North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Synopsis (Taken from Blackwell Bookshop Online):

When her father leaves the Church, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. In “North and South”, Gaskell skillfully fused individual feeling with social concern and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

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4 Comments

  1. madeleinebbc

     /  August 19, 2010

    I found this really hard going. The dialogue was mostly incomprehensible (I didn’t find the dialect glossary until I’d finished reading the book) and the continual moaning about ill health became quite tiresome. I was determined to read it though, as I had really enjoyed it on TV. The first time I walked into the mill complex at Cromford I could picture it in use, thanks to the BBC adaptation.
    I am now thoroughly enjoying Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Wives and Daughters’ on audio, read by Prunella Scales. I’m on Chapter 42 and only one character, who was both minor and elderly, has died so as you can see it’s a much more light-hearted book, but then it is set in the South of England where life is just one big ‘calling round for tea.’

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  2. hilaryfbbc

     /  August 15, 2010

    I think she’s really failed at being a female Charles Dickens in lots of ways – but it is still a good story for its time, and a good story that did carry such a powerful message, even if blindingly obvious and over-egged morality-wise ; the biographical info about Gaskell helped put this into context. No hidden agendas!

    Until recently I was a voluntary guide at Belper North Mill and quite often a visitor would ask if conditions in the mills in Belper and Derbyshire were like those portrayed in this book, so it was a helpful read in some ways to flesh out the historical picture of what working and living conditions might have been like. I do know that the early district nursing organisations sprang up in Salford to provide care in slums something like the workers home conditions in North & South. And the early class struggles and politicisation rang pretty true. The romance was less believable, and the religious fervour was too heavy for my liking.

    The North v South thing I will keep quiet-ish on, I like to think I am a Northener as I grew up in York and went to Uni in Manchester – but I have to confess I was born in Southampton. Shhhh! it’s a secret…..

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  3. malcolmbbc

     /  July 25, 2010

    I found the book disappointing.

    When first introduced to Margaret, she seems like a promising character. She is being asked to model shawls for her relatives, and seems to do it in a way that shows a willing nature whilst a mind that recognises the flaws and idiosyncracies in those that have imposed upon her. I had hopes of her developing into a less than conventional heroine.

    So what DOES happen? Margaret is dragged from her home in the South to some lodgings in the North. She meets characters who quite often speak in an unbelievable accent. One of them is the man she will fall in love with, only of course she dislikes him intensely. There are some interesting insights into the nature of working in t’mills and the developing social tensions. But the story of the love/hate relationship between Margaret and Mr Thornton is rather predicable and not really gripping. Pride and Prejudice was never my cup of tea, but Austen did do this better!

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  4. richardbbc

     /  July 14, 2010

    Oh dear! I read it through twice for group and now wish I hadn’t. The first time I thoroughly enjoyed it, but by the end of the second time I was left thinking I never wanted to read another of Mrs Gaskell’s novels ever again.

    The first time I found her democratic approach to her characters very refreshing. She treated them all as individuals, people worthy of our attention whatever class they came from. She seemed to have a particular empathy with Margaret’s character, subtly conveying Margaret’s inability to understand and articulate her physical attraction to Thornton. But it was the character of Mrs Thornton I got the most pleasure from. Obsessional, proud, jealous, relishing opportunities to put Margaret in her place, yet upright, honest and very passionate. One of the best portraits of a Victorian matriarch I have read.

    The second time I began to notice the way Mrs Gaskell manipulated her characters for her own purposes, depriving them of any effective psychological realism. Just how many times did Margaret have to demonstrate the traditional religious virtues – attend to the job in hand and uncomplainingly take up the heavy burden, above all don’t mope, except occasionally and in secret, and most importantly stick to the station in life it has pleased God to put you in. It was when I found myself actually preferring Edith and Fanny to Margaret -they at least were people I could recognise – that I knew I couldn’t care less whether Margaret married Thornton or not.

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