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Wives and Daughters proved to be something of a departure for Gaskell In many of her previous novels she had undertaken an examination of a social question such as the class disputes in Mary Barton or North and South or the plight of a fallen woman and her illegitimate child in Ruth From her earliest works her attention was always focused on the social and emotional problems of her women characters but in Wives and Daughters she writes a novel that is both a collection of brilliant character sketches which together form a novel about the joys and sorrows of the people of Hollingford and the story of a young girls growth and change but it is also so much more than this she also examines the theme of education for women This was a particularly pertinent issue at the time of writing in the 1860s The 1850s and 60s had seen real moves pressing for the admission of women into higher education Higher education was extremely limited with a mere five universities being established none of which admitted women The problem with this was that Britain was largely a patriarchal society and allowing women this level of education was likely to upset the status quo and that armed with this kind of knowledge it was perceived that women might start to become empowered However the change had already started further down the social ladder indeed in David Wardles book English Popular Education 1780-1970 he states that The university extension movement of the 1870s and 1880s received much of its impetus from the demand by women for an education of genuine academic content and many of the men and women who were concerned in founding secondary schools and colleges for women who were also active in the emancipation movement1 By now many middle class girls were receiving an education however the education tended to concentrate on how to be accomplished wives and hostesses Gaskell a
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