This articles explores the ways in which Elizabeth Gaskell negotiates with issues of class and gender in her novella "Cousin Phillis." It first focuses on the representations of male scientists in the tale and the ways in which Gaskell disguises the class divisions between them and evades confronting the question of their social agency as scientists. The article then moves on to look at the ways in which Gaskell transfers the pain of social and scientific change onto the romantic plot and, in particular, onto the character of Phillis herself. A detailed account of Gaskell's description of Phillis's somatic symptoms throughout the narrative is then used to argue that by making Phillis the index of change, Gaskell both avoids confronting the complex class issues that her novella raises and simultaneously produces a radical critique of the ways in which the female subject is repressed and controlled by a masculine scientific culture. The article concludes that it is possible to read "Cousin Phillis" as indicative of Gaskell's own troubled response to rapid social change and to the iniquitous divisions between classes and sexes that, she seems to suggest, can be numbered among its results.
- Copyright 1998 The Regents of the University of California