Elizabeth Gaskell was born in London in 1810, the daughter of a Unitarian minister, civil servant, and journalist. Her mother died when Elizabeth was young, and she was raised by an aunt. In 1832, she married a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell, and shared in his ministry. Together they had six children, two of whom did not survive infancy. Though she had been writing for some time, Gaskell's first novel, May Barton, was not published until 1848. She wrote several short pieces for Howitt's Journal and Household Words and continued writing novels. Both Ruth and Cranford were published in 1853; North and South was published in 1855.
Gaskell met many of England's literary giants, including Dickens, Wordsworth, and Charlotte Brontë. After her death in 1855, Brontë's father asked Gaskell to write a biography of her life. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) is still admired today. Other works by Gaskell include Lizzie Leigh: A Domestic Tale (1850), The Moorland Cottage (1850), Lizzie Leigh and Other Tales (1855), My Lady Ludlow (1858), Right at Last and Other Tales (1860), Lois the Witch and Other Tales (1860), Sylvia's Lovers (1863), A Dark Night's Work (1863), Cousin Phillis: A Tale (1864), The Grey Woman and Other Tales (1865), and Wives and Daughter: An Every-Day Story (1866). Gaskell died suddenly in 1865.
Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth (1853) is the story of Ruth Hilton, a poor orphan girl who works in a dressmaker's shop; she is without family or friends. Her mother, the “daughter of a poor curate in Norfolk” (36), dies when Ruth is only twelve, and her father, an unsuccessful farmer, dies three years later. Her father unwisely set her future in place when he set up a legal guardianship at her birth that placed her in the care of the most prominent man he knew, but a man who had never even met Ruth. Her guardian's disinterest in Ruth is quickly made obvious when he settles the estate and immediately sets her into an apprenticeship with a dress