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North and South (Gaskell novel)

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North and South (Gaskell novel)

North and South
First edition title page.
Author Elizabeth Gaskell
Country England
Language English
Genre Social novel
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Publication date
Media type Print

North and South is a social novel by English writer Elizabeth Gaskell. Along with Wives and Daughters (1865) and Cranford (1853), it is one of her best known novels and has been adapted for television twice, in 1975 and 2004. The latter version renewed interest in the novel and gained it a wider audience.

Whereas Gaskell's first novel Mary Barton (1848) views relations between employers and workers from the perspective of the working poor, North and South is more balanced, focusing as well on the thinking of the employers.[1]

North and South is set in the fictional industrial town of Milton in the John Thornton, a cotton mill manufacturer who belongs to the nouveaux riches and whose contemptuous attitude to workers Margaret despises.

Gaskell based Milton on Manchester, where she lived as the wife of a Unitarian minister.


  • Publication 1
    • Limitations of the serialised novel 1.1
    • Choice of title 1.2
    • Publication in print 1.3
  • Summary 2
  • Characters 3
  • Critical reception 4
  • Themes 5
    • Modernity vs. tradition 5.1
    • Authority and rebellion 5.2
    • Feminine role vs. masculine role 5.3
    • Other themes 5.4
      • Special and changing relationships 5.4.1
      • Religious context 5.4.2
  • Literary analysis 6
    • Construction 6.1
      • Austen's legacy 6.1.1
      • False starts 6.1.2
      • Blunders and gaffes 6.1.3
    • Style and narrative 6.2
      • Narrative techniques 6.2.1
      • Style and language 6.2.2
    • Social conditions 6.3
      • The context 6.3.1
      • Elizabeth Gaskell's position 6.3.2
  • Adaptations 7
    • Television and stage 7.1
    • Literature 7.2
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


Limitations of the serialised novel

North and South previously appeared in 20 weekly episodes from September 1854 to January 1855 in Household Words, edited by Charles Dickens. During the same period, Dickens dealt with the same theme in Hard Times, also a social novel, published in the same journal from April to August 1854 (Chapman, 1999, p. 26; Ingham, 1995, p. xii–xiii[2]).

Dickens' Hard Times — which shows Manchester in a negative light and satirises it (as Coketown) — challenged Elizabeth Gaskell and complicated the writing of her novel. She had to ascertain, for instance, that Dickens would not write about a strike. Gaskell found the time pressure and technical constraints of serialised fiction particularly trying. She wanted to write 22 episodes, but was "compelled to desperate compression" to limit the story to 20. North and South was not as successful as Hard Times. On 14 October 1854, after six weeks, sales dropped enough that Dickens complained of Gaskell's lack of flexibility (intractability), resisting demands for conciseness. He found the story "wearisome to the last degree" (Chapman 1999, p. 28).

Choice of title

Imposed by Dickens, the title focuses on the differences in lifestyles between rural southern England, inhabited by affluent landed gentry and agricultural workers, and the industrial north, populated by capitalist manufacturers and poverty-stricken mill workers (Ingham, 1995, p. xii), the north-south division being more than a mere geographical difference.[3] The story however centres on haughty Margaret Hale, who learns to overcome her deep prejudices against the North in general and the charismatic manufacturer John Thornton in particular. Elizabeth Gaskell would have preferred to call the novel Margaret Hale, the heroine's name, as she had done in 1848 for the novel Mary Barton, but Dickens prevailed, saying in a letter dated 26 July 1854 that "North South" seems better. It encompasses more and emphasises the opposition between people who are forced by circumstances to meet face to face (Ingham, 1995, p. xii).

Later, in December, working on the final chapters of the novel at Lea Hurst, the family home of Florence Nightingale, near Matlock in Derbyshire, Gaskell wrote that she would rather call her novel Death and Variations, because "there are five dead, each beautifully consistent with the personality of the individual".[4] This remark, although probably a joke, emphasises the important role of death in the unfolding of the story. Death affects Margaret profoundly and gradually encourages her independence, allowing Gaskell to analyse the deep emotions of her female character (Matus, 2007, p. 36) and to focus on the harshness of the social system through the death of Boucher and Bessy.[5]

Publication in print

1867 edition cover, North and South text
Cover of an 1867 edition illustrated by George du Maurier

Chapman & Hall (London) first published the novel in 1855 as two volumes of 25 and 27 chapters. The same year, Harper and Brothers released it in New York and Tauchnitz published the more complete second edition in Leipzig as part of the Collection of English Writers. Many editions appeared during the lifetime of the author (Easson and Shuttleworth 1998,p xxxvi).

The text in the book, particularly the ending, differs significantly from that which appeared in the serialised episodes. The author includes a brief preface in the book stating that, due to restrictions of the magazine format, she could not develop the story as she wished and, consequently, "various short passages have been inserted, and several new chapters added." Gaskell tried to eliminate the limitations of a serialised novel (Letter to Jameson, cited by Alison Chapman 1999, p. 27) by elaborating on events after the death of Mr Hale and adding four chapters: the first and final ones, and two new ones on the visits by Mr. Bell to London and by Margaret and Mr. Bell to Helstone.[6] This edition also adds chapter titles and epigraphs. The preface concludes with a quotation from the conclusion of the Middle English poem The Churl and the Bird (spelling modernized) by John Lydgate.[7]

Loreau and Mrs. H. of Lespine, "with the authorization of the Author," translated the novel into French using the first revised edition. It was published in Paris by Hachette in 1859 (Easson and Shuttleworth 1998, p. xxxvi) and reprinted at least twice: in 1860, under the title Marguerite Hale (Nord et Sud),[8] and, in 1865, under the title Nord et Sud.


