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Additional resources for Elizabeth Gaskell: Second Edition
Elizabeth Gaskell’s unfamiliarity with patriarchy at close quarters may account for her exaggeration, in The Life of Charlotte Brontë, of Patrick Brontë’s authoritarianism, and her astonishment at Charlotte’s ‘patient docility. . in her conduct towards her father’ chap 2 20/7/06 9:41 am Woman and Writer Page 17 17 (LCB: 508, 511). It also explains the apparent inconsistency which puzzles Nancy Anderson, that she was able to live in ‘conformity to the Victorian female role of wife and mother’ and also be ‘the real provider and manager of her family’ (Anderson, N: 41).
In the process of writing itself, Elizabeth Gaskell dislikes masculine abstraction and emphasises concrete particularities. She urges male correspondents to give ‘little details which it is “beneath the dignity of man” to put on paper’ (L 409). J. Fox she appeals for details of his daughter’s wedding: ‘Who – What, Where, Wherefore, Why – oh! do be a woman, and give me all possible details –’ (L 419). The urgency is not trivial; details are necessary to make narrative interesting (L 420), to understand large questions (L 384)), and to make proper moral judgments (L 424; cf Noddings: 36).
Working Women Because Elizabeth Gaskell’s studies of working-class life are read as ‘industrial’ novels, criticism has focussed on factory-workers like John Barton and Nicholas Higgins. Her work as a whole, however, highlights working women – not just factory workers like Bessy Higgins but seamstresses, milliners, washerwomen, ‘chars’, a tailor, beekeepers, farmers, housewives and domestic servants. Her very first publication is a verse portrait of an old working woman (Sketches Among the Poor’, K1: xxiixxv).