Gaskell's fiction and non-fiction, essays, short stories and novels work together and develop themes across time. Her wide variety of genres and themes are explained by the fact that she, like her forbears the eighteenth-century rational Dissenters, aimed to bring about a more just and inclusive society. In fact, though she considered telling stories her 'one talent', it took second place to imparting civic lessons.
Besides using historic examples of injustice from a range of countries, Gaskell repeatedly evoked earlier social critics' work through quotes and allusions, transforming it into a current civic message. Her philanthropic, social and literary works inform one another, with her writing serving as her campaigning tool, used for educational, networking and fundraising purposes.