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Married Life In Manchester
Knutsford Parish Church
Although Elizabeth and her husband were both Unitarians, the wedding took place in Knutsford Parish Church, according to the legal requirements of the time. After her marriage Mrs Gaskell never again lived in Knutsford, but she was a frequent visitor to Knutsford and it occurs again and again in her writings. In the words of her biographer, Annette B Hopkins:
 
Knutsford Parish Church


Whenever her writing is at its best, wherever there is sparkle and humour, grace and gaiety, wherever there is a feeling for beauty in the world of nature, for the little homely things of every day, or profound sympathy with and understanding of the vagaries and the tragedies of human lives, then we may be sure the spirit of Knutsford is present. 

 
For the first few years after she was married, Elizabeth was busy having children (she had six, of whom four, all girls, survived) and carrying out the duties that fell to a Minister's wife. And as a Minister's wife in Manchester she saw much to shock her, for the conditions of the working people in the black and pestilential alleys of mid-century Manchester were such as we can now hardly imagine. Whole families lived in foul, damp cellars; work was uncertain and at best, ill paid, and in bad tines, people died - literally - from starvation. Children were among those who suffered. In Mrs Gaskell's own words:
 
Mary Barton
Manchester's poor


Many a penny that would have gone little way enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bought opium to still the hungry little ones and make them forget their uneasiness in heavy, troubled sleep. It was mother's mercy. 

Mary Barton by Elizabeth GaskellIt was these wretched conditions that led Mrs Gaskell to write her first book, 'Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life'. 'Mary Barton' was published in 1848 and it made Mrs Gaskell immediately famous, not to say notorious. It was the first of the true Social Novels. It was condemned for having such an 'unsuitable setting' as the Manchester slums, and worse, it was attacked as being subversive of the established order. According to the doctrines of the day, the hardships of the poor were entirely the fault of their own vice and thriftlessness, and the better off had no right to interfere with the free play of economic forces. 'Cranford' was Mrs Gaskell's second book and the first one to represent the sunnier side of her literary nature. It may be seen perhaps as a reaction to the grimness of 'Mary Barton'. It first appeared as a series of essays in Charles Dickens' magazine 'Household Words' and was published in book form in 1853.