Elizabeth Stevenson was born in London on 29 September 1810, the daughter of a Unitarian minister. After her mother´s early death, she was raised by an aunt who lived in Knutsford in Cheshire. In 1832, she married William Gaskell, also a Unitarian minister, and they settled in the industrial city of Manchester. Motherhood and the obligations of a minister´s wife kept her busy. However, the death of her only son inspired her to write her first novel, ´Mary Barton´, which was published anonymously in 1848. It was an immediate success, winning the praise of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.
Dickens invited her to contribute to his magazine, ´Household Words´, where her next major work, ´Cranford´, appeared in 1853. ´North and South´ was published the following year. Gaskell´s work brought her many friends, including the novelist Charlotte Bronte. When Charlotte died in 1855, her father, Patrick Bronte, asked Gaskell to write her biography. The ´Life of Charlotte Bronte´ (1857) was written with admiration and covered a huge quantity of firsthand material with great narrative skill.
Gaskell died on 12 November 1865, leaving her longest work, ´Wives and Daughters´ incomplete.