Cousin Phillis first appeared in the Cornhill Magazine, from November, 1863, to February, 1864. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cousin Phillis approached most nearly to literary perfection among all her shorter stories. The charm of this story is a homely charm; all its characters, partake of this simplicity—a simplicity of manners and of that which lies at the root of manners. The intellectual curiosity of Phillis—who reads Dante like Margaret in North and South—is as unaffected as her mother's complete lack of it. Paul himself, the narrator of the story, is as delightfully natural as any of the characters in it. His discovery of Phillis's love, is told with simple delicacy. Mrs. Gaskell, half-humorously, half-tenderly, describes as a sort of moral “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
Elizabeth Gaskell was born in the year 1811; and was brought up by her aunts residing at Knutsford, Cheshire. In 1832 she married 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.
Note concluding Wives and Daughters — It is clear in this novel of Wives and Daughters, in the exquisite little story that preceded it, Cousin Phillis, and in Sylvia's Lovers, that Mrs. Gaskell had within these five years started upon a new career with all the freshness of youth, and with a mind which seemed to have put off its clay and to have been born again. As mere works of art and observation, these later novels of Mrs. Gaskell's are among the finest of our time.
The British Review, No. 90, 1867 — Cousin Phillis is less remarkable for story than for consummate grace and delicacy of execution. Here we escape the shock of soul-destroying sorrows; we breathe sweet country air amongst good people who live above the temptations of an evil world; people to whom God has given neither riches nor poverty, but a full measure of content.
This is a quick read, just a simple story, beautifully written. Not as edgy as some other works of hers that are better known.