Elizabeth Gaskell: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson discusses the Victorian era writer Elizabeth Gaskell, as well as how her writing was descriptive of society at the time. Read the lesson to learn more about this iconic, 19th century writer, then test your new-found knowledge with a quiz.

Is She Watching Me?

Have you ever been waiting at the airport for a while for a connecting flight? Maybe your flight was delayed, and you were bored out of your mind with waiting. One fun thing to do is to watch the people walking by and imagine who they are and where they are going. Authors play this observation game all the time, learning about the world around them so it can be written and published.

Imagine that someone you know is writing down everything he or she observes about daily life, including the people and places encountered. The names may be changed, but the series of events reflects real life. This was Elizabeth Gaskell's way of writing. Gaskell took people, places and events, and she turned them into novels and short stories during the Victorian era in Britain. Gaskell's work gives readers a glimpse into life during that period.


Elizabeth Gaskell was born as Elizabeth Stevenson in London in 1810. Her family came from a long line of ministers, and her father was a minister as well. Her mother died a little more than a year after she was born, and her father did not know how to take care of her, so he sent her off to her aunt's house, where Gaskell was based for a good portion of her childhood. Her father remarried and had another family, but Gaskell remained with her mother's family in Knutsford and attended school there.

She married a minister, William Gaskell, in 1832 and moved with him to Manchester, where they had six children, two of who died in infancy or were stillborn. Gaskell began writing around this time, particularly after the death of her son. The family traveled, and Gaskell gained more information for her writing. She and her husband believed in social reform and helping the poor, and the Gaskells were tireless in promoting this ideal. The Gaskells had many friends that were also popular writers of the time, such as Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. These famous writers visited Gaskell at her home in Manchester. Gaskell passed away as a result of a heart attack at age 55 in 1865.

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