Margaret Hale, 19, happily returns home from London to the idyllic southern village of Helstone after her cousin Edith marries Captain Lennox. She lived nearly 10 years in the city with Edith and wealthy Aunt Shaw to learn to be an accomplished young lady. Margaret, herself, has refused a marriage offer from the captain's brother, Henry, a rising barrister. But her life is turned upside down when her father, the pastor, leaves the Church of England and the rectory of Helstone as a matter of conscience—his intellectual honesty having made him a dissenter. On the suggestion of his old friend from Oxford, Mr. Bell, he settles with his wife and daughter in Milton-Northern, where Mr. Bell was born and owns property. An industrial town in Darkshire, a textile-producing region, it is engaged in cotton-manufacturing and is smack in the middle of the industrial revolution where masters and workers clash in the first organised strikes.

Margaret finds the bustling, smoky town of Milton harsh and strange and she is upset by the poverty all around. Mr. Hale, in reduced financial circumstances, works as a tutor and counts as his pupil the rich and influential manufacturer, Mr. John Thornton, master of Marlborough Mills. From the outset, Margaret and Thornton are at odds with each other: She sees him as coarse and unfeeling; he sees her as haughty. But he is attracted to her beauty and self-assurance and she begins to admire how he has lifted himself from poverty.

During the 18 months she spends in Milton, Margaret gradually learns to appreciate the city and its hard-working people, especially Nicholas Higgins, a Workers' Union representative, and his daughter Bessy with whom she develops a friendship. Bessy is consumptive from inhalation of cotton dust and she eventually dies from it. Meantime, Margaret's mother is growing more seriously ill and a workers' strike is brewing.

Masters and hands (workers) do not reach a resolution on the strike and an incensed mob of workers threatens Thornton and his factory with violence after he brought Irish workers into his mill. Margaret implores Thornton to intervene and talk to the mob but he manages merely to fuel their anger. Margaret intervenes too and is struck down by a stone. Soldiers arrive, the mob disperses and Thornton carries Margaret indoors, professing his love to her unconscious prostrate figure.

Thornton proposes; Margaret declines, wholly unprepared for his declarations of love and offended by assumptions that her action in front of the mob meant she cared for him. Mrs. Thornton, who was wary of Margaret's southern haughty ways, is galled by Margaret's rejection of her son.

Margaret's long-absent brother, Frederick, wanted for naval mutiny, secretly visits their mother as she is dying. Thornton sees Margaret and Frederick together and assumes he is her lover. Later, Leonards, a man from Helstone, recognises Frederick at the train station. An argument ensues and Frederick pushes Leonards away. Leonards dies shortly after. The police question Margaret about the scuffle: she lies and says she was not there. As the magistrate investigating Leonards's death, Thornton knows Margaret lied but declares the case closed to save Margaret from the humiliation of possible perjury. Margaret knows his deed on her behalf and is greatly humbled. She no longer looks down upon Thornton but begins to recognise the depth of his noble character.

Nicholas, on Margaret's prodding, approaches Thornton for a job which he eventually gets. Thornton and Higgins learn to appreciate and understand each other better. Mr. Hale visits his oldest friend Mr. Bell in Oxford. There, Mr. Hale also dies and Margaret must go back to live in London with Aunt Shaw. She visits Helstone with Mr. Bell and requests him to tell Thornton about Frederick. But Mr. Bell dies before he can do so and leaves Margaret a considerable legacy that includes Marlborough Mills and the Thornton house.

Thornton is forced to stop production as a result of market fluctuations and the strike. He learns the truth about Margaret's brother from Nicholas Higgins and comes to London to settle his business affairs with Margaret. While Margaret presents Thornton with her business proposal, Thornton recognises that Margaret is no longer indifferent to him. They realise that they are both in love and decide to marry.


  • Miss Margaret HaleThe protagonist
  • Mr. John Thornton — The owner of a local mill, a friend and student of Margaret's father, and Margaret's love interest.
  • Nicholas Higgins — An industrial worker whom Margaret befriends. He has two daughters, Bessy and Mary.
  • Mrs. Hannah Thornton — Mr. Thornton's mother, who dislikes Margaret
  • Fanny Thornton — Younger sister of Mr. John Thornton
  • Bessy — Nicholas Higgins's daughter, who suffers from a fatal illness from working the mills
  • Mary — Nicholas Higgins's youngest daughter
  • Boucher — An industrial worker and father of six children with conflicted emotions during the strike
  • Mr. Richard Hale — Margaret's father, a dissenter who leaves his vicarage in Helstone to work as a private tutor in Milton
  • Mrs. Maria Hale — Margaret's mother, a woman from a respectable London family
  • Dixon — A servant of the Hales, very loyal and devoted to Mrs. Hale
  • Mr. Bell — An old friend of Mr. Hale, god-father to Margaret and her brother
  • Mrs. Shaw — Margaret's aunt, Edith's mother, and Mrs. Hale's sister
  • Edith — Margaret's cousin, married to Captain Lennox
  • Mr. Henry Lennox — A young lawyer, brother of Captain Lennox. Margaret rebuffs his romantic interest early in the story
  • Frederick Hale — Margaret's older brother, a fugitive living in Spain since his involvement in a mutiny while serving in the British Navy
  • Leonards — Frederick's fellow sailor who didn't mutiny and wants to hand Frederick in to get a reward

Critical reception

In her introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell, a collection of essays representing some of the most current scholarly work on Elizabeth Gaskell, Matus (2007) stresses the writer's growing stature in Victorian literary studies and how she drew on her gift as an innovative, versatile storyteller to address the rapid changes that occurred in her lifetime. It was not always that way.[9] Her reputation after her death and until the 1950s was dominated by Lord David Cecil's assessment in Early Victorian Novelists (1934) that she was "all woman" who "makes a creditable effort to overcome her natural deficiencies but all in vain" (quoted in Stoneman, 1987, from Cecil, p. 235).

