Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. John Ferns
Elizabeth Gaskell is almost universally considered a minor novelist; one of some charm, but of limited value and interest. Such a valuation can be made, however, only by ignoring the greatness of Gaskell's finest novel, Wives and Daughters (1866). If the culmination of a writing career marked by an increasing coherence to a tradition of the English novel initiated by Jane Austen. Wives and Daughters develops from and enlarges that tradition.
Gaskell's indebtedness to the tradition of the novel developing from Jane Austen's writings is often assumed by critics, but this indebtedness is usually only cursorily treated. However, Gaskell's development from the Austen tradition can be demonstrated by analysing the use she makes of it in the composition of her own novels.
The infIuence of the Austen tradition is pervasive but is most clearly shown in Wives and Daughters, in which Baskell explores the issues which concerned her predecessor in Mansfield Park (1814). Significantly, Wives and Daughters can be seen to have a direct influence upon the composition of George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871-72). Gaskell, by virtue of her finest novel, exists between Austen and Eliot in "the great tradition"; the Judgment of Gaskell as a minor novelist is an undervaluation.
Adams, Donald Bradley, "Elizabeth Gaskell and the English Novel Tradition" (1988). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2033.