
to me to be misplaced, for the easy, sometimes gossipy and 
seemingly every-day prose is appropriate to the tale being told, 
heightening only when the emotional level rises.	

To think in terms of appropriate language helps to explain the non-
dialect as well as the dialect work. It emphasizes Mrs. Gaskell's 
awareness that all forms of English, particularly of spoken English, 
whether those of a Lady Ludlow or a Bessy Higgins, are 'dialects'. 
This awareness of the varieties and social distinctions revealed by 
the use of language crops up constantly in references throughout 
her work, such as the one she puts into the mouth of Philip when he 
answers Sylvia's complaints about the hard road to literacy:

     "I'm sure I wish the man were farred who plagues his 
     brains wi' striking out new words. Why can't folks just 
     ha' a set on 'em for good and a'?"	
          "Why! you'll be after using two or three hundred 
     yoursel' every day as you live, Sylvie; and yet I must use 
     a great many as you never think on about t' shop; and t' 
     folks in t' fields want their set, let alone the high English 
     that parsons and lawyers speak. *2*

When considered as appropriate language the use of dialect falls 
into its place in Mrs. Gaskell's development as a novelist, reflecting 
the shift of her interest away from the Manchester world along 
with her sociologist's observation of the features which distinguish 
social groups from each other.	

The way in which dialect is used demands a closer look, but it must 
be thought of in relation to the use of her natural style, which needs 
to be considered first. This is to be found most


*2* _Sylvia's Lovers_, pp. 113-14.	

-- 252 --

obviously in her essays when she speaks in her own person, but it 
is also the prose of the narrative element in her novels. Its 
distinguishing register *3* is that of informative ease, the note of an 
intelligent but unpedantic observer. It is the note of the 'salon' and 
of educated gossip that she admired in the letters of Mme de 
SŽvignŽ', whose biography she had hoped one day to write. It is the 
note she ascribes to Bellingham when he comes to Eccleston as Mr. 
Donne; anticipating linguistic definition in the way she separates the 
tone of his breeding from outward signs of wealth and rank:

     It was nothing like this; it was something indescribable - 
     a quiet being at ease, and expecting every one else to be so - 
     an attention to women, which was so habitual as to be 
     unconsciously exercised to those subordinate persons in 
     Mr. Bradshaw's family - a happy choice of simple and 
     expressive words, some of which it must be confessed 
     were slang, but fashionable slang, and that makes all 
     the difference - a measured, graceful way of utterance, 
     with a style of pronunciation quite different to that of 
     Eccleston. All these put together make but a part of the 
     indescribable whole which unconsciously affected Mr. 
     Bradshaw . . . *4:

A more stylistic description of this ideal, one that points back to 
_Cranford_, is found in her praise of a fragment of Branwell 
Bront‘'s work, whose characters she describes as drawn:

     in perfectly pure and simple language which distinguishes 
     so many of Addison's papers in the 'Spectator.' *5*

while her view of language as individual expression is implicit in 
her criticism of Mrs. Gibson's speech, whose words:

     were always like ready-made clothes, and never 
     fitted individual thoughts. *6*

Her style reflects her sense of good manners in the relationship 
between author, subject and reader. Sometimes, as in the _Life_, 
she is more serious, the biography demanding a certain touch of

*3* I use 'register' in the technical sense it has in linguistics, to 
indicate the social relationship which is reflected in the use of 
language, e.g. of teacher to pupil. Linguistics also uses 'style' in a 
limited sense, but this limited use can create difficulty and I 
therefore use 'style' in its generally accepted sense.
*4* _Ruth_, p. 259.	
*5* _Life_, p. 185.	
*6* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 355.	

-- 253 --

solemnity or emotion appropriate to the story it has to tell, just as it 
calls naturally for the full range of vocabulary of the educated 
biographer. In other cases, as when Paul Manning narrates _Cousin 
Phillis_, the language is simpler, its overtones those of the speech 
appropriate to narrator and setting. The author behaves, 
linguistically, according to the situation. One need hardly add that 
success depends on the situation being one that the author can 
behave naturally in.	

This relationship to behaviour is clearly marked in 'Company 
Manners', an essay where comments on social behaviour include 
scattered remarks which amount to as near a statement of Mrs. 
Gaskell's general aims as a writer as we have. I have already 
quoted her comments on the obligations of a narrator; another 
comment discusses the sense of being at ease. Noting that some 
people 'put on their agreeableness with their gowns,' she finds that 
certain people are:

     more pleasant in society in their second-best than in 
     their very best dresses . . . With their best gowns they put 
     on an unusual fineness of language; they say "commence" 
     instead of "begin;" they inquire if they may "assist," instead 
     of asking if they may "help" you to anything. *7*

One tendency of Mrs. Gaskell's work is steadily away from an 
'unusual fineness.	

This basic narrative style, which is to be distinguished from the 
prose of the author as moralist or commentator, and to some extent 
from that of a narrative character, is adequate without being 
remarkable; it does not obtrude while its flow carries the reader 
smoothly along. In the prose of connecting narrative these are 
virtues, but they can lead to faults. The chief of these is that fluency 
is not checked by sufficient control; her style sometimes needed 
pruning and more care taken over its vocabulary. Mrs. Gaskell 
admits to having 'a very runaway kind of mind,' *8* it is reflected 
in the flow of detail and the temptation, too often unresisted, to 
accept the handiest word or phrase instead of searching for 
something more fitting or less hackneyed. The following


*7* 'Company Manners', _Ruth_, p. 506.
*8* _Letters_, p. 52.	

-- 254 --	

extract from _Sylvia's Lovers_, written when she was experienced 
and claimed to be taking particular care, demonstrates these points:

     It was different with Sylvia. She was going to choose 
     her first cloak: not to have an old one of her mother's, 
     that had gone down through two sisters, dyed for the 
     fourth time (and Molly would have been glad had even 
     this chance been hers), but to buy a bran-new duffle 
     cloak all for herself, with not even an elder authority to 
     curb her as to price, only Molly to give her admiring 
     counsel, and as much sympathy as was consistent with 
     a little patient envy of Sylvia's happier circumstances. 
     Every now and then they wandered off from the one 
     grand subject of thought; but Sylvia, with unconscious 
     art, soon brought the conversation round to the fresh 
     consideration of the respective merits of grey and 
     scarlet. These girls were walking bare-foot and carrying 
     their shoes and stockings in their hands during the first 
     part of their way; but as they were drawing near 
     Monkshaven they stopped, and turned aside along a 
     foot-path that led from the main-road down to the 
     banks of the Dee. There were great stones in the river 
     about here, round which the waters gathered and 
     eddied and formed deep pools. Molly sate down on the 
     grassy bank to wash her feet; but Sylvia, more active 
     (or perhaps lighter-hearted with the notion of the 
     cloak in the distance), placed her basket on a gravelly 
     bit of shore, and, giving a long spring, seated herself 
     on a stone almost in the middle of the stream. Then 
     she began dipping her little rosy toes in the cold 
     rushing water and whisking them out with childish 
     glee. *9*

It flows easily, carrying the reader on, but there is a monotony in 
the repetitive construction, with its pattern of statement and 
extension, and the contrast of the 'but' repeated four times. The 
detail creates the scene, but the descriptions - adjectives and 
phrases - are not precise. The simplicity of scene and character is 
blurred by the formal clichŽs of educated language such as 'elder 
authority,' 'was consistent,' 'fresh consideration of their respective 
merits,' while when a simple freshness is tried for it appears as the 
sentimental clichŽ of 'little rosy toes.	

Such narrative sequences rarely continue for many pages, Mrs. 
Gaskell relies greatly on dialogue. But when they come they may 
pay for their ease by a slackening of attention in the reader as he


*9* _Sylvia's Lovers_, pp. 12-13.	

-- 255 --

drifts on to the next scene, and a consequent lowering of tension or 

The style alters with the relationship of the novelist to the story. 
The informative, descriptive ease develops firmness and factual 
authority when she slips into the vein of the social historian, while 
as moralist or commentator she sometimes steps forward with a 
conscious rhetoric that draws on the style of the pulpit, and stands 
out sharply from the unobtrusive run of the narrative:
          To whom shall the outcast prostitute tell her tale? 
     Who will give her help in the day of need? Here is the 
     leper-sin, and all stand aloof dreading to be counted 
     unclean. *10*

But this note, with its overtones of sermon or of the Bible, dies 
away as the novels cease to be vehicles for indignation or 
exhortation; the last echoes sound in _Sylvia's Lovers_.	

A more serious weakness has already been mentioned in earlier 
chapters. Mrs. Gaskell fails, sometimes grotesquely, when she tries 
to convey the actual force of passionate emotion or dramatic 
intensity, instead of observing the behaviour it causes. It is a 
peculiar limitation, for she can write powerfully as long as she 
remains objective. There are few novelists who could have 
described the scene of misery in the Davenports' basement with the 
controlled effectiveness of detail that she shows in _Mary Barton_, 
or could have etched with such quiet sympathy Lady Ludlow's grief 
at the death of her last son. But when she tries to show the actual 
magnitude of Higgins's grief for his daughter's death, she loses 
touch with reality. The image created is ludicrous:

     throwing his body half across the table, he shook it and 
     every piece of furniture in the room, with his violent 
     sobs. *11*

The passion of Thornton, proposing and being refused, produces 
another ludicrous image dressed in clichŽ:

     He held her hand tight in his. He panted as he listened 
     for what should come. He threw the hand away with 
     indignation as he heard her icy tone. *12*


*10* _Mary Barton_, p. 182.	
*11* _North and South_, p. 260.	
*12* ibid., p. 231.