Contemporary reactions were critical (as were those for Mary Barton): critics who did not approve of Mrs. Gaskell's sympathies for the poor questioned if the struggles of working people of Manchester were a proper subject for a romance. A scathing unsigned critique from the publication Leader accused Gaskell of a number of errors about Lancashire that a resident of Manchester would not make; saying a woman (or clergymen and women) could not " understand industrial problems" and would "know too little about the cotton industry" and, therefore, has no "right to add to the confusion by writing about it" (Chapman 1999, p. 28).

George Sand admired the novel as one that can interest gentlemen but still be accessible to young women (Chapman 1999, p. 82).

Gaskell's novels gradually fell into oblivion in the late 19th century although Cranford remained popular. Before 1950, she was considered a minor writer with feminine sensibility, albeit with good judgment. Archie Stanton Whitfield, in 1929, found her writings "like a nosegay of 'violets, honeysuckle, lavender, mignonette and sweet briar"[10] and Cecil (1934) asserted she lacked the "masculinity" necessary to properly deal with social problems (Chapman 1999, p. 39–40). But the tide turned in Gaskell's favour when, in 1950, a Marxist critic became interested in her description of social and industrial problems (see Moore, 1999[11] for an elaboration), and—realising that her vision went against the prevailing views of the time—saw it, instead, as preparing the way for vocal feminist movements (Stoneman 1987, p. 118)

In the early 21st century, with Gaskell's work "enlisted in contemporary negotiations of nationhood as well as gender and class identities" (Matus, 2007, p. 9), North and South — one of the first industrial novels describing the conflicts between employers and workers – is now seen as presenting not only a narrative that depicts social conflicts as more complex but also as offering more satisfactory solutions through its heroine, Margaret Hale, spokesperson for the author, and Gaskell's most mature creation.[12]


Modernity vs. tradition

The change in title of Gaskell's fourth novel from the original, Margaret Hale, (Ingham, 1995, p xii) to Dickens's suggestion, North and South[13], underscores the theme of modernity vs. tradition.

Until the end of the 18th century, power in England was in the hands of the aristocracy and landed gentry—based in the sprawling landscapes of the south. The industrial revolution unsettled the centuries-old class structure and shifted wealth and power to manufacturers who mass-produced goods in the rugged landscapes of the north. Vast towns such as Manchester, on which Gaskell modelled her fictional "Milton," were hastily constructed to house workers who moved from the semi-feudal countryside to work for wages in the new factories. The south represents the past (tradition): the aristocratic ways of landowners who inherited their property, gathered rents from farmers and peasants, and assumed a certain obligation for their tenants' welfare. The north, represents the future (modernity): its leaders were 'self-made' men—like Gaskell's hero, John Thornton—who accumulated wealth as working, middle-class entrepreneurs. In their view, philanthropy or charity—giving something for nothing—was a dangerous imbalance to the relation between employers and employees, based on the exchange of cash for labour.[14]

Authority and rebellion

Rebellion against authority, seen as unfair, is woven through the story. Established institutions are seen as inhumane or selfish and therefore fallible (Stoneman, 1987): For instance, Mr. Hale breaks with the Church on a matter of conscience, Frederick Hale participates in a mutiny against the Navy and is forced into exile because the Law would hang him for what he considered a just cause. His rebellion parallels that of the strike by workers who take up the cause to feed their children (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 17). Both are impotent and engaged in a struggle (a war, in the eyes of the workers) whose terms are dictated by those who maintain their power by force: the law and the mill masters (Stoneman, 1987, pp 122–126). Margaret rebels in many ways that expresses her personal liberty—ignoring social proprieties; challenging authority by lying to the police to protect her brother from whom she learns that power, when arbitrary, unjust, and cruel, can be defied not so much for oneself but on behalf of those most unfortunate. Even Mrs. Hale rebels in her own way: "prouder of Frederick standing up against injustice, than if he had been simply a good officer" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 14).

The theme of power is likewise central. Thornton represents three aspects of power and the authority of the ruling class: a manufacturer respected by his peers (economic power), a magistrate (judicial), and someone able to summon the army (political power) to quell the strike (Stoneman, 1987, pp. 124–126). There is energy, power, and courage in the struggle for a better life by Milton residents. Margaret demonstrates her power in her verbal jousting with Thornton, forcing him to reflect on the validity of his beliefs (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 15) and eventually change his views of workers as mere providers of labour to individuals capable of intelligent thinking.[15] When she reaches 21, Margaret takes control of her life, resolves to live as she chooses and, finally, upon inheriting wealth from Mr. Bell, learns how to manage it.

Feminine role vs. masculine role

The notion of separate spheres dominates beliefs in the Victorian era about gender roles. It assumes that the roles of men and women are clearly delineated[16] and everything public including work lies within the domain of the man while everything domestic (private sphere) within that of the woman. The expression of feelings is considered reserved for women, aggression is seen as male; resolving conflict with words is feminine and conflict as war is masculine. The mistress of the ideal home is the guardian of morality and religion and the angel in the house, while the public sphere is considered dangerously amoral so that in the works of authors such as Dickens, disasters occur when the characters do not conform to current standards.[16] In North and South, this notion is questioned.

