Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell eBooks
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson (29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs Gaskell, was a British novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and as such are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature. Gaskell was born Elizabeth Stevenson on 29 September 1810, at 93 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, which was then on the outskirts of London. Gaskell was the eighth and last of her parents' children; only she and her brother John survived infancy. Her father, William Stevenson, was a Scottish Unitarian minister at Failsworth, Lancashire but resigned his orders on conscientious grounds, moving his family to London in 1806 with intention of going to India after he had been named private secretary to the Earl of Lauderdale, who was to become Governor-General of India. This position did not materialise, and Stevenson was instead nominated Keeper of the Treasury Records. Stevenson's wife, Elizabeth Holland, came from a family from the English Midlands that was well connected with other Unitarian and prominent families like the Wedgwoods, the Turners and the Darwins, and when she died three months after giving birth to Gaskell she left a bewildered husband who saw no other alternative for young Elizabeth but to be sent away to live with her mother's sister Hannah Lumb, in Knutsford, Cheshire.
While she was growing up Gaskell's future was very uncertain as she had no personal wealth and no firm home, even though she was a permanent guest at her aunt and grandparents' house. Her father had married again to Catherine Thomson in 1814 and the couple had a male heir, William (born 1815) and a daughter, Catherine (born 1816). Although Gaskell would sometimes spend several years without seeing her father and his new family, her older brother John would often visit her in Knutsford. John had early been destined for the Royal Navy, like his grandfathers and uncles, but he had no entry and had to go into the Merchant Navy with the East India Company's fleet. John went missing in 1827 during an expedition to India.
Much of Elizabeth's childhood was spent in Cheshire, where she lived with her aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford, a town she would later immortalise as Cranford. They lived in a large red brick house, Heathwaite, on Heathside (now Gaskell Avenue), which faces the large open area of Knutsford Heath.
She also spent some time in Newcastle upon Tyne (with Rev. William Turner's family) and in Edinburgh. Her stepmother was a sister of the Scottish miniature artist, William John Thomson, who painted the famous 1832 portrait of Gaskell in Manchester. Also during this period, Gaskell met and married William Gaskell, the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, who had a literary career of his own. They spent their honeymoon in North Wales, staying with Elizabeth's uncle, Samuel Holland, who lived near Porthmadog.