Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth: Ch. 3 Annotation – Mrs. Elizabeth Brownrigg

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

He flamed up with indignation when, by way of impressing him with Mrs. Mason’s power and consequence, Ruth spoke of some instance of the effects of her employer’s displeasure. He declared his mother should never have a gown made again by such a tyrant–such a Mrs. Brownrigg; that he would prevent all his acquaintances from going to such a cruel dressmaker

The case of Mrs. Brownrigg was something that severely shocked both the Georgians and Gaskell’s Victorian contemporaries; mostly everyone had heard of the case.

Elizabeth Brownrigg lived during the 18th century. Her fourteen-year-old servant, Mary Clifford died from repeated injuries inflicted on her by Mrs. Brownrigg that had infected.

Mrs. Brownrigg was known as a respectable mid-wife, the London Foundling Hospital gave her charge of several young girls to train them for domestic service. But slavery would be an apter word to describe how Mrs. Brownrigg interpreted her duty.

At the slightest mistake or breaking of rules she would cruelly flog the girls; She  sounds like a horrible villain out of a Dickens novel. One of the girls ran away back to the Foundling Hospital and told them what she experienced. The governors told Mr. Brownrigg to keep his wife in better control but unfortunately he had the same violent temper.

Concerned neighbors requested further investigation and it eventually led to the arrest of the Brownriggs. By now, Mary had died and Mrs. Brownrigg was put on trial at the Old Bailey with her murder. Medical evidence and the testimony of witnesses ensured she was charged guilty and received the full measure of the law.

Discussion Question

  • What do you think of Mr. Bellingham comparing Mrs. Mason with Mrs. Brownrigg? What does it tell us of his character?

“Elizabeth Brownrigg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Brownrigg&gt;.

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