In Gaskell's heroine, Margaret Hale, this separation is blurred and she is forced by circumstances to take on a masculine role: She organises the family's departure from Helstone and, in Milton, assumes much of the responsibility for taking charge of the family, including giving courage to her father. She carries the load all alone, behaving like a "Roman Girl" because her father, Mr. Hale, while benevolent, is also weak and irresolute as well as "feminine" and "delicate" in behaviour. When Higgins slips away and her father trembles with horror at Boucher's death, she goes to Mrs. Boucher, announces the death of her husband and takes care of the entire family with dedication and efficiency. She takes the initiative to summon her brother Frederick, a naval officer, who is crushed with grief at the death of his mother. Later, to protect her brother, Margaret lies about their presence at the train station on the day of his departure. When she inherits a fortune, she learns to manage it (Stoneman, 1987, p. 127).

Thornton and Higgins, while not denying their masculinity, show they have hearts. Higgins, in particular, who Thornton considers among "mere demagogues, lovers of power, at whatever costs to others,"(Gaskell, 1855, chapter 38) assumes the responsibility for raising the Boucher children and embodies the values of maternal tenderness ( lacking in Mrs. Thornton) and strength (not possessed by Mrs. Hale) with great dignity. Gaskell endows John Thornton with tenderness in his heart, a soft spot according to Nicholas Higgins. Thornton's pride hides this capacity from public view but shows it in his affection for his mother and his quiet attention towards the Hales . He expresses it later more obviously when he develops good relations with his workers beyond the usual "cash nexus" and builds a canteen for factory workers (meal preparation, a domestic sphere), where he sometimes shares meals with them. Margaret's and Thornton's individual evolution eventually converges and, learning humility, they are partly freed from the shackles of separate spheres: he has known friendly relations at the mill and she asserts her independence from the kind of life that her cousin leads. She initiates their business meeting which he chooses to interpret as a declaration of love (Stoneman, 1987, pp 137–138). In the final scene, it is she who has control of the financial situation and he who reacts emotionally. They now meet as just man and woman and no longer the manufacturer from the North and the lady from the South (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 52). The blurring of roles is also evident among the workers where many like Bessy are women.

Other themes

Special and changing relationships

Certain familial relationships are emphasised: Margaret and her father, Higgins and Bessy, Mrs. Hale and Frederick, but they are all interrupted by death. The tie between Thornton and his mother is particularly deep and, on Mrs. Thornton's side, exclusive and boundless (Pollard 1967, p 129): "her son, her pride, her property." She, ordinarily cold in manner, tells him "Mother's love is Given by God, John. It holds fast for ever and ever" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 26). The parent-child relationships often serve as metaphors for relations between employers and workers in Victorian literature (Stoneman 1987, p 119). But Chapter XV, Men and Master, shows Margaret rejecting this paternalistic view—expressed by Thornton—as infantilising the worker. She favours, instead, an attitude that helps the worker grow and become emancipated.[17] Thus, the friendships that develop between people of different social classes, education, and cultural backgrounds—between Mr. Hale and Thornton, Margaret and Bessy, and finally, Thornton and Higgins—prefigure the kind of human relations that Gaskell desires, one that blurs class distinctions. Along the same vein, Margaret assumes "lowly" tasks, and Dixon is treated as a confidante by Mrs. Hale who builds a relationship of respect, affection and understanding with the maid (Nash 2007, p 108).

Religious context

Daughter and wife of a Pastor, Elizabeth Gaskell does not write a religious novel although religion plays an important role in her work.[18] The Unitarians did not take biblical texts literally but symbolically (Tousszint-Thiriet, 2007, in French). They believed neither in original sin nor in the notion of women as more guilty or weaker than men and were more liberal than other communities (e.g., methodists, Anglicans or Dissenters).[19] North and South presents a typical picture of Unitarian tolerance in one evening scene (Matus, 2007): "Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 28). The Thorntons do not invoke religion the same way the Hales do although Mrs. Thornton may read Matthew Henry's Comments on the Bible ("Exposition of the Old and New Testaments"). While the reinstitution in 1850 by Pope Pius IX of a Roman Catholic hierarchy in England was generally strongly condemned, Gaskell assumes an open mind about Catholicism and has Frederick Hale converting to his Spanish wife's Catholic religion (Matus, 2007, p 174).

The scriptures appear in several forms: citations in Chapter VI: (the Book of Job, ii. 13); implicit or explicit references as in the allusion to the "Elder Brother" from the Parable of the Prodigal Son; interpretations as in Margaret's paraphrasing of the definition of charity ("that spirit which suffereth long and is kind and seeketh not her own") (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 15) from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. But Gaskell warns against misuse: Bessy Higgins reads the Apocalypse to cope with her condition, and gives an interpretation of the parable of Dives and Lazarus, so simplistic that Margaret counters vigorously : "It won't be division enough, in that awful day, that some of us have been beggars here, and some of us have been rich—we shall not be judged by that poor accident, but by our faithful following of Christ" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 19). Margaret and John follow a path of conversion that leads to reconciliation, acknowledging their "unworthiness" (Pollard, 1967). Margaret, who has the longest way to go, is first crushed by guilt from her lie and by shame from being debased in Thornton's eyes (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 39). A page from Saint Francis de Sales encourages her to seek "the way of humility" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 41) despite Mr. Bell's attempts to minimise and rationalise her lie as instinctively committed under the grip of panic. Thornton, on the brink of ruin, like Job, strives not to be outraged, while his mother rebels against the injustice of his situation: "Not for you, John! God has seen fit to be very hard on you, very." before giving fervent thanks for the "great blessing" his very existence gives her (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 50).

