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North and South


North and South


1854 was certainly a good year for Elizabeth Gaskell: her editor for North and South was the incomparable Charles Dickens.

The protagonist of North and South is Margaret Hale, a country parson’s daughter who, in the novel’s opening, refuses marriage to attractive lawyer Henry Lennox for the sole reason that “I have never thought of—you, but as a friend.”

This refusal is the key to her character: Margaret makes decisions for positive reasons only; never to honor convention or out of a sense of victimhood.  Indeed, Margaret focuses on romantic love not at all.

It’s a star-crossed romance, but part of its power lies in the fact that (for Margaret at least), it isn’t a romance at all.

Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, 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 the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.

This is strengthened by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.

ELIZABETH GASKELL (1810 – 1865) was an English novelist and short story writer. Her fictions offered a meticulous portrait of Victorian society. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published in 1848. Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, was the first biography about Brontë. Some of Gaskell's best known novels are Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.


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