-- 256 --

I have said that in drawing Margaret Hale she drew a heroine for a 
love story without at the time having interest in or insight into 
young love. The result is an abstraction to match the one quoted 
from Mrs. Henry Wood:

     She sat facing him and facing the light; her full beauty 
     met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of 
     the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as 
     she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face 
     with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve; 
     her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet 
     maiden freedom. *13*

Fashions in beauty and description have changed, but it is reliance 
on clichŽ and stereotype, not change of fashion, that kills the 
description for a modern reader.	

In these quotations we see Mrs. Gaskell out of her depth, writing of 
what she has either not observed or not felt, and without the self-
criticism or stylistic sensitivity that would have made her visualize 
what she had described. _North and South_ is a more artificial novel 
than her others, it is true; for that reason the faults inherent in her 
style show up more clearly. Her final work to a great extent creates 
a strength from her limitations. The description of Molly has 
already been given; we can add the description of her grief when 
she hears of her father's impending marriage:

     When she had once got to the seat, she broke out with 
     suppressed passion of grief. She did not care to analyse 
     the sources of her tears and sobs - her father was going 
     to be married again - her father was angry with her; she 
     had done very wrong - he had gone away displeased; she 
     had lost his love; he was going to be married - away 
     from her - away from his child - his little daughter - 
     forgetting her own dear, dear mother. So she thought 
     in a tumultuous kind of way, sobbing till she was 
     wearied out, and had to gain strength by being quiet 
     for a time, to break forth into her passion of tears 
     afresh. She had cast herself on the ground - that 
     natural throne for violent sorrow - and leant up 
     against the old moss-grown seat; sometimes burying 
     her face in her

*13* _North and South_, p. 71. We also hear of 'her beautiful lip 
curled in a slight disdain' (p. 31), and her 'flashing eye and dilating 
nostril' (p. 53) among other characteristics of a proud heroine.	

-- 257 --

hands; sometimes clasping them together, as if by the tight painful 
grasp of her fingers she could deaden mental suffering. *14*

This is appropriate to Molly, it is natural and its detail of behaviour 
rings true. We need not pretend too much for it, but it is effective in 
its context and the faults are under control.	

The gift for inventing and describing detail is present from the 
beginning, a reflection of her own delight in observation and 
curiosity. Mary Smith's hardly suppressed impatience with Miss 
Matty's comments:

     Oh dear! how I wanted facts instead of reflections, before 
     those letters were concluded! *15*

echoes her own impatience; the novels of the _Cranford_ world in 
particular are built up with the density of detail she herself 
demanded from life:

     Our Times of today has taken away my breath - Who - 
     What, Where, Wherefore, Why - oh! do be a woman and 
     give me all the possible details. *16*

she wrote about an unexpected engagement - to a man, a woman 
would not need the request.	

It is possible to understand the justification behind Dickens's 
reaction when Mrs. Gaskell refused to accept his editing of the 
proofs of _North and South_. He had, as he told Wilkie Collins with 
some self-righteousness:

     gone over the proofs with great pains - had of course 
     taken out the stiflings - hard plungings, lungeings [sic] 
     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." *17*

Some of the blue pencil must have been at work on the novel's 
length and wealth of incident, but much of his scorn is obviously 
directed at the type of effect that has been discussed. The stiflings 
and other convulsions disappear from her later work with the


*14* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 128.	
*15* _Cranford_, p. 56.
*16* _Brotherton_, 15 q. 9. Letter to Mr. Fox, 1859.	
*17* Quoted in _Hopkins_, p. 149.

-- 258 --

attitudes that nourished them, but one is left with a feeling that a 
little editorial discipline might have done some good where the 
weakenings were concerned.

When Mrs. Gaskell decided to use the Lancashire dialect she was 
able to draw on a considerable local tradition of dialect study and 
literature to supplement her own interest. In particular there was 
the work of John Collier, who as 'Tim Bobbin' had written 'His View 
of the Lancashire Dialect' three-quarters of a century earlier. *18* 
Collier's work was well known (it can be recognized behind Job 
Legh's story of his journey from London with the baby); Samuel 
Bamford, the literary weaver whose 'God Help the Poor is quoted in 
full in _Mary Barton_, issued a new edition in 1850 with a revised 
glossary and grammatical notes. Other writers, such as Bamford 
himself and the artisan coterie that called itself the 'Poets of 
Lancashire' kept the tradition alive, while song, story and proverb 
were in use around her as part of the dialect.	

She had as well the advice of her husband. We have seen that the 
Rev. William Gaskell took a close interest in her earlier work; the 
verse chapter headings of _Mary Barton_ and _North and South_ 
are almost certainly mostly his. When the fifth edition of _Mary 
Barton_ appeared in 18S4 it carried as an appendix his 'Two 
Lectures on the Lancashire Dialect,' a monograph that draws heavily 
on 'Tim Bobbin' and other local literature for its material. His 
approach to the study of dialect is that of the comparative 
philologist which was normal at the time, concerned mainly with 
words, meanings and derivation, and there can be little doubt that 
many of the more erudite footnotes to _Mary Barton_ were 
supplied by the husband. But the ear for dialogue is her own.	

The use of dialect in literature that was meant for general 
consumption had a respectable ancestry in Scott, an early and 
abiding favourite of Mrs. Gaskell's. Scott had emphasized the 
importance of dialogue as against narrative, and much of that 
dialogue had been put in the mouths of dialect-speaking characters 
who had


*18* Collier's dates were 1708-86. _The Miscellaneous Works of 
Tim Bobbin Esq._ were first published in 1806 by H. D. Symonds.
The Development of Technique: Style	

-- 259 --

nevertheless a serious and important part in the Waverley novels. 
*19* But the Scottish peasantry were at least picturesque and 
romantic as Scott presented them, which could hardly be said of 
Lancashire mill-workers. Dialect was still largely the province of 
comic writers when Mrs. Gaskell published _Mary Barton_. 
Distinctions of dialect were far greater than they have become in a 
B.B.C. and cinema age; the speech of one area of England would have 
been largely unintelligible to another, and would have been 
regarded as uncouth and degraded by the ordinary educated 
reader, as Charlotte Bront‘ knew when she defended _Wuthering 
Heights_. *20* But the use of dialect less seriously, or for minor 
characters, goes back to Fielding, while the example of Dickens, 
Thackeray, Lever, Jerrold and others had made the use of it 
familiar, sometimes in a serious context.	

Mrs. Gaskell had then a certain amount of precedent behind her, 
but her originality was great enough. It was a new speech in an 
unromantic setting; her heroes and heroines are and remain 
working class. Novels of factory life had already been written, but 
_Mary Barton_ was the first to be written from a linguistic level 
appropriate to the characters.	

Nevertheless Mrs. Gaskell came to her task as a novelist first, as an 
amateur of dialect second. Had she attempted to present genuine 
Manchester speech her novel would have been unreadable, as she 
hints when she comments on the song 'The Oldham Weaver' that 
Margaret sings:

     Do you know "The Oldham Weaver?" Not unless you 
     are Lancashire born and bred, for it is a complete 
     Lancashire ditty. I will copy it for you. *21*

which she does, in a tolerable attempt at phonetic transcription, 
with the warning at the end:


*19* I draw here on Professor Jack's discussion, op. cit., pp.  210-12. 
Mrs. Gaskell's love of Scott is mentioned in _Chadwick_, p. 94; and 
sec _Wives and Daughters_, pp. 78 and 191.
*20* In her preface to the 1850 edition: 'the language, the manners, 
the very dwellings and household customs of the scattered 
inhabitants of those districts must be to such readers in a great 
measure unintelligible, and - where intelligible - repulsive.' 
(World's Classics, O.U.P., 1950, p. xxv.) But Heathcliffe and Catherine 
do not pour out their passion in broad Yorkshire, dialect ii for the 
*21* _Mary Barton_, p. 37.