Literary analysis


Austen's legacy

The influence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on North and South is frequently emphasised.[20] In 1988, Rosemarie Bodenheimer, in The Politic of Stories in Victorian Fiction, admits that, while preferring to study the novel's relationship with Charlotte Brontë's Shirley, she sees, in the "description of strong domestic qualities" and "social optimism," the plot of an industrial Pride and Prejudice.[21] Patricia Ingham (Ingham, 1996 pp 56–58) also analyses and compares North and South with Shirley. Ann Banfield compares North and South to Mansfield Park, for two reasons: Margaret Hale, like Fanny Price is transplanted in a place she conquers, and the novel is built on an opposition of places, but in a larger scale.[22]

False starts

The novel shows three beginnings, two of them not the real start to the story that is eventually told: the first with the wedding preparations in London, the second the heroine's return to Helstone, and the third, often considered the real start to the story tells of the departure for Milton in Chapter 7.[23] The first chapters, according to Martin Dodsworth, are false leads on what the novel is about, not out of the author's clumsiness; instead, they tell the reader what the story is not about. Bodenheimer (p. 283),[24] however, interprets these early chapters, not as false starts but as consistently showing Gaskell's theme of both societal and personal "permanent state(s) of change" and therefore, integral to the novel. These early chapters in different places have also been taken to mean a theme of mobility in the novel:[25] In moving from one place to another, the heroine learns to understand herself and the world better and it advances Gaskell's intent to show Margaret's going where Victorian women were not supposed to go—the public sphere.

The beginning chapters of North and South seem to be a novel of manners in the style of Jane Austen (Nash, 2007)[26] with preparations for a" good "marriage in London with a silly bride and a lively and intelligent heroine and, later, in the peaceful country village of Hampshire, a bachelor in search of a good fortune (Henry Lennox) woos and is rejected by the heroine (O'Farrell, 1997, p 58). But Deirdre David, in Fictions of Resolution in Three Victorian Novels, published in 1981, suggests that Margaret's abandonment of London society means she is not in her place in the South, and that her adjustment to the North is, therefore, not ironic (O'Farrell, 1997, p 161).

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a novel of manners, but in the broader context of an industrial novel about inhabitants of the Black Country, where young girls like Bessy die of " cotton consumption", capitalists disregard legal obligations, and workers refuse prophylactic facilities, instigate strikes or create riots (O'Farrell, 1997, p 58). The novel could be criticised, as Martin Dodsworth did in 1970, for giving the love affair precedence over the industrial context and for dwelling too much on the emotional conflict between Margaret and Thornton. But North and South is not simply an industrial Pride and Prejudice: Margaret, by speaking, asking questions and giving advice (outside the role of a Victorian woman from a good family), acquires stature and a public role, thus challenging the notion of separate spheres (see Masculine and Feminine Roles above) (Stoneman, 1987, p. 167). Although aware of her social and cultural superiority, she befriends Bessy Higgins, a young woman of the working class, gradually abandons her aversion to Shoppy people and, recognising the qualities of Thornton, crosses the boundaries between social classes, to consider herself "not good enough" for him. And if the novel ends in Harley Street, where it started, Margaret's estrangement from the vain and superficial world of her cousin Edith and Henry Lennox is better emphasised—she chooses Thornton and Milton (Pollard, 1967, p. 111).

Blunders and gaffes

As the chapter titles First Impressions, Mistakes, Mistakes Clared Up, Mischances, Atonement indicate, the novel is punctuated with blunders that Margaret commits or with problematic situations involving other characters that create misunderstandings (O'Farrell, 1997, p. 67). Some of Margaret's blunders stem from ignoring customs, some from not understanding them, and still others from rejecting the social customs of Milton, e.g., frank and familiar handshake. Other characters fail to carry out important actions: Dixon fails to tell Margaret that Thornton attended the funeral of her mother, Mr Bell dies before he could explain to Thornton the reasons Margaret lied. Margaret feels misunderstood and unable to take control of her life and explain a world that she herself does not understand (O'Farrell, 1997, p. 67).

Other gaffes are due to Margaret's ignorance; accustomed to the chic salons of London, she is not aware that she is seen as wearing her shawl "as an empress wears her drapery" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 7) or serving tea with "the air of a proud reluctant slave." She receives proposals of marriage awkwardly: the declaration of Henry Lennox is "unpleasant" and makes her uncomfortable, but she feels "offended" and assaulted by that of John Thornton. She naively believes one can negotiate with the rioters, is unaware that she and her brother Frederick look like a loving couple on the platform of a train station (O'Farrell, 1997, p. 68). Bodenheimer (1979) sees this "mistakenness" as having a purpose: "In its every situation, whether industrial politics or emotional life, traditional views and stances break down into confusing new ones, which are rendered in all the pain of mistakenness and conflict that real human change entails." (Bodenheimer, 1979 p. 282). It is, perhaps, for this reason that Margaret's blunders do not always have negative consequences (O'Farrell, 1997, p 163) : when she admits she is disappointed that Thornton has refused to hire Higgins, she is ashamed that he heard her remark. But Thornton, in fact, reconsiders and eventually offers Higgins a job; in the final chapter, she does not seem to realize that a" simple proposition" to bail out the factory (mere business arrangement), could hurt the pride of Thornton or be seen as shocking from a "lady." Once again, Bodenheimer interprets scenes like this as "deep confusion in a time of personal change and revision" (Bodenheimer, 1979 p. 293) that happily brings the lovers together (O'Farrell, 1997, p 163).

