Mrs. Gaskell holds a secure and merited place among the novelists of the nineteenth century. Her novels, written in the early years of the Victorian period (from 1848 to 1865), offer us a record of certain aspects of the daily life of her time which, in its observed detail and clear vision, is recognizably and uniquely hers, distinguishable from the novels of her contemporaries by its firmness, honesty and lack of distortion. Her material is the ordinary life of the time, her characters normal and typical nineteenth-century individuals-the factory hand, the doctor's daughter, the farmer, the manufacturer; she is interested in them as individuals, and the main content of each novel is simply the description and exploration of the texture and feel, pressures and demands of their day-to-day existence. She is therefore a writer worthy of study in that her novels reflect the moods and problems of her society, or that part of society which she knew well, with the minimum of distortion or exaggeration; as if it was her aim to portray in fiction precisely what it felt like to live in the England of the early and middle nineteenth century. She avoids the extraordinary, the sensational and the false as a general rule, dealing rather with real problems, ordinary people, likely situations; her presentation is matter-of-fact, her
style straightforward, her conclusions simple and wise. Yet she is not dull. The ordinariness comes from a rigorous self-discipline, not from a barren imagination. It was her clear intention to relate her fiction to real life so as to make it more meaningful, and that she does so with such apparent ease is a positive and conscious achievement. Her work, then, will be found a rewarding and valid study, for in it are contained the reactions and wise judgements of a quick sensibility to the demands and stresses of her age. In a period noted for the sensational, romantic or satirical excess of its fiction-one thinks, for instance, of Dickens, the Brontes, Thackeray-for its geniuses bent in this or that direction away from the norm, Mrs. Gaskell's chief qualities seem to be the rational sanity of her judgements and the clear realism of her world.