Read by Mark Rice-Oxley (Unabridged: 1hr 53mins)
Elizabeth Stevenson was born in Chelsea in London on 29th September 1810.
Both parents embedded their strong Unitarian beliefs into Elizabeth who rebelliously was often reluctant to display these religious convictions.
The early death of Elizabeth’s mother saw her sent away to be brought up by her maternal aunt in Knutsford, Cheshire.
Her father now remarried but Elizabeth spent most of her childhood in Cheshire away from her father and his new family but was supportive towards her half-siblings.
Elizabeth’s aunt encouraged her education and particularly to read and express herself through writing.
In 1828, her brother John, who worked in the merchant navy, disappeared on a journey to India. This disastrous loss depressed her father, and she went to his household to nurse him for the next year before he died.
In 1832, she fell in love with William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister like her father, and married him. They settled in Manchester. This booming industrial city had a great impact on Elizabeth who felt the need to speak up for poor workers and their exploitation by large industrial companies. A collection of poems and short stories, ‘Sketches among the Poor’ appeared in 1837, co-authored by her husband. Her first major work, under a pseudonym, was ‘Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life’ published in 1848.
During her career she worked continually with Charles Dickens and published much in his various magazines. With him she published ‘Lizzie Leigh’ in 1850 which dealt with the taboo subject of prostitution. She was an excellent writer and impressed her many Victorian literary peers. Much of her writing reflects her work as a social critic highlighting the exploitation of the working class and the situation of women in society.
On 12th November 1865, Elizabeth Gaskell died in Holybourne, Hampshire, after suffering from a heart attack a month earlier.