The first instalment of Wives and Daughters appeared in the August number of The Cornhill Magazine of the year 1864. The last, but uncompleted, portion of the story was published in January 1866. Elizabeth Gaskell's last work was universally regarded as the most artistically perfect of all her productions.
The Athenaeum, March 3, 1866 — There has been no such story as this since Jane Austen laid by the pencil with which she was used to paint miniatures. It would be hard to cite a novel more rich in distinctly-marked character than this. Nothing can be better than Molly‘s false step-mother, Mrs. Gibson, the ex-governess in a noble family—with her incapacity to be otherwise than crooked, worldly, and ambitions in her paltry way,—unless it be the coquette her daughter, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The attraction, to such a being, of her step-father’s generosity and uprightness,—the perpetual, satirical antagonism with which she reviews and disconcerts her mother,—are masterly touches of Art, though the picture be only (to return to Jane Austen) a miniature.
The British Quarterly Review, 1867 — We do not hesitate to pronounce it the finest of Mrs. Gaskell's productions; that in which her true womanly nature is most adequately reflected, and that which will keep her name longest in remembrance. This generation has produced many writers whose books may live long after them as pictures of manners in the reign of good Queen Victoria; but we call to mind none save Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Dickens, George Eliot, and Mr. Anthony Trollope, in their best moments, to whom the future will be so much indebted for its knowledge of how we lived and moved in the middle of the nineteenth century, as to Mrs. Gaskell.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born in the year 1811; and was brought up by her aunts residing at Knutsford, Cheshire. In 1832 she married the William Gaskell, minister of the Unitarian Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester. Her first novel was Mary Barton, a picture of Manchester life among the working classes, which appeared anonymously in 1848. The Moorland Cottage, a simple little Christmas book, followed in 1850. Two years later appeared the novel Ruth. Mrs. Gaskell published some sketches of life in a small country town, which were contributed to Household Words under the title of Cranford. In 1855, the novel North and South appeared, in which she returns to the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire. In 1857 she published a life of Charlotte Brontë. Mrs. Gaskell's death in 1865 was most sudden. She expired instantaneously, while conversing with her daughters, on her return from church. The novel Wives and Daughters was left incomplete by her sudden decease.