-- 260 --

     To read it, it may, perhaps, seem humorous; but . . . it is 
     a powerfully pathetic song. *22*

Samuel Bamford too, while praising the power and honesty of 
_Mary Barton_, told the anonymous author that 'the dialect I think 
might have been given better'. *23* What Mrs. Gaskell gives us is 
appropriate language; appropriate to the environment and yet 
appropriate also to the comprehension of the reading public and to 
the dignity of the characters. As dialect it can be faulted in many 
ways. It is not consistent, its syntax is largely standard, it is more 
concerned to give specimens of dialect vocabulary and idiom, 
inflexion and contraction, than to present the genuine manner of 
speech that 'Tim Bobbin' tries to, and that Mr. Gaskell quotes in his 

But to criticize Mrs. Gaskell's presentation of dialect because it is not 
an accurate transcript would be ludicrously misplaced criticism. It 
is not what she sets out to do, nor what a reader could accept in a 
novel. Even Shaw dropped his Cockney transcript in the printed 
form of _Pygmalion_ after giving his readers a taste of it. Mrs. 
Gaskell uses dialect to place her characters in a particular social 
setting, that of the Manchester artisan. She had to gain the reader's 
sympathy for them while preserving their essential humanity and 
dignity; had she moved fully into dialect she would have run the 
double risk of putting the reader off by its difficulty, and of 
arousing the wrong emotions instead of sympathy because of the 
conventional association of dialect with comedy and low life. (Nor, 
we might add, is it easy in practice for anyone to think or write 
fluently and naturally in the accent of another class when that 
accent has not at some period been native to the writer.) Her 
characters speak grammatical English, with occasional variations to 
indicate a lower class but not enough to elicit the feeling of 
snobbery or humour that is even today a common reaction of the 
educated to uneducated speech. The vocabulary employs enough 
dialect words and forms to indicate 'Lancashire' although the 
number of items that has to be glossed is not large. The reader is 
given continuous hints from the language to keep the speakers 
firmly placed in class and locality; the language they speak is


*22* _Mary Barton_, p. 39.	
*23* _Rylands_, p. 8.

-- 261 --

appropriate to them in the context of the novel. It is symbolic 
dialect rather than true dialect.	

How far from an actual transcript it was, and incidentally how much 
it shared in the general want of detailed care, can easily be seen in 
a representative passage from _Mary Barton_.
     You'll wonder, chaps, how I came to miss the time this 
     morning; I'll just tell you what I was a-doing. Th' chaplain 
     at the New Bailey sent and gived me an order to see Jonas 
     Higginbotham; him as was taken up last week for throwing 
     vitriol in a knob-stick's face. Well, I couldn't help but go; 
     and I didn't reckon it would ha' kept me so late. Jonas 
     were like one crazy when I got to him; he said he could 
     na get rest night or day for th' face of the poor fellow he 
     had damaged; then he thought on his weak, clemmed 
     look, as he tramped, footsore, into town; and Jonas 
     thought, maybe, he had left them at home as would look 
     for news, and hope and get none, but, haply, tidings of 
     his death. Well, Jonas had thought on these things till he 
     could not rest, but walked up and down continually like a 
     wild beast in his cage. At last he bethought him on a way 
     to help a bit, and he got the chaplain to send for me  . . . 

A fairly long extract is necessary to represent it fairly, but to cover 
all the linguistic points would take too long. In general, the complex 
sentence construction, carefully placed adjectives, and general 
balance are those of written and practised prose; the majority of the 
sentences or parts of sentences are standard English, the 'wild 
beast' image is a literary one. The spelling - and therefore the 
pronunciation that echoes in the reader's mind - is with minimal 
exceptions (ha', th', na) standard spelling; deviations from normal 
syntax are few. Two dialect words, 'knob-stick' (blackleg) and 
'clemmed' (starved), support the indications of dialect, but these 
indications have no regularity about them. We get 'couldn't', 'could 
na' and 'could not'; 'th' chaplain' and 'the chaplain'.	

For the same reasons we find that Mr. Carson and the other masters 
speak educated English, though we are told that Mr. Carson had 
begun life as a mill-hand; his speech indicates his


*29* _Mary Barton_, p. 218.	

-- 262 --

social position, not his pronunciation. And when Mary comes to 
make her public confession of love for Jem from the witness-box, 
there is not a single non-standard contraction in the long speech, 
not a single piece of non-standard syntax, only two or three mildly 
marked expressions (e.g. 'I'd a deal to bear', 'I'd fain have done so') 
to maintain the indication of her manner of speaking. The heroine 
at an emotional climax needs dignity of expression as well as 
dignity of emotion. *25* So does the repentant and dying Barton.	

A little more control over the presentation of the dialect used is to 
be found in _North and South_. Mrs. Gaskell was a more skilled 
writer by then, while the dialect characters are now secondary to 
and in contrast with the central 'educated' ones; there was also now 
the example of writers as diverse as Charlotte Bront‘ and Charles 
Kingsley who had begun to mingle dialect in serious work. In 
_Sylvia's Lovers_ she took exceptional care to make the dialect 
accurate, and Yorkshire as distinct from Lancashire, for the first 
time using such devices as doubled vowels to indicate 
pronunciation. Yet even in _Sylvia's Lovers_ the underlying 
vocabulary and syntax are near normal, though Mrs. Gaskell is at 
pains to mark the greater education and refinement of Philip by 
giving him a less marked dialect speech than Sylvia and her family, 
as being more appropriate to his position.	

The dialogue of the dialect novels employs basically the simple, 
colloquial style that is Mrs. Gaskell's natural prose medium, but 
kept to the simplest end of its scale; its very simplicity and the 
range of reference of its vocabulary mark it out from the dialogue 
of a higher social class. This is indeed language relevant to the 
context of situation (to use Malinowski's phrase), but a situation 
with two distinct sets of reference. On the one hand there is the 
social, educational, and geographical setting; on the other hand the 
demands made on the novelist by the conventions of the 
contemporary novel and its readers. Neither Mrs. Gaskell's courage 
and originality as a writer, nor the accuracy of the dialect elements 
she used, should be ignored or played down because she had to 
meet these double and to a great extent conflicting demands.


*25* _Mary Barton_, p. 377.

-- 263 --

When Hardy saw this problem looming up in Tess he got round it 
by looking it squarely in face, and then side-stepping:

     Mrs. Durbeyfield habitually spoke the dialect; her 
     daughter, who had passed the Sixth Standard in the 
     National School under a London-trained mistress, spoke 
     two languages; the dialect at home, more or less; ordinary 
     English abroad and to persons of quality. *26*

I have not attempted a full examination of Mrs. Gaskell's style, 
although the main characteristics have inevitably been discussed in 
following its adaptation to her varying purposes as a novelist. The 
faults are obvious enough, but they are rarely those of 
pretentiousness or artificiality. They spring from too easy a facility 
of expression, and from the attitude she adopts in establishing the 
relationship between author and reader. It is the attitude which 
prompts Mr. Gibson's advice to the vicar on parish visiting:

     "you shouldn't try to make talk when you go into the 
     cottages, but just talk."	
          "I don't see the difference," said the vicar, a little 
     querulously; "but I daresay there is a difference, and I 
     have no doubt what you say is quite true." *27*

We have seen that she is by no means artless; she could have been 
more careful. It suited her to write in the ease of her second-best 
gown, but the gown could have been smartened up a little. Yet the 
faults have to be balanced against the total effect, and we need to 
remember the many cases in which her limitations and ease 
become positive virtues. Henry James called the style of _Wives and 
Daughters_ a 'homely prose'. 'Homely' is a dubious term, even 
allowing for the more complimentary meaning it would have had a 
hundred years ago, but it catches one aspect of Mrs. Gaskell's style, 
an aspect James needed for the contrast he wanted with the 
pretensions of 'fine writing'. Its context is one of considerable 
praise, and praise from James is worth quoting. It will make a


*26* _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_, Macmillan (Wessex ed.), 1912, p. 
22. But like Mrs. Gaskell, he anticipates modern theory in the 
psychology of language.
*27* _Wives and Daughters_, p. 42.	

-- 264 --

fitting conclusion to note the qualities which he recognizes as being 
within her range:

If an author can be powerful, delicate, humorous, pathetic, 
dramatic, within the strict limits of homely prose, we see no need of 
his "dropping into poetry," as Mr. Dickens says. *28*


*28* op. cit., p. 159.

-- 265 --



(This is presumably the rough sketch mentioned in the account of 
the Knutsford edition that has been quoted from the _The House of 
Smith Elder_. A copy of it is with the papers that Clement Shorter 
compiled and that are now in the Brotherton Library.)

1st Chap. Scene in G H - Spring Evening - Wilsons and Bartons - The 
Wilsons speak of Esther's disappearance - are joined by the Bartons 
and etc.

2nd Chap. 4 years passed away. Changes. The strong Alice Wilson 
and healthy Thomas Barton dead - while the feeble and less healthy 
remain behind - no news yet of Esther.

Good times - How flourishing Wilson is - How he joins a Chartist 
club at the instigation of Job Leigh - How he apprentices Mary to a 
dress-maker. How Widow Barton strives on to keep her delicate 
twins with the help of her son Thomas and succeeds.

How Thomas Barton in his way to work always meets Mary, and 
what arises therefrom.

How Mr. Chadwick Junior on his way home to dinner always meets 
Mary and what arises therefrom.

A Father and daughter's talk over the fire; Past life - gone and dead. 
The old always homing to the past, the young looking to the future. 
Plans for the day at Dunham and Whitsun week.

The day at Dunham.

Rumours of bad times - Bad times.

Bradshaw and Co. fail. Wilson dismissed.

Mrs. Barton's sorrows.