Style and narrative

Narrative techniques

The first description of Marlborough Mills in Chapter XV is through the eyes and thoughts of Margaret and the omniscient narrator not only delves into the inner thoughts of her main characters, she also occasionally directly interjects her observations (Bodenheimer, 1979, pp 293–300): Thornton "thought that he disliked seeing one who had mortified him so keenly; but he was mistaken. It was a stinging pleasure to be in the room with her [...]. But he was no great analyser of his own motives, and was mistaken as I have said (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 29). The narrative sometimes slips into free indirect discourse. Thus, the silent remark of Mrs. Thornton, when visiting the Hales, "Flimsy, useless work" as she observes Margaret embroidering a small piece of cambric.(Gaskell, 1855, chapter 12)

Bodenheimer (1979, particularly pp 299–300) believes the narrator is keenly interested in the psychology of her characters, their hidden inner selves, how their contentious interactions with others unconsciously reveal their beliefs and how the personal changes they go through reflect how they negotiate the outside world. Matus (2007, pp. 35–43) also focuses on Gaskell's depiction of "interiority," or psychic process particularly as expressed in dreams and trances such as Thornton's dream of Margaret as a temptress or the "trance of passion" of the rioters. The phrase "as if" comes up very often (more than 200 times, in fact) suggesting a reluctance on Gaskell's part to appear too definitive in her narration (O'Farrell, 1997, p 16); for example, "Bessy, who had sat down on the first chair, as if completely tired out with her walk" (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 11), or" "[Thornton] spoke as if this consequence were so entirely logical") (chapter 19). This phrase is mostly used when exploring the sensations and feelings of the characters: "As if she felt his look, she turned to him" (chapter 22); "He had shaken off his emotion as if he was ashamed of ever giving way to it" (chapter 28); "She lifted up her head, as if she took pride in any delicacy of feeling which Mr. Thornton had shown" (chapter 39). Gaskell uses it when exploring, for example, the unconscious process that allows Thornton, whose suffering in love disturbs his composure and his control of his feelings, and leads him to communicate with Higgins (Matus, 2007, p 40): "and then the conviction went in, as if by some spell, and touched the latent tenderness of his heart" (chapter 39).

Style and language

According to Bodenheimer, the narrative in the novel may sometimes appear melodramatic and sentimental ( e.g., But, for all that—for all his savage words, he could have thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her garment(chapter 29)), particularly in the riot scene, but she also sees Gaskell's best writing as "done with the unjudging openness to experience" that she shares with D.H. Lawrence (Bodenheimar 1979, pp. 296–300). Matus also finds Gaskell's vocabulary "Gothicized" in descriptions of the characters' agonised inner life—their responses of suffering and pain—that may appear melodramatic when taken out of context. In fact, however, "the language of shock and horror is absorbed into the realist texture of the novel's narration" and is consistent with the extreme conditions in the external world presented in the novel (Matus, 2007, p. 39).

A number of writers of the 19th century were interested in specific dialects of their native region, the Scottish for Sir Walter Scott, the Irish for Maria Edgeworth. Mrs. Gaskell, influenced by the work of her husband,[27] does not hesitate to put in the mouth of the workers of Milton dialectal expressions and vocabulary of Lancashire, Manchester, more specifically, but without however going so far as Emily Brontë in her transcription of the particular pronunciation of Yorkshire[28] or Dickens in the syntax of the fishermen of Yarmouth in David Copperfield.[29] Gaskell developed a reputation for the skilful use of dialectal forms to show status, age, or intimacy between speakers (Ingham, 1996, p. 62).

Margaret's adaptation to the culture also happens through language (Ingham, 1996, p 62-63). When her mother reproaches her for using the horrible words of Milton and the vulgar provincialisms like slack of work, she responds that since she lives in an industrial town, she must use its words, when called upon to do so. She gives as an example a word that may be vulgar but which she finds expressive: knobstick. She also uses a local term (redding up, meaning tidying) when she talks to Boucher's small children to do something that she suggested towards redding up the slatternly room.

Gaskell begins each chapter with a poetic quote to accentuate a relevant theme such as: interior conflicts ("My heart revolts within me, and two voices / Make themselves audible within my bosom. Wallenstein. Chapter XVIII), dualities (On earth is known to none / The smile that is not sister to a tear. Elliot. Chapter XXI), courtship, duty, suffering, steadfast courage, honesty, time and change, and other relevant themes.

Social conditions

The context

Elizabeth Gaskell lived during a time of great upheavals resulting from the industrial revolution and was very much aware of the difficult conditions of daily life that it caused[30] and the health problems suffered by the workers of Manchester[31] North and South has been interpreted by Roberto Dainotto[32] as "a kind of apocalyptic journey into the inferno of the changing times—modern poverty, rage, desperation, militant trade unionism and class antagonism" where the strike described bears resemblance to the Preston strike which occurred the year before the novel was published. The strike's slogan was "ten per cent and no surrender" and it was led by George Cowell and Mortimer Grimshaw. It was a hard and long strike that lasted nearly seven months from September 1853 to April 1854, but failed to succeed.[33]

The unfolding of a [34] Margaret visited, miseries that were included in the rare depictions of the dark world of workers contained in official Parliamentary Papers (or Blue Book), with suggestive illustrations[35] that resulted in the Factory Act of 1833.[36]

Gaskell also uses one of the causes of conflicts between masters and workers, the installation of ventilators in the carding rooms to show the cupidity of one and the ignorance of the other in making social progress difficult (Navailles, 1983), and calls attention to the extremely strong anti-Irish prejudices in the city where the Irish constitute a very small minority.[34] She exposes the beliefs and reasoning of the manufacturers in Thornton's defence of a theory close to social Darwinism: capitalism as a natural, almost physical, obeying of immutable laws, a relentless race to progress where being human is sacrificed, the weak die, whether they are masters or workers (Gaskell, 1855, chapter 15). Mrs Thornton also expresses how the middle class viewed the working class: a pack of ungrateful hounds (chapter 15).

