This essay considers Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel about labor relations in the context of mid-century discussions of the female philanthropic visitor to the poor. By reclaiming the traditional mediating role of women's philanthropy in an environment where relations between the classes are based exclusively on the "cash nexus," Gaskell's novel represents a new social sphere that includes but is more than the domestic sphere of marriage, home, and children. Gaskell's woman visitor, however, has to contend with male professionals, especially clergymen, for access to and control of social space. Rejecting the South's social paternalism as nostalgic, Gaskell substitutes a new but still familial metaphor for class relations: in place of the parent-child metaphor, she offers marriage. Despite the fact that the novel's marriage plot functions as a model for class relations that requires the intervention of women philanthropists, however, the use of the marital metaphor still leaves both women philanthropists and the poor in a dependent and vulnerable position.
- Copyright 1994 The Regents of the University of California