-- 266 --

Wilson engaged at Chadwick and Co.'s Mill.

How Chartism from a theory becomes an action in bad times.


How Mary suffers from the bad times.

Margaret Clegg and Mary have mourning to make.

Death at the Bartons'. Mary and Aunt Esther sit up by turns.

Mary's first love.

How in the midst of much sorrow, Mary is happy in her own 
individual world of love.

Poor Thomas Barton.

Thomas and Mary quarrel. His despair.

Mary's bliss. Her conscience-struck by visit to poor Widow Barton.
Aunt Esther.

Mary's downfall of heart. Mr. Chadwick's threat.

Fanny's first visit to Wilson - her tale - her warning regarding 

Mary undeceived. Who was listening.

Trades Unions, and desperation.

Mr. Chadwick murdered.


The police on the scent.

Barton arrested.

Mary's revulsion of feeling. Goes to see widow Barton.

Accompanies her to prison.

Barton in prison.

Mary's determination to prove Barton's innocence.

Discovers the murderer.



Visits Widow Barton. Aunt Hester's childishness.

A sympathising and advising friend, Job Leigh.

How she proves an alibi by Margaret Clegg's help.	

-- 267 --

Interview with Barton. _He_ knew too.

Father's death of remorse - Widow Barton's.

Aunt Hester's death.

Marriage - Sail for America.


Many names were altered for the final version:

(a) The names of Wilson and Barton as family names were changed 
round, e.g. Wilson becomes John Barton, Thomas Barton becomes 
Jem Wilson.

(b) Chadwick becomes Carson.

(c) Margaret Clegg becomes Margaret Jennings (Job Legh's 
granddaughter) while Leigh becomes Legh.

(d) Aunt Hester becomes, probably, Aunt Alice Wilson.

(e) Fanny and Esther are combined.

(f) Bradshaw becomes Hunter. But there is an echo of the name. 
Esther lodges with a Mrs. Bradshaw (_Mary Barton_, p. 5).
The sketch bears out Mrs. Gaskell's claim that 'the whole tale grew 
up in my mind' but it completely contradicts the statement that 

     I cannot trace back now why or how such a thing was 
     written, or such a character or circumstance was 
     introduced. *1*

It substantiates her comment that the plot was originally built 
round John Barton but the changes made in the final version 
provide a wider range for the theme of punishment inevitably 
resulting from sin, which she gives as the initial controlling idea.	

The pattern of transgression, repentance and reconciliation is 
developed by the changes in the plot. It becomes the mill-owner's 
son who is murdered, leaving the mill-owner to repent his own lack 
of sympathy for the workers and to share Barton's remorse in the 
reconciliation scene at his death-bed. Margaret is rewarded by 
marrying Will Wilson - a new character introduced for the new alibi 
and pursuit section - the marriage balancing Mary's marriage to 
Jem. Esther's remorse and secret help are also carried through to 
repentance and reconciliation; it appears that Esther takes over the 
part allotted to Fanny in the draft. Barton's responsibility for his 
own fate is increased by


*1* _Mary Barton_, p. lxiii.

-- 268 --	

making Job Legh benevolent and neutral, not the man who 
introduces Barton to the Chartists' club.	

Another example of the care and sense of proportion that went to 
the making of the book can be seen in the removal of the 'Day at 
Dunham' episode. This was not wasted; it appears as the short story 
'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' published in 1847. This incidentally 
helps us to see more clearly the beginning of Mrs. Gaskell's writing 
career. _Mary Barton_ was begun first, 'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras' 
developed out of it as her first short story, to be followed by the 
other stories under the pseudonym of Cotton Mather Mills - 'The 
Sexton's Hero' and 'Christmas Storms and Sunshine' - before the 
novel was completed and published.	

The change round of names is difficult to understand. But Mrs. 
Gaskell was not a great inventor of names, which she normally 
borrows from life (although not necessarily borrowing the 
personalities). Barton and Wilson were probably recollected from 
families she had come across. She may have begun by merely using 
the names, and then found that the characteristics of the families 
she had in her imagination were more suited to the opposite names. 
She always relied heavily on her observation and remembrance of 
local detail. The virtual elimination of Bradshaw, who turns up as a 
major character in _Ruth_, is probably another case of the name 
remembered. But Mrs. Gaskell often repeats names for characters, 
and places; Gibson, Dixon, Coxe, Hamley are examples. Dixon, we 
may note, is used for superior servants, Hamley is associated with 
places (in 'A Dark Night's Work' and with the Hamleys of Hamley in 
_Wives and Daughters_).	

The original plot called for three volumes. The final version was in 
two volumes in spite of the additional material. One can only guess 
at what happened to the intention. It seems likely that for her first 
long novel Mrs. Gaskell was unwilling or unable to rely on local and 
domestic detail to hold the interest of her readers, and was 
concerned about having enough incident and excitement. She may 
well have begun also to feel her power of creating incident and plot. 
The new detail, the alibi and the chase and trial, bring _Mary 
Barton_ much closer to the contemporaneous sensation novel than 
her other serious work. This would be an understandable effect of 
local and particular circumstance, although she never lost the need 
for the strong situation entirely.	

One thing is certain; that between this rough sketch and the 
completed novel Mrs. Gaskell laid the foundation for her command 
of technique.

-- 269 --


I. _Novels, Stories, Articles, etc. by Mrs. Gaskell_

_The Works of Mrs. Gaskell_, 8 Vols. John Murray, 1919-1920. (This 
is the Knutsford Edition. For details of contents see pages xiii-xiv.)

The introduction also contains:

'Sketches Among the Poor, No. 1.' _Blackwoods Magazine_, 
     Vol. 41 January 1837.

'On Visiting the Grave of My Stillbom Little Girl.' (A sonnet 
     written on Sunday, 4 July 1836.)

The following items are not included in the Knutsford edition:

'The Scholar's Story', _Household Words_, 22 October 1853. 
     (Translation by William Gaskell of a Breton ballad 
     introduced for a chain story for Mrs. Gaskell.)
'A Christmas Carol', _Household Words_, 27 December 
     1856. (Poem)
'The Cage at _Cranford_', _All the Year Round_, 28 November 
'Robert Gould Shaw', _Macmillan's Magazine_, December 
     1863. (Article)

_The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_, Haworth Edition; Smith, Elder, 1914.

There were also introductions to the two following books:

Maria S. Cummins, _Mabel Vaughan_, Sampson, Low & Co., 
     1857. Col. C. A. Vecchi, _Garibaldi at Caprera_, Cambridge, 

II. _Published correspondence_

_Letters on Charlotte Bront‘_; privately printed, 1916.
_Letters of Mrs. Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton, 1855-1865_, 
     edited by Jane Whitehill, O.U.P., 1932.
_Letters Addressed to Mrs. Gaskell by Celebrated 
     Contemporaries_, edited by Ross D. Waller. Reprinted 
     from the _Bulletin of the John Rylands Library_, Vol. 19, 
     No. 1, January 1935.
Other letters are quoted in some of the books in Section IV.	

-- 270 --	

III. _The Collections in the following libraries have been used_:

The British Museum.
The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
The Houghton Library, Harvard University.
The Huntington Library, California.
The Manchester Central Library.
The Arts Library, Manchester University.
The John Rylands Library, Manchester.
The Library of the University of California, Los Angeles.

IV. _The following books and articles are referred to in the text_:

Allen, Walter, _The English Novel_, Penguin, 1958.
Arnold, Matthew, _The Poetical Works_, O.U.P., 1942.

Briggs, Asa, _Victorian People_, Odhams, 1954.
Bront‘, Charlotte	
     _Jane Eyre_, World's Classics, O.U.P., 1955.
     _Shirley_, World's Classics, O.U.P., 1947.	
Browne, Sir Thomas, _Religio Medici_, Everyman, 1940.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, _The Poetical Works_, O.U.P., 1951.

Carlyle, Thomas, _Past and Present_, Chapman & Hall, 1905.
Carpenter, S. C., _Church and People, 1788-1889_, Seraph Books, 
Cary, Joyce, _Art and Reality_, C.U.P., 1958.
Cazamian, Louis, _Le Roman Social en Angleterre, 1830-1850_, 
     Didier, Paris, 1935.
Cecil, Lord David, _Early Victorian Novelists_, Constable, 
Chadwick, Mrs. Ellis H., _Mrs. Gaskell: Haunts, Homes and 
     Stories_, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1913.
Clark, G. Kitson, _The Making of Victorian England_, Methuen, 
Collier, John, _The Miscellaneous Works of Tim Bobbin, Esq._, 
     H. D. Symonds, 1806.
Collins, H. P., 'The Naked Sensibility', _Essays in Criticism_, 
     Vol. 3, Jan. 1953.
Collins, Philip, _Dickens and Crime_, Macmillan, 1962.
Conrad, Joseph, _Notes on Life and Letters_, Dent, 1949.
Crabbe, George, _Crabbe's Poetical Works_, John Murray, 

Darwin, Charles, _The Autobiography of Charles Darwin_, 
     edited by Frances Darwin, Dover (New York), 1958.
Dickens, Charles,	
     _Bleak House_, Oxford Illustrated Dickens, O.U.P., 1951.

