Despite her own creativity, which certainly had the support of her husband, Elizabeth Gaskell, when questioned by a young writer, insisted that a woman’s first duty was to husband and family. Friends recollected her carrying out her early career while conducting household activities. Later, however, she often went traveling alone or with her daughters but—except for jaunts to a beloved vacation spot near Manchester—never with her husband. The traveling periods gave her isolation for writing, suggesting that her own practice ran counter to her advice.
Enid L. Duthie has found in Gaskell’s fiction a strong interest in natural scenery, in country customs, crafts, and tales; a sympathy for conservative small towns, yet equally a concern for working men and women; a desire for practical knowledge to enhance living; a focus on the family as the stable social unit where affections are close but able, on occasion, to extend to others in need; and an insistence that violence is futile, the human condition precarious, faith necessary. John McVeagh sees Gaskell as insisting that absolute judgments become meaningless when related to concrete human situations requiring compromise. In Gaskell’s treatment of the laboring element, Calder sees her as avoiding the duality of other portrayers of working-class families—sympathetic yet condescending—and refers to Gaskell as one of the few major Victorian writers showing marriage from a woman’s viewpoint and...
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