North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

8 May

Contrast between rural southern England and the industrialized north is perhaps the most apparent theme in the above book. The Hale family, from the south, is forced to move north by the decision of the father to renounce the Church. The changes they encounter: smoke, a cold and rough people, dirt etc are a stark contrast to what they were accustomed to before. Margaret befriends a working-class family and gains first hand knowledge of and sympathy for an industrial family’s difficulties. Meanwhile, her father gives Classics lessons to Mr. John Thornton, the local manufacturer with whom Margaret frequently comes into conflict over the conditions of the working class in England.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s book has many themes:  the need for reconciliation among the English classes, the importance of suffering, the value of placing the dictates of personal conscience above social respectability. Here are a few lines regarding the last element.

Mr. Hale, Margaret’s father, has doubts about his religion, as a result of which he sees himself bound to renounce his parish and look for alternative means of supporting his family, regardless of the implications. Margaret, the proud and austere heroine, controls her feelings and goes to her mum’s funeral, although strictly speaking she was not bound to attend.

Perhaps the most striking thing that she does in this regard is when she convinces Mr. Thornton to face the workers on strike and talk to them as men, not treat them like beasts by waiting for the police to put “reason” inside their heads. Mr. Thornton takes the challenge and addresses his workers, but not before Margaret realizes that one of them has picked up a stone, presumably to hit Mr. Thornton. She rushes to his defense, convinced that if she is between him and them, they daren’t attack. Her act is of course interpreted by the servants as her display of love for Mr. Thornton, she becomes conscious of it at this time, but when he proposes, she admits that it was something she would have done for any man.

It is not until Frederick, her brother, comes and the death of Leonards that she is able to see the generosity and good breeding of Mr. Thornton, whose being a “shop-boy” earlier in his life and a mere manufacturer had shocked her and had not fit in with her idea of a “gentleman” .

I leave out the details of her change of mind, due to my change of mind!

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3 Responses to “North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell”

  1. janereads May 8, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    This is one of my favourite books. I loved the BBC adaptation as well!

    • mary May 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Me too! I have the images from the film firm in my memory, which is amazing…

  2. jessicabookworm May 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    I have this book on my classics club list am really looking forward to reading it, as I too enjoyed the BBC adaptation of it.

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