-- 271 --

     _Christmas Books_, Oxford Illustrated Dickens, O.U.P., 1954. 
     _Hard Times_, Oxford Illustrated Dickens, O.U.P., 1955. 
     _Charles Dickens as Editor_. Letters edited by R. C. 
          Lehmann, Smith, Elder, 1912.
Disraeli, Benjamin, _Sybil_, Penguin, 1954.
Dunn, W. H., _James Anthony Proude: A Biography 1818-1876_, 
     O.U.P., 1961.

Eliot, George, _The George Eliot Letters_, edited by Gordon S. 
     Haight, Yale, Vols 1-3 1954, Vols 4-7, 1956.
Elliot-Binns, E. L., _Religion in the Victorian Era_, 2nd ed., 
     Lutterworth Press, 1946.
ffrench, Yvonne, _Mrs. Gaskell_, Home and Van Thal, 1949. 

Gaskell, William,	
     _The Lancashire Dialect, Illustrated in Two Lectures_, 
          Chapman & Hall, 1854.
     _Protestant Practices Inconsistent with Protestant 
          Principles_, R. Hunt, 1836.
     _Some Evil Tendencies of the Popular Theology_, West 
          Riding Tracts, 1847.
     _Unitarian Christians Called to Bear Witness to the Truth_, 
          Edward T. Whitfield, 1862.
Gettman, Royal A., _A Victorian Publisher_, C.U.P., 1960. 
Greg, William R., Review of _Mary Barton_ in the _Edinburgh 
     Review_, Vol. I 8o, April 1849.
     'The False Morality of Lady Novelists', _Literary and 
     Social Judgements_, Trźbner, 2nd ed., 1869.

Haldane, Elizabeth S., _Mrs. Gaskell and her Friends_, Hodder 
     & Stoughton, 1930.
Hardy, Thomas,
     _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_, Macmillan, 1912. 
     _The Mayor of Casterbridge_, Macmillan, 1920.
Holt, Raymond V., _The Unitarian Contribution to Social 
     progress in England_, Allen & Unwin, 1938.
Hopkins, Annette B.,
     _Elizabeth Gaskell: Her Lift and Work_, John Lehmann, 1952.           
     'Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell', _The Huntington Library 
          Quarterly_, Vol. 9, 1946.
Houghton, Walter E., _The Victorian Frame of Mind_, Yale 
     Paperback (New Haven), 1963.

-- 272 --

House, Humphry,
     _The Dickens World_, Oxford Paperbacks, 1960.
     'Wordsworth's Fame', _English Critical Essays, Twentieth 
          Century, Second Series_, World's Classics, O.U.P., 1958.
_The House of Smith, Elder_, printed for private circulation, 
Howitt, William, _Visits to Remarkable Places_, Longmans, 

Jack, Ian, _English Literature 1815-1832_, Clarendon Press, 
James, Henry,
     _The Art of the Novel_, Scribners, 1950.
     _Notes and Reviews by Henry James_, Dunster House, 
          Cambridge, Mass., 1921.
     _The Portrait of a Lady_, Houghton Mifflin & Co. (New York), 
     _William Wetmore Story and His Friends_, Thames & 
          Hudson, n.d.

Klingopulos, G. D., 'Notes on the Victorian Scene', _Pelican Guide 
     to English Literature_, Vol. 6, Penguin, 1958.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott, _Christianity in a Revolutionary Age_, 
     Vol. 2, Eyre & Spottiswood, 1960.
Lehmann, Rosamond, 'A Neglected Victorian Classic', _Penguin 
     New Writing_, No. 32, 1948.

Mottram, R. H., _Portrait of an Unknown Victorian_, Robert Hale, 

Payne, George A., _Mrs. Gaskell and Knutsford_, Clarkson & 
     Griffiths, Ltd., Manchester, 1900.
Pollard, Arthur, 'The Novels of Mrs. Gaskell', _Bulletin of the 
     John Rylands Library_, Vol. 43, No. 2, March, 1961.
Pope, Alexander, _Pope's Poetical Works_, Macmillan, 1897.

Quirk, Randolph, _Charles Dickens and Appropriate Language_, 
     University of Durham, 1959.

Shaen, Margaret J., _Memorials of Two Sisters_, Longmans, 

Tillotson, Geoffrey, _Thackeray the Novelist_, C.U.P., 1954.
Tillotson, Kathleen, _Novels of the Eighteen-Forties_, Oxford 
     Paperbacks, 1961.
_Times Literary Supplement, The_, 11 August, 1961.
Trollope, Anthony, _Autobiography_, World's Classics, O.U.P., 

Wellek, R. and Warren, A., _Theory of Literature_, Harvest 
     Books (New York), 1960.
Willey, Basil, _Nineteenth Century Studies_, Chatto & Windus, 
Williams, Raymond, _Culture and Society 1780-1950_, Penguin, 
Woodward, E. L., _The Age of Reform, 1815-1870_, O.U.P., 
Wordsworth, William, _The Poetical Works of Wordsworth_, 
     O.U.P., 1926.

Young, G. M., _Portrait of an Age_, O.U.P., 1953.	

-- 273 --

V. _The following is a brief selection of other books and articles 
referring to Mrs. Gaskell_:

Allot, Miriam, _Elizabeth Gaskell_, Longmans, 1960. (Writers 
     and Their Work, No. 124.)
Dodsworth, Martin, 'Women Without Men at _Cranford_', _Essays 
     in Criticism_, Vol. 12, No. 2, April 1963.
Eliot, T. S., 'Review of "Letters of Mrs. Gaskell and C. E. Norton",' 
     _The New England Quarterly_, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1933.
Green, John A. _A Bibliographical Guide to the Gaskell 
     Collection in the Moss Side Library_, Manchester 
     Reference Library, 1911.
Hopkins, Annette B., 
     'Mrs. Gaskell in France, 1849-1890', _Publications of the 
          Modern Language Association_, 1938.
     'Mary Barton: A Victorian Best Seller,' _The Trollopian_, 1948.
Lane, Margaret, _The Bront‘ Story_, Heinemann, 1953.
Laski, Marghanita, 'Words from Mrs. Gaskell', _Notes and 
     Queries_, September 1961, December 1961, January 1962:
Northup, Clark S., Bibliography to 'Sanders, _Elizabeth Gaskell_'.
Payne, George A., _Mrs. Gaskell: A Brief Biography_, Sherrat & 
     Hughes, Manchester, 1929.
Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur, _Charles Dickens and Other 
     Victorians_, C.U.P., 1925.
Sanders, G. de Witt, _Elizabeth Gaskell_, O.U.P., 1929. (See 
Shorter, Clement K., 
     _The Bront‘s, Life and Letters_, Hodder & Stoughton, 1908. 
     _The Bront‘s and Their Circle_, Dent, 1914.
Waller, Ross D., _Times Literary Supplement_, 25 July 1935. 
     (Letters on _Cranford_ and its relation to 'The Last 
     Generation in England'.)
Whitfield, Archie S., _Mrs. Gaskell: Her Lift and Work_, 
     Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1929.

-- 274 --

-- 275 --

_A Chronological List of the Writings of Mrs. Gaskell_	

Items are listed in order of the date of first publication. Where a 
book was originally published in serial form, it appears under the 
date of the first instalment, the title is in italics and the date of 
book publication is given in brackets at the end of the entry. 
Introductions written by Mrs. Gaskell for other authors are noted. 
The three posthumous items can hardly be considered as written 
for publication, and are therefore listed at the end.

The following abbreviations are used: -

_H.W._ - __Household Words__
_A.Y.R._ - __All the Year Round__
_C.M._ - _The Cornhill Magazine_
* - Collections of stories originally published in periodicals.
  - Stories later renamed. These are given a reference to the later 

(1) 1837
Sketches Among the Poor, No. I, _Blackwood's Magazine_, Vol. 41 
(poem written in collaboration with her husband)	
Clopton House (published as an anonymous contribution by William 
Howitt in _Visits to Remarkable Places_, Longmans)	
Libbie Marsh's Three Eras, _Howitt's Journal_, i.	
The Sexton's Hero, _Howitt's Journal_, ii.	
Christmas Storms and Sunshine, _Howitt's Journal_, iii.	
*( 6)1848	
_Life in Manchester_ (items 3, 4, 5)	
_Mary Barton_, Chapman and Hall.	
Hand and Heart, _The Sunday School Magazine_, July.	
  The Last Generation in England, _Sartain's Union Magazine_ 
(America) July. (Revised, see item 17)
Lizzie Leigh, _H.W._ 30 Mar.-13 Apr.
  Martha Preston, _Sartain's Union Magazine_ (America) June 
(revised, see item 34)