Elizabeth Gaskell's position

North and South belongs to the canon of Condition-of-England novels also known as social-problem novels, industrial or social novels that analyse social realities of the Victorian era, offering first-hand detailed observations of industrialism, urbanism, class, and gender conflicts.[37] It attempts to respond to questions posed by changes going on at the time (Nash, 2007,p 96) and takes a position in the debate between, on the one hand, individual freedom of workers championed by the liberal economist John Stuart Mill—author of The Claims of Labor, an Essay on the Duties of the Employers to the Employed published anonymously in 1845—and developed by Thornton in Chapter 15 and, on the other, the responsibility of employers to their employees, promoted by John Ruskin and Arthur Helps. It represents a certain concept of paternalism, challenging the strict cutoff between public and private sphere, freedom and responsibility, workplace and family life, trying to define a balance in relations between employers and workers (Stoneman, 1987, pp 118–138). Through Margaret and her father, Gaskell criticised the autocratic model that infantilises workers and is defended by Thornton who does not feel accountable to his workers for his actions or his decisions. She advocates for an authority that takes into account the needs of workers, a kind of social and economic contract like the one advocated by John Locke in Two Treatises of Government, where masters and workers are in solidarity. After the strike, Thornton finally acknowledges that "new forms of negotiation between management and labor are part of modern life" (Bodenheimer, 1991, p 61) and the strike that caused his ruin was "respectable" because, if the workers are dependent on him for their pay, he depends on them for manufacturing his product (Nash, 2007, p. 107).

In the class struggle which results in some being victims (e.g. Boucher and Bessy), Gaskell does not offer definitive means for conflict resolution (Ingham, 1996, p 71): Thornton's best expectation on the question of strikes, for instance, is for them to be no longer bitter and venomous. He and Higgins both reach a level of understanding beyond the mere "cash nexus" through Margaret's ongoing involvement in the process of social change (Stoneman, 1987, p. 137) by urging communication between masters and workers. If the holders of economic power agree to talk to their workers, to consider them as human beings, not tools of production, this may not eliminate social conflicts, but will reduce their brutality (Stoneman, 1987,p 134). The main protagonists go through personal transformations that unite them in the end (Bodenheimer, 1979), what Stoneman calls a "balanced emancipation (Stoneman, 1987,p 138)."

Catherine Barnes Stevenson thinks Gaskell may have found the issue of women doing factory work problematic: she often referred only to "masters and men" and used one dying factory worker (Bessy) to represent women workers who, in fact, constituted more than half of factory workers at the time.[38] This relative silence on the female factory worker may merely reflect, according to Stevenson, the writer's struggle with the "triumph of the domestic ideology" among the middle-class of the mid-1800s. On the other hand, Gaskell hints at the difficulties families like the Hales have keeping female domestic workers (like Dixon) in their proper subordinate place and becoming almost like members of the family (i.e., blurring class differences), a scenario confronting industrial workers, as well (Nash, 2007).


Television and stage


A pastiche, Nice Work, written by David Lodge was released in 1988. A Sunday Express Book of the Year award winner, it was made into a television series by the BBC in 1989.


