• Kathryn Houghton

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Victorian Author Who Deserves More Recognition

Updated: Dec 2, 2020


Maybe you‘ve read North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, having been compared to Pride & Prejudice. It’s definitely one of my favorite novels, but maybe you haven’t heard of Gaskell’s other books that are hidden gems within the classics community. Let’s look at each one and what makes them so noteworthy!

Mary Barton



Mary Barton might be my favorite underrated classic from Gaskell. It can’t be compared to any of her other novels. This was actually her first and based on a true acclaimed murder in 1831 of a well-known mill owner. Revolving around factory life and its many hardships, we get to grow up with Mary Barton, whose father is the suspected murderer. We see her adolescence, desperation, love, marriage, and her fight against the authorities.

With its short length and gripping plotline, I would wholeheartedly recommend this as your next read if you loved Gaskell’s style in North & South.


Ruth



Ruth Hilton is a young seamstress who captivates the eyes of a gentleman named Henry Bellingham. As Henry seems like a comfort at first, he later shows his true character. She eventually has to make a decision between her pride and the rules of society. Gaskell’s goal here was to portray what the times would call a ‘fallen woman'.

I have yet to read this piece, but I am eager to find out what Ruth will choose. Even knowing nothing about her and her personality, it seems to fall under the category of a tragedy, but I know that Gaskell will captivate us all the same.

Sylvia’s Lovers


Are you into love triangles? As frustrating as they can be for everyone involved, I’m actually obsessed with this trope lately. Sylvia Robson is stuck between two men and their charms. Her cousin, Philip Hepburn, hopes to marry her and conceals vital information in this attempt that leaves devastating consequences.


Just picture the scene - England is at war with France, while our heroine resides in a small English town by the seaside in the 1790s. Press gangs wreak havoc on the young men for service, and the whole town feels their violence.

Being a total nerd for anything to do with Age of Sail or seafaring history, I’m beyond excited to start this book. I have a feeling that I may have a new favorite on my hands, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated.

Wives and Daughters


I can understand why many would glance over Wives and Daughters. However, there’s much to admire about this story with its 500 and some pages. This story follows the life of Molly Gibson, being brought up without a mother. When her father remarries, she gains a step-sister, lovable but worldly Cynthia. We follow their ups and downs while they try to navigate society and its many restrictions.

This was nearly a 5 star read for me, and I think it’s a crucial look into mid-19th-century domestic Victorian life. I found myself drawn to Molly and at the same time wishing she’d grow a backbone. If you are fascinated with Victorian life and its oddities, then this one's for you!

Cranford



I was surprised by my opinions on Cranford after closing its pages for the first time. Gaskell aimed for a small-town feel with this short classic, and she fulfills this but maybe takes it a little too far. As some find this to be their favorite, I personally found it to be mediocre.

The plotline felt somewhat lacking. It seemed to put a focus on the gossip that goes around in a place where everyone knows everyone. Of course, if you are someone who enjoys books that are more slice of life stories, then this is a perfect option!


There’s a reason so many of us bookworms go back to Gaskell’s writing every year and why many college students study her work. Even though she had a pretty good life, she had much to teach us and explain to us and happily did it through her novels. She used her well-put place in society to the best of her advantage to give us the crucial stories we have come to love today.

I hope I have given you some valid recommendations through Elizabeth and that you come to find enjoyment in her masterpieces. Tell us what you think about her novels in the comments and if you have a favorite!

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