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North and South



This novel examines the nature of social authority and obedience and provides an insightful description of the role of middle class women in nineteenth century society. Through the story of Margaret Hale, a southerner who moves to the northern industrial town of Milton, Gaskell skilfully explores issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to the mill owner, John Thornton.

Gaskell's ninth publication masterfully captures the lives of people drawn together by mere life circumstances. Her characters from Margaret Hale to Nicholas Higgins, regardless of situation, are paid the same meticulous attention by Gaskell in her portrayal of an intricate story which encompasses a range of social issues such as the role of women in Victorian Britain, industrialisation and its effects on class divisions, as well as the changing landscape of Britain through such changes brought on by advancement in trade in urban areas depicted in the contrasts between Helstone and Milton. In Margaret Hale Gaskell gives strength to the ‘weaker sex’ rarely before seen in texts of her time whilst appealing to all readers with the emphasis of a number of households mainly within Milton itself. The text presents itself as well as a novel as it ever did in its popular serialisation in Dickens’ publication Household Words. --Submitted by A. Blackwood

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Recent Forum Posts on North and South

Treatment of Irish in North and South

There were one or two Irish slurs in North and South. For example, Margaret Hales says she thinks the Bouchers had Irish blood in them, which accounted for them not being very resolute, upstanding people. There was a minor slur when she says remarks a statement is Irish because it was a bit self-contradictory. Mr Thornton brings in Irish workers to break the strike, but finds their standard of workmanship is not very good, which is reasonable because they did not have much experience. A bit later, Thornton tells Higgins he could not compete with an Irishman as a navvy. The book was set very shortly after the Irish Potato Famine, which caused so many Irish people to emigrate. Anyway, I am interested in economics. While I was looking through the GoodReads top 100 books on economics, I noticed Karl Marx's good friend, Friedrich Engels wrote a book called The Conditions of the Working Class in England. This was written between 1842 and 1844 while he was living in Manchester, which was about ten years before North and South was written. Milton was based on Manchester. I was surprised that several of the reviewers referred to Engels' negative comments about the Irish. I could understand an Englishman being racist towards the Irish, but Engels was German.

The last funeral but one

This happens near the end of the book, so don't read if you don't want it given away. Poor old Mr Hale died while he was visiting his friend, Mr Bell, in Oxford. Not that he's very old, actually, only in his fifties. While Mr Bell and Mr Thornton attended his funeral, Margaret Hale seems not to have. She was understandably very distressed; so much so, that her aunt was called up to Milton to look after her. I was a little surprised that Mr Hale's body was not brought back to Milton, because surely he would have wanted to be buried beside his wife. Perhaps that was not the custom then. I would have thought it was possible, because wouldn't embalming have kept the body from deteriorating for long enough? Maybe the railway companies refused to transport corpses.

North and South - The Ending

I have read that Charles Dickens became a bit fed up with how long North and South was taking to end, and told Mrs Gaskell to hurry up. It was being serialised in his magazine, Household Words. When Mrs Gaskell published it as a book, she extended the ending again. I thought Dickens had a point: it does take a while to end. I think that was because everyone wanted John Thornton and Margaret Hale to get together, especially the female readers (I dare say). Nevertheless, Gaskell did not want to just give it to them, because that would have been a predictable ending. I thought the ending was pretty well engineered. Margaret Hale inherits a fortune from her godfather, but this seems a bit more plausible than when Jane Eyre inherits a fortune, because Margaret's godfather is a well fleshed out character in the book. I suspect Jane's implausible inheritance in Jane Eyre was merely to enable her to marry Mr Rochester as an equal. Jane does not have to marry Rochester to escape poverty. In North and South, the inheritance is important to the resolution of the book. Margaret Hale offers to invest in John Thornton's business to help him get over a cash flow problem. This was the same problem that was caused by the strike, Thornton's investment of capital in new machinery, and the poor quality work done by the unskilled Irish workers. Mr Thorton's emotion at being able to save his business, added to the feeling he has for Margaret anyway, is enough for him to overcome his reserve.

Was factory work better than labouring?

There are some interesting bits in chapter 37. Mr Higgins tells Mr Hale and Margaret that he intends to go south and find work digging. They try to persuade him out of it. They tell him he would get paid nine or ten shillings a week. He was being paid fifteen shillings a week in the factory before he lost his job. They say he would have to work outside in all weathers, that he would suffer rheumatism, that he was not used to that work and could not cope with it at his age (45), that the work was extremely dull and stupefying, that the labourers were so exhausted by the end of the day all they cared about was food and rest. This does not sound like Thomas Hardy. The weekly wages are similar to the farm workers' in Far From the Madding Crowd, but their lives do not sound as miserable. Actually, I think the fifteen shillings a week the factory workers were being paid is what Bob Cratchit was paid in A Christmas Carol. I thought that was dramatic exaggeration, but I suppose that it was not utterly implausible. It surprises me that the Hales consider factory work to be easier and more stimulating than labouring. Being tied to a weaving loom for ten hours a day does not sound very stimulating to me. Perhaps this digging they refer to is not farm labouring but navvying, that is digging routes for railways. Also, this bit in chapter 37: 'How proud that man is!' said her father, who was a little annoyed at the manner in which Higgins had declined his intercession with Mr. Thornton. 'He is,' said Margaret; 'but what grand makings of a man there are in him, pride and all.' 'It's amusing to see how he evidently respects the part in Mr. Thornton's character which is like his own.' 'There's granite in these northern people, papa is there not?' 'There was none in poor Boucher, I am afraid; none in his wife either.' 'I should guess from their tones that they had Irish blood in them...' That is an outrageous racial slur. My mum is Irish. I am deeply affronted. Come to think of it, I expect many of those diggers were Irish navvies. Margaret previously referred to 'poor, Irish starvelings' when talking about some Irish workers that Mr Thornton had brought in to break a strike. This was just after the Irish potato famine.

