Gaskell had for some time been a friend of Charlotte Bronte, the
author of 'Jane "Eyre'. Charlotte died in 1855 and her father,
The Rev Patrick Bronte, asked Elizabeth to write her biography.
This was a brave choice on Mr. Bronte's part, for Mrs. Gaskell at
that time was looked on as a highly dangerous writer.
Left: Charlotte Bronte
She threw herself into this task with impressive professionalism,
chasing every scrap of information and following in Charlotte's
footsteps where she had been. The result ranks second only to Boswell's
'Johnson' among the English biographies, and which, like 'Cranford'
has run through edition after edition for more than a century.
In the short run, however, the result was still more trouble for
Mrs. Gaskell, who was altogether too frank about Branwell Bronte's
unhappy love affair with Mrs. Robinson, and also about Cowan Bridge
School, the original of the appalling 'Lowood' of 'Jane Eyre'.
edition of 'The Life of Charlotte Bronte' had to be scrapped, and
a public apology made in 'The Times'. This was apparently done without
Mrs. Gaskell's knowledge - she was in Italy at the time, having
taken care to be abroad on publication day - and her own dry observation
was that the next edition ought to contain an apology 'for having
offered so expensive an article as truth to the public'.