-- 276 --

The Well of Pen-Morfa, _H.W._ 16-23 Nov.
_The Moorland Cottage_, Chapman and Hall.
The Heart of John Middleton, _H.W._ 28 Dec.
Mr. Harrison's Confessions, _The Ladies' Companion and Monthly 
Magazine_, Feb.-Apr.
Disappearances, _H.W._ 7 June
_Cranford_, _H.W._ '3 Dec and irregularly to 21 May, 1853.
(1853, Chapman and Hall)
Bessy's Troubles at Home, _The Sunday School Penny
Magazine_, Jan.
The Shah's English Gardener, _H.W._ 19 June.
The Old Nurse's Story, _H.W._ Christmas No. 
Cumberland Sheep-Shearers, _H.W._ 22 Jan.
_Ruth_, Chapman and Hall.
Bran (poem), _H.W._ 22 Oct.
Morton Hall, _H.W._ 19-26 Nov.
Traits and Stories of the Huguenots, _H.W._ 10 Dec.
My French Master, _H.W._ 17-24 Dec.
Introduction to 'The Scholars Story' (poem translated by
husband), _H.W._ Christmas No.
The Squire's Story, _H.W._ Christmas No.
Modern Greek Songs, _H.W._ 25 Feb.
Company Manners, _H.W._ 20 May.
_North and South_, _H.W._ 2 Sep.-27 Jan., 1855. (1855,
Chapman and Hall)
_Lizzie Leigh and Other Tales_, Chapman and Hall, (items
3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, i8, 20, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30)
An Accursed Race, _H.W._ 25 Aug.
Half a Life-Time Ago, _H.W._ 6-20 Oct. (see item 9)
The Poor Clare, _H.W._ 13-27 Dec.
A Christmas Carol (poem) _H.W._ 27 Dec.
_The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_; Smith, Elder & Co.
Introduction to _Mabel Vaughan_ by Miss Cummins,
Sampson, Low, Son & Co.
The Doom of the Griffiths, _Harper's New Monthly
Magazine_ (America), Jan.
_My Lady Ludlow_, _H.W._ 19 June-25 Sep. (1859 in item 44)
The Half-Brothers, _Dublin University Magazine_, Nov.
  The Sin of a Father, _H.W._ 27 Nov. (renamed 'Right at
Last' in item 48)	

-- 277 --

The Manchester Marriage, _H.W._ Christmas No.
_Round the Sofa_, Sampson, Low, Son & Co. (items 33, 34,
35, 39,40,41)
Lois the Witch, _A.Y.R._ 8-22 Oct.
  The Ghost in the Garden Room, _A.Y.R._ Christmas No. (renamed 
'The Crooked Branch' in item 48)
Curious if True, _C.M._ Feb.
_Right at Last and Other Tales_, Sampson, Low, Son & Co. (items 42, 
43, 45, 46)	
The Grey Woman, _A.Y.R.._ 5-19 Jan.	
Six Weeks at Heppenheim, _C.M._ May.	
Introduction to _Garibaldi at Caprera_ by Colonel Vecchi,
Macmillan & Co.
_A Dark Night's Work_, _A.Y.R._ 24 Jan.-21 Feb. (1863, Smith, Elder 
& Co.)	
An Italian Institution, _A.Y.R._ 21 Mar.	
_Sylvia's Lovers_, Smith, Elder & Co.	
The Cage at Cranford, _A.Y.R.._ 28 Nov.	
_Cousin Phillis_, _C.M._ Nov.-Feb. 1864 (1865, see item 61)	
Robert Gould Shaw, _Macmillan's Magazine_, Dec.	
How the First Floor Went to Crowley Castle, _A.Y.R.._
Christmas No.
French Life, _Fraser's Magazine_, Apr.-June.
_Wives and Daughters_, _C.M._ Aug.-Jan. 1866 (1866, Smith, Elder 
& Co.)
_Cousin Phillis and Other Tales_, Smith, Elder & Co. (items 4, 15, 30, 

_Posthumous Publication_

_My Diary: The Early Years of My Daughter Marianne_, Privately 
printed, 1923.
On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl (Sonnet), in 
introduction to _Mary Barton_, Knutsford edition.
(64) n.d. 
Two Fragments of Ghost Stories, in _Cousin Phillis_, Knutsford 

-- 278 --

-- 279 --


'Accursed Race, An', 37, 126, 127, 165, 169
Addison, Joseph, _The Spectator_, 252
Africa, 215, 221
_All the Year Round_, 16, 80, 126, 164n., 190, 192n., 193, 194, 
     239n., 'Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings', 190
Allen, Walter, 2, 4 
Anglicanism, relation to Unitarianism, 27; revival of; 29; 
     in novels, 37, 171, 221; Charlotte Bront‘'s, 38, 45-6
Arkwright, Sir Richard, 73
Arnold, Matthew, 73
Arnold, Dr. Thomas, 166
Austen, Jane, 20, 49, 124, 215, 228, 239; clergymen in, 48; 
     _Emma_, 71n., 216n., _Pride and Prejudice_, 216

Bamford, Samuel, 258, 260
'Bessy's Troubles at Home', 59
Bible, The, in Unitarianism, 25-6; Dives and Lazarus, 31, 62, 
     95; language of; 33, 184, 255; as guide, 34-5, 39, 41-4, 
     56, 59, 76, 184, 188
Blake, William, on children, 65n.
Bobbin, Tim (see John Collier)
Briggs, Asa, 124
Bront‘, Anne, _The Tenant of Wildfell Hall_, 65
Bront‘, Branwell, 64, 79, 100, 154, 252
Bront‘, Charlotte (See also _The Life of Charlotte Bront‘_), 4, 38, 
     137; influence of; 155n., 178-9, 244; on London, 100; gives 
     hints for _Cranford_, 106n.; on '_The Moorland Cottage_', 117; 
     appearance, 153; on Mrs. Gaskell, 229; use of dialect, 259, 
     262; _Jane Eyre_, 244, _Shirley_, 244; _Villette_, 100
Bront‘, Emily, 4; _Wuthering Heights_, 259
Bront‘, Rev. Patrick, 79, 149-50 
Browne, Sir Thomas, on religion, _Religio Medici_, 74n.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, _Aurora Leigh_, 71n.
Bunsen, Baron C. C. J. von, 6, 72
Burn, W. L., 124
Burton, Sir Richard, 221

'Cage at _Cranford_, The', 104n., 191, 192, 193n.
Carlyle, Thomas, 5, 28-29; influence of; ii, 34, 92n., 101; 
     _Past and Present_, 32
Carpenter, S. C., 27n.
Cary, Joyce, on the writer's art, 21-22
Cazamian, Louis, 10, 132
Cecil, Lord David, 4, 230
Chadwick, Mrs. E. H., 27n., 191, 193, 259
Chartism, 11, 31
Child, F. J., 78
'Christmas Storms and Sunshine', 90, 267
Circout, Madame de, 210
Clark, G. Kitson, 28
Class Structure, accepted hierarchy, 62-3, 112-13, 115, 120-8, 
     137, 181, 202, 208-9; change in, 77, 84, 108, 157-9; range 
     of; 195; language, 260	

-- 280 --	

'Clopton House', 78
Clough, A. H., 28
Collier, John (Tim Bobbin), 258, 260
Collins, H. P., 7, 10, 40
Collins, Philip, 68
Collins, Wilkie, 257
'Company Manners', viii, 15n., 17-18, 127, 231, 253
Conrad, Joseph, 9; _The Mirror of the Sea_, 103; _Notes on 
     Life and Letters_, 119
_Cornhill Magazine_, 16n., 80, 147, 190, 191, 193-4, 239, 244
_Cousin Phillis_, vii, 2, 6, 16, 39-41, 47-9, 53n., 54, 59, 88, 98, 
     118, 144, 146-8, 151, 157, 169, 172, 185, 191-6, 
     197-204, 218n., 223, 224, 227, 236, 239, 240, 245; 250,
Crabbe, George, his 'Ruth' used as source, 37n., 167n., 176
_Cranford_, 3, 8, 12-14, 19, 21, 53n., 55, 62-3, 73, 75, 78, 83-4, 
     88, 102-13, 118, 123, 125, 146, 151, 155, 156, 159, 160, 
     161n., 173n., 191, 194, 195, 196, 201, 202, 210, 211-12,	
     227, 239, 244-5, 250, 252, 257
Crompton, Charles, 221-2, 223
'Crooked Branch, The', 59, 99, 172n.; Like Wordsworth's 
     'Michael', 34n.
'Crowley Castle', 16n., 190, 192, 237
'Cumberland Sheep-Shearers', 126, 216n.
'Curious if True', 80, 172n.

