Working-Class Methodism and Eschatological Anxiety in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction
journal contributionposted on 2023-08-30, 17:24 authored by Elizabeth Ludlow
This article details how Elizabeth Gaskell engages with the spiritual and political implications of millennialism, or the belief in the thousand-year messianic kingdom on earth (based on Revelation 20:1-6). After introducing Gaskell’s engagement with the increased interest in millennialism and huge growth of working-class Methodism in the early nineteenth-century, and the later burgeoning of the Methodist Unitarian Movement, I offer some analysis of four texts that she published between 1848 and 1855: Mary Barton (1848), ‘The Well of Pen Morfa’ (1850), ‘The Heart of John Middleton’ (1850), and North and South (1854-55). In each, Gaskell models different responses to understandings of millenarianism in working class communities: while some characters adopt an other-worldly hope, others use the language of revelation and apocalypse to challenge hierarchy and the ordering of society. I suggest that the tension that Gaskell identifies between these different understandings enables her to carve out a vision of radical Christianity that has at its heart eschatological ideas that carry the promise of the transformation and renewal of this world along with an urgent call to action.
Publication titleGaskell Journal
- Accepted version