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Elizabeth Gaskell Manuscript Collection

Date range: c.1840–67.

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810–65), novelist, needs little introduction in these pages.

She spent much of her early life at Knutsford, Cheshire, which became the model for her novel Cranford.

In 1832 she married the Reverend William Gaskell, minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester.

She turned to writing to deal with her grief over the death of her son Willie in 1845. Her first novel, Mary Barton, grounded in the grim realities of working-class life in Manchester, was published anonoymously in 1848 and enjoyed immediate success.

From 1850 Gaskell regularly contributed to Charles Dickens’s weekly Household Words, where her novel North and South was serialized between September 1854 and January 1855. Later she turned to biography, with her controversial Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Her last work, Wives and Daughters, was published in the Cornhill Magazine between August 1864 and January 1866.

The papers came to the former John Rylands Library and the University Library in three main tranches in 1910, 1914 and 1933; many of them were donated by the executors of Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughter Meta.

They include:

  • original manuscripts of Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, the novel Wives and Daughters, and the short stories ‘The Crooked Branch’ and ‘The Grey Woman’
  • twenty-nine letters from Charles Dickens
  • an autograph manuscript of Dickens’s short story ‘A Child’s Dream of a Star’
  • twenty-two autograph letters from Charlotte Brontë to Gaskell, eighteen letters from Patrick Brontë, and other manuscripts relating to the Brontë family
  • smaller groups of letters from William Makepeace Thackeray and Walter Savage Landor (q.v.)
  • over 300 letters either sent to or collected by Gaskell from contemporary writers, politicians and other notable individuals
  • a fine portrait miniature of Gaskell painted by William John Thomson in 1832
  • Gaskell’s ink-stand, paper-knife and other personal possessions

See also the Elizabeth Gaskell Printed Collection, the Jamison Family Archive, and the John Geoffrey Sharps Papers.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue of most items available online via ELGAR (English MSS 726–734, 876–877).
  • Unpublished index of correspondence; other material recorded in unpublished card catalogue of University mss.
  • See also Elizabeth Gaskell, ‘The Ghost in the Garden Room’, edited by Fran Baker, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 86, no. 1 (2004).

Alternative form

Published microfilm: Elizabeth Gaskell and Nineteenth-Century Literature: Manuscripts from the John Rylands University Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1989).


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

Further information

For more about Mrs Gaskell visit The Gaskell Web and The Gaskell Society website.

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