Dante, 200
'Dark Night's Work, A', vii, 16n., 59, 63, 90, 100, 164n., 172, 
     190, 191-2, 238, 242, 268; Roman episode, 174
Darwin, Charles, 8, 195, 221; _The Origin of Species_, 187-8
Darwin, Erasmus, 27
Dekker, Thomas, 210
Detective Story, 126, 236-8
Dialect, 251, 258-63
Dickens, Charles (see also _Household Words_ and _All the Year 
     Round_), 5, 23, 104, 108, 123, 147, 191, 195, 216n., 239n., 
     264; as editor, 15, 70n., 80, 129-31, 190, 193, 194, 230, 
     257; on childhood, 6o; Christmas stories, 42, 116; dialect, 
     259; historical novel, 164; manner, 52-3, 81, 90, 94, 166, 
     207-8, 222; social change, 65, 87, 97n., 101, 124; 
     _Bleak House_, 81; 'The Chimes', 124; _Dombey and Son_, 65, 
     101; _Great Expectations_, 123-4, and 'Morton Hall', 115n.; 
     _Hard Times_, 29, 52-3, and _Ruth_, 57n.; _Little Dorrit_, 97n.; 
     _Pickwick Papers_, 107
'Disappearances', 126, 237 
Disraeli, Benjamin, 2, 28, 31n., 73, 180; _Sybil_, 28-9; _Coningsby_, 
Dissent, relation to Unitarianism, 27, 39, 171; Dissenting
	characters, 37, 158, 161, 163 
'Doom of the Griffiths, The', 19n., 79, 172n.
Dunn, W. H., 27n. 

Education (see also 'Family'), moral, 42, 58-9, 202, 217; 
     and change, 76, 158, 163
Eliot, George, 4, 8i, 208, 228, 230; on _Cranford_ and 
     _Mary Barton_, 108; influence of; 179-80; _Adam Bede_, 
     179-80; _Middlemarch_, 213; _Scenes from Clerical Life_, 
     65, 179
Elliott-Binns, L. E., 27n., 28n.
Ewart, Miss, 83n., 87

Family, The, 51-72, 75, 99, 167, 181, 215-17, 223-4; 
     and the individual, 137; Charlotte Bront‘'s, 150; as 
     stable unit, 202
ffrench, Yvonne, 88, 131
Fielding, Henry, 259
Forster, John, 176-7
Fox, Tottie (Mrs. E. Bridell-Fox), 144n., 229n.
_Fraser's Magazine_, 239n.
'French Life', 38, 126, 210
Froude, J. A., on Unitarianism, 27
Furnivall, F. J., 29n., 240

Gaskell, Elizabeth, traditional criticism of her writings, 
     2-8; Manchester life, 10, 92-3, 136, 185; first novel, 
     21; family, 53-4; death of son, 55n.; daughters, 60, 203, 
     221-2; domesticity and art, 65-6, 230-1; pseudonym, 90, 
     170; Knutsford, 109, 198; controversy, 118, 154; period of 
     gloom, 172-3; leisure and travel, 125, 193-4; carelessness 
     with names, 212
Gaskell, Florence (Mrs. Crompton), 6o, 203, 221, 222n., 223
Gaskell, Margaret Emily (Meta), 187
Gaskell, Marianne, 8, 123, 222n.
Gaskell, Rev. William, 93, 139n., 170n., 198n., 207n., 230n.; 
     on Unitarian doctrine, 25-6; on dialect, 258
Gettman, Royal A., 194n.
Gissing, George, 152
Godwin, William, _Caleb Williams_, 237
Gosse, Edmund, 6
Greene, Graham, 23
Greg, W. R., 5, 72, 131-2, 232; On	_Mary Barton_, 2 
'Grey Woman, The', 165, 172n.

_Haldane_, Elizabeth, 83n., 98, 141n., 144n., 153n., 229n.
'Half a Life-Time Ago', 15n., 45, 125

-- 281 --

'Half-Brothers, The', 172n.
'Hand and Heart', 59 
Hardy, Thomas, 23, 35, 78, 81; _The Mayor of Casterbridge_, 
     89; _Tess of the D' Urbervilles_, 263
'Heart of John Middleton, The', 42, 169
Henry, Matthew and Philip, and Unitarianism, 82
Historical Novel, The, 10, 155, 164-5, 170, 176, 213; Mrs.
     Gaskell's limitations, 79; method in _Life_, 151.
Holland, Thurston, 222n.
Holt, Raymond V., 25
Hopkins, Annette, B., vii, 5n., 6, 7, 8, 69, 80n., 117n., 130n., 
     149n., 154n., 164n., 174, 194n., 216, 257n., Roman 
     episode, 174
Houghton, Walter, 220n.
House, Humphry, 34n., 53
_Household Words_ (see also 'Dickens'), ix, 12, 15, 42, 80, 103-4, 
     115, 125n., 126, 129-31, 155n.
Howitt, William, _Visits to Remarkable Places_, 78; 
     Howitts Journal, 90
Humour, in the Cranford world, 12, 105, 106, 110, 115, 117, 
     146, 189, 197; in religion, 38, 39, 48, 107; related to 
     stability, 51, 67, 167; in character and behaviour, 15, 119, 
     125, 159, 204, 228; in Dickens's manner, 90; of everyday 
     life, 156, 179; absence of; 142, 164-6; moral satire, 216
Huxley, Leonard, x
Huxley, T. H., 187n.

Illegitimary, as social problem, 61, 68-72; changing views 
     of; 158, 160, 161 
Industrialization (see also 'Manchester'), its impact, 10, 
     77, 83, 95, 97, 134-40; in the _Cranford_ world, 195, 199, 

-- 282 --

_Inquirer, The_, 25
Isherwood, Christopher, 245
'Italian Institution, An', vii, 126, 172n., 192n.

Jack, Ian, 200n., 259n. 
James, Henry, 20, 102, 263-4; on Unitarians, 82n.-83n.; 
     the Roman episode, 173-5; _The Portrait of a Lady_, 
     82n.-83n., 246; _The Turn of the Screw_ and 'The Old 
     Nurse's Story', 165n.; _The Awkward Age_ and 
     _Wives and Daughters_, 246n.; _The Art of the Novel_, 
Jerrold, Douglas, 259
Johnson, Samuel, 24, 108, 200n.
Jowett, Benjamin, 38n.

Kingsley, Charles, 2, 5, 27, 161; historical novel, 164; 
     dialect, 262; _Alton Locke_, 11
Kipling, Rudyard, childhood, in _Something of Myself_ and 
     'Baa-Baa Black Sheep', 60
Klingopulos, G. D., 3 
Knutsford, ix, 4, 10, 15, 33n., 82n., 88, 98, 102-3, 109, 111, 
     123, 198
Knutsford Edition, viii-x, 193, 265 

'Last Generation in England, The', early version of _Cranford_, 
     12n., 103, 119
Latourette, K. Scott, 27n.
Lehmamn, R. C., 130n.
Lehmamn, Rosamond, 219n.
_Letters of Mrs. Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton_, 19, 38n., 60, 
     77-8, 80n., 93, 96, 111, 123, 157n., 166, 187n., 221, 253
Lever, Charles, 259
Lewes, G. H., 154, 179
'Libbie Marsh's Three Eras', 14, 32, 44, 90-1, 95, 267
_Life in Manchester_ (collected stories), 90
_Life of Charlotte Bront‘; The_, viii, x, 38, 74-5, 86, 100, 106n., 
     118, 125n., 126, 146-55, 175, 180, 240, 251, 252; 
     narrative method, 45-6, 64, 75, 78, 164, 245; causes 
     controversy, 8; influence on novels, 15; publication, 173;	
     women authors, 229-31 
'Lizzie Leigh', 14, 44, 70, 242 
'Lois the Witch', vii, 15, 37, 46, 53n., 59, 77, 8o, 90, 147, 
     164-72, 181, 184, 185, 196, 202, 236, 239, 250
London, 94, 99-101, 106, 109-10, 125, 133, 134, 135, 
     137-8, 214, 219
Love, as human impulse, 40, 52; its New Testament basis, 43; 
     sexual and morbid love, 69, 142, 167-8, 179, 184-5; 
     importance in later novels, 184, 197, 203-4, 218, 222-4; 
     and marriage, 219-20; Mr. Nicholls's love for Charlotte 
     Bront‘, 150

Malinowski, Bronislaw, 262
Manchester, 2, 10-11, 14, 15, 17, 26, 27, 29-30, 32-3, 35, 
     66, 77-8, 88-101, 109, 111, 112, 113, 115-16, 118, 123, 
     125, 136, 138, 168, 171, 173, 185, 193, 199n., 207, 210, 
'Manchester Marriage, The', 69, 172n., 238; and 
     'Enoch Arden', 71, 178n.
Manzoni, Alessandro, _I Promessi Sposi_, 200, 201n.

