From Discreet Chapel to Gothic Ostentation: Development in 19th Century Unitarian Architecture as a Paradigm for the Problematic Nature of Elizabeth Gaskell's Fiction


  • Stiles Peter


The fictional works of Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell exhibit the problematic co-existence of an adherence to mid-Victorian bourgeois social values constantly being undercut by a latent radicalism. While the overt tenor of the texts supports a deliberate identification with the economically and intellectually successful, predominantly Unitarian social milieu to which she belonged in Manchester, the graphic portrayal of social injustice in novels like Mary Barton, Ruth, and North and South, confirms an equally strong desire to highlight the shortcomings of English society in general, inclusive of the daily concerns of her often hypocritical mill-owning Manchester connections? While the nature of the texts suggests, through didactic authorial commentary and parables of conventional Christian reconciliation, a desire to conform to the prevailing moral conventions of her time, the sheer force of the sustained, graphic depiction of human misery subverts any attempt at trite theological solutions.