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Elizabeth Gaskell Manuscript Collection

Date range: 1657–1868

Number of items:

The Library holds an outstanding collection of manuscripts and papers of the novelist Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810–1865).

Gaskell 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, and moved to the city. 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 anonymously in 1848 and enjoyed immediate success.

From 1850 Gaskell regularly contributed to Charles Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, where her novel North and South was serialized between September 1854 and January 1855. Later she turned to biography, with her famous Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Her last work, Wives and Daughters, was published in the Cornhill Magazine between August 1864 and January 1866, although it was left just short of completion on Gaskell's death in November 1865.

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’;
  • 29 letters from Charles Dickens;
  • An autograph manuscript of Dickens’s short story ‘A Child’s Dream of a Star’;
  • 22 autograph letters from Charlotte Brontë (21 to Gaskell and one to Brontë's friend Mary Taylor), 18 letters from Patrick Brontë, and other manuscripts relating to the Brontë family;
  • Smaller groups of letters from William Makepeace Thackeray and Walter Savage Landor;
  • Approximately 113 letters sent to Gaskell or her husband from contemporary writers and other notable individuals;
  • Gaskell's own autograph collection - largely in the form of entire letters - which features a range of significant contemporary and historical figures and extends to approximately 200 pieces;
  • A portrait miniature of Gaskell painted by William John Thomson in 1832;
  • Gaskell’s ink-stand, paper-knife and other personal possessions.

The Library has added to this core collection over the years by acquiring further Gaskell letters when they become available.

See also:

Further Information:

  • Catalogue of most items available online via ELGAR.
  • Index of correspondence available via Special Collections reading rooms.
  • 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).

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