'Martha Preston', see 'Half a Life-Time Ago', 125n.
_Mary Barton_, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11-12, 13, 14-15, 18, 21, 30-6, 39, 
     44, 53n., 54, 55-7, 62, 66, 69-70, 77, 78, 83, 87, 88, 90, 
     94-8, 99, 100, 107, 118, 122, 131, 136-7, 138, 139, 140, 
     141, 142, 144, 145, 158, 161n., 165, 202, 211, 220, 227, 
     231-4, 235-6, 237, 240, 241, 242, 255,

-- 283 --

     258-62; Original outline, ix, x, 265-8
Mather, Cotton, 170
Maurice, F. D., 240
Melville, Herman, 180
Mill, J. S., on biography, 153n.
'Modern Greek Songs', 126, 165
'Moorland Cottage, The', vii, 13, 99; Christmas book, 110n;
     _Wives and Daughters_, 117n.
Morris, William, 92, 215
'Morton Hall', 80, 114-15, 240, 245
Mottram, R. H., 27
'Mr. Harrison's Confessions', vii, 13, 67, 109-11, 114, 244
'Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings', see _All the Year Round_
_My Diary_, 8, 60, 65
'My French Master', 114, 115, 245
_My Lady Ludlow_, vii, 14, 15, 18, 37-8, 39-40, 46, 61, 69, 
     70-1, 76, 82, 118, 146, 147, 148, 155-63, 164, 166, 
     169, 170,172,189, 193, 195, 213, 237, 245, 251, 255

Narrative Method, authorial commentary, 18-21, 47, 75, 
     117, 186, 227, 240-4, 246; first person narrator, 19, 109, 
     151, 159, 197, 200, 244-5; point of view, 21, 124, 132, 
     192; central intelligence, 121, 227, 246-8
Nasmyth, James, 139n., 199n., and _Cousin Phillis_, 98
Nature, 103-19 _passim_, 189; contrast to town life, 2, 33, 
     89, 91, 92, 96, 98; Wordsworthian attitude to, 34, 111, 
     113; deglamourized, 136-7, 160; lasting influence of; 
     198, 213
Nicholls, Rev. A. B., 38, 149-50
Nightingale, Florence, 143
_North and South_, 2, 14, 18, 44-5, 52, 53n., 62, 63, 72, 75-6, 
     77, 82-3, 88, 90, 94, 98, 100, 101, 114, 115, 118, 122-3, 
     127, 128, 129-45, 146, 148, 150, 154, 158, 160, 161n., 
     165, 184, 185, 191n., 199, 203, 209, 210, 215, 234, 235,
     237, 238, 239, 247, 251, 255-6, 257, 262
Norton, Charles Eliot (see also _Letters of Mrs. Gaskell and 
     Charles Eliot Norton_), 123; Roman episode, 173-5

'Old Nurse's Story, The', 3, 165
'One of our Legal Fictions', doubtful ascription, ix
_Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church_, 27n.

Paley, William, 232n.
Pater, Walter, 152
Payne, G. A., 103n.
Poets of Lancashire, The, 258
Pollard, Arthur, 47
'Poor Glare, The', 165, 185, 238
Pope, Alexander, 183
Pre-Raphaelites, 180
Proust, Marcel, 203
Psychological treatment of character, 165, 175, 182-3, 
     222; influence of _Life_ on, 151, 155; influence of George 
     Eliot on, 179

Quirk, Randolph, 250

Reade, Charles, 164
Reconciliation, as theme, 43, 68, 72, 95, 128, 134, 233-4
Religion (see also 'Anglicanism', 'The Bible', 'Dissent', 
     Roman Catholicism', 'Unitarianism'), 4, 13, 14, 23-50, 59, 
     64-5, 77, 82-3, 97, 107, 134, 142, 150, 167-71, 184, 
     186-7, 192, 201-2, 210-11, 220, 232; in Victorian 
     England, 28-9; Old and New Testament, 42-3; manifested 
     in her characters, 48-9, 161-3; in _Adam Bede_, 179; and 
     Darwinism, 187-8

-- 284 --	

'Right at Last' 172n.
Ritchie, Lady Anne, (nŽe Thackeray), 5
Roman Catholicism, 37, 94, 210
Rome, 90, 173-5
_Round the Sofa_ (collected stories), 155n.
Ruskin, John, on _Cranford_, 103n., 108
_Ruth_, 2, 6, 8, 12, 14, 15, 37, 38, 44, 47, 53n., 56, 57, 59-60, 
     61, 63, 67, 69, 70-2, 78, 82, 85-7, 88, 89, 94, 113-14, 117, 
     118, 126, 132, 142, 145, 150, 153, 154, 160-1, 169, 185, 
     201, 216, 233, 235-6, 238, 240, 241, 242, 268

SablŽ, Madame de, 17
_Sartain's Union Magazine_, 12n., 103
Satire, 20, 49, 125, 216, 226; of pseudo-religion, 186, 210
Scott, Sir Walter, historical novels, 164; dialect 258-9
Serialization (see also 'Dickens' and 'Thackeray'), 104, 
     129-31, 147, 190, 194, 239
SŽvigny, Madame de, 17, 38, 252 
Sewall, Justice, 170-1 
'Sexton's Hero, The', 44, 59, 90, 267 
Shaen, Margaret, J., 6n., 72n., 198n. 
'Shah's English Gardener, The', 97n. 
Shakespeare, William, _Romeo & Juliet_, 63; _Othello_, 140 
Shaw, George Bernard, use of dialect in _Pygmalion_, 260 
Shorter, Clement K., x, 8, 233n., 265 
'Six weeks at Heppenheim', 172n. 
Smith, George, viii, 147-9, 154n., 175, 180, 194, 207, 230
Smith, Sir J. E., 98 
Smith, Reginald, and Knutsford edition, vii-ix
Social Novel, The (see also 'Class Structure'), relation to 
     novel of social reform, 2, 29-31, 88, 118, 141, 155; 
     treatment of social group, 10-13, 15-16, 43, 81, 104, 
     120-8, 160, 181, 195, 209, 214-15
Sophocles, _Antigone_, 41
Speke, John Hanning, 221
'Squire's Story, The', 79, 238
Stability (see also 'Tradition'), 51-72, 166, 217; influence 
     of religion on, 28, 142, 171; in the community, 17, 109, 
     112, 121, 124, 202; in the individual, 31, 68, 74, 145, 
     155; in continuity, 191, 196
Story, William Whetmore, 173 
Structure of Mrs. G.'s works (see also 'Serialization'), 44-6, 
     68, 104, 143-4, 147, 154-5, 176, 229-31; pattern, 
     44, 53-4, 66, 71, 86, 206, 227, 231-4, 236-9; plot, 16, t, 16, 0, 46, 
132-3, 197; moral pivot, 235-6; time, 107, 204, 
     212, 239-40; episodes, 80, 91, 103-4, 156, 158, 197
Style, 17-18, 250-64; influence of Bible on, 33, 184; forced, 
     183, 225, 255-6; appropriateness of, 250-1; use of 
     symbol, 78-9; register of language, 252-3 
Supernatural, The, 3, 80, 165, 168-9, 185
Swinburne, A. C., 5
_Sylvia's Lovers_, 15, 20, 37n., 40, 41, 45-7, 53n., 57-9, 6o, 
     63, 67, 78-9, 89, 118, 124, 147, 155n., 164, 166, 
     172-89,192,194,196,203, 211, 221, 223, 224, 233, 
     235, 237, 238, 239, 241, 243-4, 254, 255, 262 

Tennyson, Alfred, 35, 87; 'Enoch Arden', 71, 178n.; 
     _In Memoriam_, 187-8
Thackeray, W. M. (see also the _Cornhill Magazine_), 23, 
     152, 164, 216n., 230; authorial commentary, 19; 
     treatment of religion, 49; influence of, 244; _Vanity Fair_, 

-- 285 --

Tillotson, Geoffrey, 239n. 
Tillotson, Kathleen, 2, 7, 11, 36, 65, 73, 213 
_Times Literary Supplement, The_, 5 
Tradition, 73-87, as social value, 13-14, 68, 128, 157, 168; 
     as element of continuity, 68, 108, 140; personal interest 
     in, 114, 180; as reactionary, 137, 211; diminishing 
     emphasis on, 195, 213
'Traits and Stories of the Huguenots', 79, 126, 165
Trollope, Anthony, treatment of clergymen, 48-9; 
     plot calculation, discussed in _Autobiography_, 66

Unitarianism, 4, 8, 36, 39, 82-3, 169,221; in _Ruth_, 12; 
     doctrine of, 25-8, 42n.; and Evolution, 188 

Virgil, 200, 201 

Ward, Sir, A. W., viii-x, 6, 113, 143n., 165n., 193
Warren, Austin, 23
Watts, G. H., 229n.
'Well of Pen Morfa, The', 19n., 44, 59, 72n.
Wellek, Rene, 23n.
Willey, Basil, 34n.
Williams, Raymond, 7n., 96
Wilson, Rev. Carus, 154
Winkworth, Catherine, 141
Winkworth, Susannah, 72n.
_Wives and Daughters_, viii, 2, 5, 6, 13, 16-17, 20, 21, 38, 48, 
     51-2, 54, 56, 59, 61, 62, 67-8, 88, 100, 118, 119, 120-2, 
     125, 148-8, 151, 155n., 161n., 172, 179, 181, 185, 188, 
     191, 192, 194-6, 202, 205-28, 234, 235, 237, 238, 239, 
     241, 243, 244, 246-8, 250, 251, 252, 256-7, 259n., 263, 
     268; Wordsworth quoted, 111n.; relation to 'The Moorland 
     Cottage', 117 
Wood, Mrs. Henry, _The Channings_, 256
Woodward, E. L., 195n.
Woolf, Virginia, 124
Wordsworth, William, 34, 113, 250; in _Wives and Daughters_, 
     111n., 'Immortality Ode', 65n.; _The Prelude_, 111 

Young, G. M., 54