She was a friend of Charles Dickens, who published her Gothic ghost stories and other works in his journal Household Words, among them Cranford, North and South, and My Lady Ludlow
She wrote the first biography of her friend, Charlotte Brontë, which helped develop Bronte's reputation as a writer. The Life of Charlotte Bronte was published 1857, after Bronte's death. Gaskell used hundreds of letters, supplied by a friend of Bronte's, in writing the volume. Gaskell included a lot of details, but omitted the fact that Bronte was in love with a married man on the grounds that it would cause harm to her friend's family.
Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton, deals with a working class young woman and her family in Manchester in the Victorian era. It was originally published anonymously. Later, her books followed Victorian convention and were signed "by Mrs. Gaskell."
Gaskell was married to a Unitarian minister and the values of the denomination appear in her works, although she tried to keep her beliefs hidden. Gaskell's work is known for its use of local dialect in her characters' speech, including colloquialisms such as "nesh," meaning unusually susceptible to cold weather, and "unked," meaning old, strange, ugly or lonely.