Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The contemporary reception of Mrs. Gaskell as novelist and biographer with special reference to reviews of her work

Koureiti, Mohamed Anwar


Mohamed Anwar Koureiti


Arthur Pollard


This study sets out to cover the contemporary reception of Mrs .Gaskell 's major works: Mary Barton, Ruth, Cranford, North and South, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Sylvia's Lovers and Wives and Daughters.

The first chapter shows that Mrs.Gaskell's contemporary readers fully appreciated Mary Barton for treating a still largely unexplored subject, industrial life in Manchester, with sympathy, understanding and considerable literary skill. Few critics objected to the author's message of social reconciliation.

In the second chapter we follow the largely favourable reception of Ruth, treating a very sensitive issue, the social and spiritual redemption of an unmarried mother and her illegitimate child. By largely following contemporary notions about the social and religious meaning of sexual transgression, Mrs.Gaskell reassured most reviewers, and enhanced the effectiveness of her message that a fallen woman's child could be his mother's incentive to seek social rehabilitation.

In the third chapter we review the unanimous delight in Cranford as a minor masterpiece, full of deep moral and social significance, behind its facade of humour and compassionate irony.

North and South, the subject of the fourth chapter, was favourably received, though not as widely or enthusiastically as Mary Barton. Contemporary readers liked it better than Dickens's Hard Times, finding that Mrs.Gaskell's knowledge of the industrial scene was without parallel. A number of critics began to consider Mrs.Gaskell, after the death of Charlotte Bronte in 1855, the most outstanding lady novelist of the time.

In the fifth chapter we trace the reception of Mrs.Gaskell's sensationally successful, though controversial, Life of Charlotte Bronte.

The critical response to Sylvia's Lovers, the subject of the sixth chapter, is less exciting and more sombre. many reviewers failed to appreciate Mrs.Gaskell's attempt to present the prosaic shopkeeper Philip Hepburn as a tragic hero.

In the last chapter, treating the reception of the posthumously published Wives and Daughters, we find the reviewers almost unanimously recognizing Mrs.Gaskell as a first-class realist, worthy to be compared with Jane Austen and George Eliot.

Besides her artistic genius, Mrs.Gaskell's greatest assets for her contemporary readers were her optimistic vision, her celebration of the value of tradition and culture, and her unshaken faith in the value and meaning of human life.


Koureiti, M. A. (1979). The contemporary reception of Mrs. Gaskell as novelist and biographer with special reference to reviews of her work. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 17, 2014
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords English
Public URL
Additional Information Department of English, The University of Hull
Award Date Jul 1, 1979


Thesis (16.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1979 Koureiti, Mohamed Anwar. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Downloadable Citations