People just letting themselves in and out

I was a bit surprised to read the characters in this book just let themselves in and out of each others houses. Normally if it is a middle class home, a servant would show the guest in, but not always. I am pretty sure I read John Thornton let himself into the Hale's house on occasions. He knew them pretty well by then, but all the same. When Margaret visits Mr Higgins in the working class area, she is quite happy to let herself in. If someone wants privacy they will bolt the door, but otherwise everyone is happy for anyone to walk into their house. That has changed.

Why so much anguish over the lie? (North and South)

SPOILERS I was reading chapter 36 last night. Margaret's conscience is tormenting her. She had to lie to a police inspector. Her brother Frederick had risked coming back to England to attend his mother's funeral. This was risky because if caught he would be hanged for a mutiny he was part of while serving in the Royal Navy. The crew had rebelled against a tyrannical captain, and had cast him off in a boat. As bad luck would have it, Fred is spotted my a former shipmate of low character who is working as a railway porter. There is a bit of a scuffle, the porter falls to the ground and Frederick jumps on the train. In another bit of bad luck, the porter has diseased internal organs and he dies a few hours later. (I wondered about that. It reminded me of a case several years ago when a riot policeman pushed a passing pedestrian to the ground. The pedestrian got up, but he was a heavy drinker with liver disease and he died shortly afterwards. Only thing is the porter in the story was relatively young for such advanced liver disease.) Anyway, Margaret was spotted at the scene so a policeman came around to talk to her. Margaret is still extremely worried about her brother's safety, so she denies she was there. In another series of complications, Margaret had also been seen with her brother going to the railway station by Mr Thornton. Mr Thornton was the magistrate who was called to see the porter's dying body when he was brought in. In addition, he is acquainted with the police inspector. He does not know the man with Margaret was her brother, but he knows she has lied to protect him. This is all pretty unfortunate, but I don't why she is torturing herself so much about the lie. What should she do: increase the risk of her brother being hanged, or tell a lie? She is also very upset that Mr Thornton knows she has lied. Thornton has decided to close the inquest (this sounds legally a bit dubious).I was surprised about all this anguish. I suppose it must have been her Christian upbringing.

Nicholas Higgins (Mrs Gaskell)

Nicholas Higgins is a shop steward or at least an enthusiastic union member, although he is presented more sympathetically than Slackbridge in Hard Times. I am intrigued that the attitudes of people like Higgins stayed pretty much the same for at least 130 years, until Thatcher cut them off at the knees during the 80s, and Reagan did the same to the unions in the US. Nicholas Higgins seems pretty similar to Robert Owen, who is Robert Tressell's mouthpiece in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, written over fifty years later. Both Higgins and Owen are Socialists for want of a better word. Both Higgins and Owen are atheists. Owen is not in a union because he and all his colleagues are employed on a job-by-job basis, but he is equally left wing. What surprises me about Higgins is that North and South was written before Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species undermined religious belief, and Karl Marx had provided a theoretical background to support their political views. I see from Wikipedia that Marx had written stuff before the 1850's, and I don't suppose he was the only one, but I doubt these works had been very widely disseminated by then.

Similarities wih Coketown

I started reading North and South. I see it was published in 1855, about a year after Hard Times by Charles Dickens. It has some on the same concerns. For example, Margaret is horrified when her father tells her he plans to leave the beautiful country parsonage to become a private tutor in a northern manufacturing town: "A private tutor!" said Margaret, looking scornful: "What in the world do manufacturers want with the classics, or literature, or the accomplishments of a gentleman?" "Oh," said her father, "some of them really seem to be fine fellows, conscious of their own deficiencies, which is more than many a man at Oxford is. Some want resolutely to learn, though they have come to man's estate. Some want their children to be better instructed than they themselves have been..." Presumably not men like Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby from Hard Times. I thought the writing style seemed quite modern, maybe a bit like Anne Tyler. It has familiar 19th century themes, for example, fear of poverty, marrying for money versus marrying for love. One bit made me laugh out though, because it was self-parodying: "Where are we to go to?" said she at last, struck with fresh wonder as to their future plans, if plans, indeed, her father had. "To Milton-Northern," he answered, with a dull indifference, for he perceived that, although his daughter's love had mader her cling to him, and for a moment strive to soothe him with her love, yet the keenness of the pain was as fresh as ever in her mind. "Milton-Northern! The manufacturing town in Darkshire?" "Yes," said he, in the same despondent, indifferent way. Milton-Northern in Darkshire, I ask you :rofl:

Which edition of North and South?

Hi, I just wanted to order a copy of "North and South" and found 4 different paperback editions by Vintage, Penguin Popular, Penguin Red Series, and Oxford. The Penguin Popular edition is very cheap. Is there anything against it? I just want to read it while listening to the Librivox audio.

North and South vs Northanger Abbey

I'm writing an essay comparing Gaskell's North and South and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Its focusing on their differing concepts of "romantic heroines" (for example Austen's satirical interpretation of gothic heroines) and was hoping for some ideas - any help would be welcome! Beside the obvious Milton/Helstone comparison, what are some of the juxtapositions presented in North and South? Possibly Mrs Hale/Mrs Thornton? Margaret/Edith or Margaret/Miss Thornton? Mr Thornton/Mr Lennox?

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