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Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell's second larger work first appeared in three volumes in January, 1853. The story of Ruth is the simplest possible—that of a seduced milliner's apprentice, and of her illegitimate child. We see her first, beautiful, innocent, ignorant, friendless; then loving, betrayed, and deserted, when already about to become a mother; then trained into virtue out of ignorance by the kindness of friends and the duties of motherhood, but at the same time made to occupy a false position, for the sake of her helpless babe, by being passed off as a widow; then overwhelmed with reprobation through the discovery of her past…
The North British Review, 1853 — The perfect naturalness of development in the story of Ruth results necessarily in a perfect clearness of purpose, from whatever side the work is looked at; a purpose not ticketed in the shape of a moral, but inwoven with the whole texture of the book, and as much part of it as the softness of a cashmere shawl, or the delicate design of a Lyons silk. That purpose, so far as respects the Bensons—after Ruth, the leading characters of the book—is the inculcation of the plain old English maxim, "tell the truth and shame the devil."
The Spectator, 1853 — The novel before us argues a clear perception of external imagery, and a powerful, distinct style, especially in description; a conception of character, not altogether abstract, but derived from cogitation rather than from life; with a sufficiency of dramatic spirit.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1853 — We reiterate our opinion that often where it has been censured it has been least understood. We think it a beautiful poem, full of lovely lights and refreshing shades, ministering to the best part of our nature, rising into the region of our highest contemplations.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born in the year 1811; and was brought up by her aunts residing at Knutsford, Cheshire. In 1832 she married the Reverend 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. Ruth, Mrs. Gaskell's second larger work in order of publication, first appeared in three volumes in 1853. 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 and in 1863 her next novel Sylvia’s Lovers. Elizabeth 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 and was published posthumously in 1865.