While growing up Gaskell's future was very uncertain as she had no personal wealth, and no firm home, even though she was a permanent guest at her aunt and grandparents' house. Her father had married again to Catherine Thomson in 1814 and the couple had a male heir, William (born 1815) and a daughter, Catherine (born 1816). Although Gaskell would sometimes spend several years without seeing her father and his new family, her older brother John would often visit her in Knutsford. John had been early destined for the Royal Navy, like his grandfathers and uncles, but he had no entry and had to go into the Merchant Navy with the East India Company's fleet. John went missing in 1827 during an expedition to India.
Much of Elizabeth's childhood was spent in Cheshire, where she lived with her aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford, a town she would later immortalise as Cranford. They lived in a large red brick house, Heathwaite, on Heathside (now Gaskell Avenue), which faces the large open area of Knutsford Heath.
She also spent some time in Newcastle upon Tyne (with Rev. William Turner's family) and in Edinburgh. Her stepmother was a sister of the Scottish miniature artist, William John Thomson, who painted the famous 1832 portrait of Gaskell in Manchester. Also during this period, Gaskell met and married William Gaskell, the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, who had a literary career of his own. They spent their honeymoon in North Wales, staying with Elizabeth's uncle, Samuel Holland, who lived near Porthmadog.
The Gaskells settled in Manchester, where the industrial surroundings would offer inspiration for her novels (in the industrial genre). They had several children: a stillborn daughter in 1833, followed by Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), known as Meta, Florence Elizabeth (1842), William (1844-1845), and Julia Bradford (1846). Her daughter Florence married a barrister, Charles Crompton, in 1862.
They rented a villa in Plymouth Grove in 1850, after the publication of Gaskell's first novel, and Gaskell lived in the house with her family until her death 15 years later. All of Gaskell's books except one were written at Plymouth Grove, while her husband held welfare committees and tutored the poor in his study. The circles in which the Gaskells moved included literary greats, religious dissenters, and social reformers, including William and Mary Howitt. Visitors to Plymouth Grove included Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and American writer Charles Eliot Norton, while conductor Charles Hallé lived close by and taught the piano to one of Gaskell's four daughters. Close friend Charlotte Brontë is known to have stayed there three times, and on one occasion hid behind the drawing room curtains as she was too shy to meet Gaskell's visitors.
Even though her writing conforms to Victorian conventions (including signing her name "Mrs. Gaskell"), Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes, particularly those toward women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters.
In addition to her fiction, Gaskell also wrote the first biography of Charlotte Brontë, which played a significant role in developing her fellow writer's reputation.
:'...you will remember the country people's use of the word "unked". I can't find any other word to express the exact feeling of strange unusual desolate discomfort, and I sometimes "potter" and "mither" people by using it.'
"Sit you down here: the grass is well nigh dry by this time; and you're neither of you nesh folk about taking cold.
and later in 'The Manchester Marriage' :
"Now, I'm not above being nesh for other folks myself. I can stand a good blow, and never change colour; but, set me in the operating-room in the Infirmary, and I turn as sick as a girl."
"At Mrs Wilson's death, Norah came back to them, as nurse to the newly-born little Edwin; into which post she was not installed without a pretty strong oration on the part of the proud and happy father; who declared that if he found out that Norah ever tried to screen the boy by a falsehood, or to make him nesh either in body or mind, she should go that very day.