Elizabeth Gaskell was the daughter of a Unitarian clergyman, who was also a civil servant and journalist. Her mother died when she was young, and she was brought up by her aunt in Knutsford, a small village that was the prototype for Cranford, Hollingford and the setting for numerous other short stories. In 1832, she married William Gaskell, a Unitarian clergyman in Manchester. She participated in his ministry and collaborated with him to write the poem "Sketches Among the Poor" in 1837. "Our Society at Cranford" was the first two chapters of "Cranford" and it appeared in Dickens' Household Words in 1851. Dickens liked it so much that he pressed Gaskell for more episodes, and she produced eight more of them between 1852 and 1853. She also wrote, mainly for Dickens, "My Lady Ludlow" and "Lois the Witch," a novella that concerns the Salem witch trials. "Wives and Daughters: An Every-day Story" ran in Cornhill from August 1864 to January 1866. The final installment was never written but the ending was known and the novel exists now virtually complete. The story centers on a series of relationships between family groups in Hollingford. Most critics agree that her greatest achievement is the short novel "Cousin Phillis." Gaskell was also followed by controversy. In 1853, she offended many readers with "Ruth," which explored seduction and illegitimacy that led the "fallen woman" into ostracism and inevitable prostitution. The novel presents the social conduct in a small community when tolerance and morality clash. Critics praised the novel's moral lessons but Gaskell's own congregation burned the book and it was banned in many libraries. In 1857, "The Life of Charlotte Bronte" was published. The biography was initially praised but angry protests came from some of the people it dealt with. Gaskell wrote of Bronte's version on his dismissal from his tutoring position. He blamed it on his refusal to be seduced by his employer's wife. She was threatened with legal action but, with the help of her husband, the problems were resolved. Gaskell was against any biographical notice of her being written during her lifetime. After her death in 1865, her family refused to make family letters or biographical data available.
Thomas Carlyle was a social critic and historian born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, December 4, 1795, the same year as John Keats, but Carlyle is considered an early Victorian rather than a Romantic. After completing his elementary studies, he went to the University of Edinburgh but left in 1814 without a degree. His parents wanted him to become a minister in the Scottish church, but his independence of spirit made such a life program impossible. In 1816 he fell in love with, and was rejected by, a young woman. His love affair was followed by a period of doubt and uncertainty described vividly in Sartor Resartus, a work published in 1833 that attracted much attention. Carlyle's first literary work reveals his admiration for German thought and philosophy, and especially for the two great German poets Schiller and Goethe. The fictional autobiography of a philosopher deeply impressed Ralph Waldo Emerson who brought it back to the United States to be published there. History of the French Revolution (1837), rewritten after parts of it were mistakenly burned as kindling by John Stuart Mill, cemented Carlyle's reputation. The work brought him fame but no great wealth. As a result of his comparative poverty he was induced to give four series of public lectures. Of these the most famous were those On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic of History delivered in 1840 and published in 1841. Past and Present (1843), and Latter Day Pamphlets (1850) present his economic and industrial theories. With The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1845), The Life of John Sterling (1851), and History of Frederick II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (1858-1865) he returned to biography. In 1865, Carlyle was made Lord Rector of Edinburgh.