With an Introduction and Notes by Dinny Thorold, University of Westminster. Gaskell s last novel, widely considered her masterpiece, follows the fortunes of two families in nineteenth century rural England. At its core are family relationships father, daughter and stepmother, father and sons, father and stepdaughter all tested and strained by the romantic entanglements that ensue. Despite its underlying seriousness, the prevailing tone is one of comedy. Gaskell vividly portrays the world of the late 1820 s and the forces of change within it, and her vision is always humane and progressive.