I have started a new project on my website, and if you like Gaskell I invite you to drop in from time to time and read her short stories as I post them. I started with The Half-brothers, primarily because it's short and also because it's not readily available in an easy to read format. I've added some footnotes, and hope to add illustrations as well as an audio recording of the story.
I thought The Half-brothers to be a fairly conventional Victorian story--death of an innocent facilitates the redemption of those who have fallen astray. Certainly the narrator is not as guilty of misdeeds as many of Gaskell's wayward fictional sons, but he is a typical Gaskell creation insofar as he is callous, self-centered, and adored by at least one parent.