  1. ^ Chapman, edited by Alison (1999). Elizabeth Gaskell : Mary Barton North and South. Duxford: Icon Books.  
  2. ^ Patricia Ingham, North and South (Introduction), Penguin Classics, 1995, 450 p
  3. ^ Boris Knežević. 2011. The novel as cultural geography: Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrabiensia 56:45–70.
  4. ^ Matus, edited by Jill L. (2007). The Cambridge companion to Elizabeth Gaskell (repr. ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  ,p 35
  5. ^ Angus Easson et Sally Shuttleworth, North and South (Introduction), Oxford University Press, 1998 p. xxxii
  6. ^ Arthur Pollard, Mrs. Gaskell: novelist and biographer, Manchester University Press ND, 1967, p 109
  7. ^ Lydgate,John. The Churl and the Bird as printed by William Caxton about 1478.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Stoneman, Patsy (1987). Elizabeth Gaskell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253301031, p. 3
  10. ^ Whitfield, Archie Stanton (1929). Mrs. Gaskell, Her Life and Works. G. Routledge & sons. p. 258. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Pearl L. Brown. From Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton To Her North And South: Progress Or Decline For Women?. Victorian Literature and Culture, 28, pp 345–358
  13. ^ Gaskell, Elizabeth. "North and South". 
  14. ^ Stoneman, Patsy (2002) [1994]. North and South: Introduction and Notes. Wordsworth Classics. pp. Introduction (I–XVII). 
  15. ^ Ingham, Patricia (1996). The language of gender and class : transformation in the Victorian novel (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. p. 197.  
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Nash, Julie (2007). Servants and paternalism in the works of Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 130.  , p 106
  18. ^ Toussaint-Thiriet, Benjamine. "For the Letter Killeth, but the Spirit Giveth Life: Elizabeth Gaskell's Rewriting of the Gospels". Revue LISA/LISA e-journal. 
  19. ^ Watts, Ruth (1998). Gender, power, and the Unitarians in England, 1760–1860. Longman. 
  20. ^ Barchas, Janine (2008). "Mrs. Gaskell's North and South: Austen's early legacy". In Persuasions The Jane Austen Journal , Chicago, 30: 53–66. 
  21. ^ Bodenheimrer, Rosemarie (1991). The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction, pages;. p. 247. 
  22. ^ O'Farrell, Mary Ann (1997). Telling complexions : the nineteenth-century English novel and the blush. Durham, NC [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press. p. 161.  
  23. ^ Martin Dodsworth, Introduction to the edition of 1970 cited in O'Farrell, 1997, p. 58
  24. ^ Bodenheimer, Rosemarie (1979). "North and South: A Permanent State of Change". Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34 (3). 
  25. ^ Kuhlman, Mary (1996). "Education Through Experience in North and South". The Gaskell Journal 10: 14–26. 
  26. ^ p Read an excerpt online
  27. ^ William Gaskell is the author of Two Lectures on the Lancashire Dialect, included in appendix to the 5th édition of Mary Barton cited in Mullan, 2006
  28. ^ John Mullan, How novels work [archive], 2006 p. 131-132
  29. ^ Poussa, Patricia. Dickens as Sociolinguist: Dialect in David Copperfield. In Irma Taavitsainen, Gunnel Melchers, Päivi Pahta, Writing in Nonstandard English, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1999 – 403 pages
  30. ^
  31. ^ Gaskell, Peter. The Manufacturing Population of England: Its Moral, Social, and Physical Conditions, and the Changes which Have Arisen from the Use of Steam Machinery; with an Examination of Infant Labour. Google ebook. 
  32. ^ Dainotto, Roberto Maria (2000). Place in Literature: Regions, Cultures, Communities. Cornell University Press. p. 178. 
  33. ^ King, H. I. Dutton, J. E. (1981). Ten per cent and no surrender : the Preston strike, 1853–1854. London: Cambridge University Press.  
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^ Jean-Pierre Navailles, La famille ouvrière dans l'Angleterre victorienne: des regards aux mentalités, Editions Champ Vallon, 1983, 335 p
  36. ^,6737,516494-,00.html
  37. ^ Diniejko, Andrzej. "Condition-of-England Novels,". 
  38. ^ Stevenson, Catherine Barnes. "What Must Not Be Said: North and South and the Problem of Women's Work. Victorian Literature and Culture 19 (1991): 67–84. Read an excerpt
  39. ^


  1. Patsy Stoneman, Introduction and Notes to Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, North and South (Wordsworth Classics) ISBN 9781853260933
  2. Patricia Ingham, North and South (Introduction), Penguin Classics, 1995, 450 p. (ISBN 9780140434248) Read excerpt online
  3. Patricia Ingham, (1996). The language of gender and class : transformation in the Victorian novel (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 197. (ISBN 0415082226).
  4. Alison Chapman, Elizabeth Gaskell: Mary Barton-North and South, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, 192 p. (ISBN 9781840460377) Read excerpt online
  5. Angus Easson and Sally Shuttleworth, North and South (Introduction), Oxford University Press, 1998, 452 p. (ISBN 9780192831941)
  6. Angus Easson, Elizabeth Gaskell, Routledge, 1979, 278 p. (ISBN 9780710000996)
  7. Patsy Stoneman, Elizabeth Gaskell, Indiana University Press, 1987, 224 p. (ISBN 9780253301031)
  8. Arthur Pollard, Mrs. Gaskell: novelist and biographer, Manchester University Press ND, 1967, 268 p. Read excerpt online
  9. Janine Barchas (2008). "Mrs. Gaskell's North and South: Austen's early legacy". In Persuasions The Jane Austen Journal, Chicago, 30: 53–66.
  10. Rosemarie Bodenheimer (1979). "North and South: A Permanent State of Change". Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34 (3).
  11. Rosemarie Bodenheimer (1991,). The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction, pages;. pp. 247. (ISBN 0801420997) Read excerpt online
  12. Mary Kuhlman (1996). "Education Through Experience in North and South". The Gaskell Journal 10: 14–26. Read online
  13. Jill L. Matus, The Cambridge companion to Elizabeth Gaskell, Cambridge University Press, 2007, 211 p. (ISBN 9780521846769) Read excerpt online
  14. Julie Nash, Servants and paternalism in the works of Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, 130 p. (ISBN 9780754656395) Read excerpt online
  15. Mary Ann O'Farrell, Telling complexions: the nineteenth-century English novel and the blush, Duke University Press, 1997, 182 p. (ISBN 9780822318958) Read excerpt online
  16. H. I. Dutton, John Edward King, 'Ten per cent and no surrender': the Preston strike, 1853–1854, Cambridge University Press, 1981 (ISBN 9780521236201)
  17. Jean-Pierre Navailles, La famille ouvrière dans l'Angleterre victorienne: des regards aux mentalités, Editions Champ Vallon, 1983, 335 p. (ISBN 9782903528218)

External links

  • North and South at Project Gutenberg
  • North and South – complete book in HTML one page for each chapter.
  • North and South free ebook in PDF, PDB and LIT formats
  • in Mobipocket format
  • Read aloud by volunteers in MP3 format (free, public domain)
  • North and South, the Musical – a new musical based on E. Gaskell's novel
  • North and South 2004 (unofficial) Website
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