North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Recently, for British Lit, I read North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although in class we almost beat it to death discussing it for two weeks. I don’t think I’ve lit-geeked out about a book like this since Pride and Prejudice, but that’s probably because the two books are similar in a lot of ways!

Margaret Hale is the daughter of a clergyman, but when her father starts to have doubts about the Church, they move from their country home in the south to the industrial mill-town, Milton, in the north. There, her father tutors local mill owner Mr. Thornton. Margaret spends her time learning about the town and taking care of her mother, who has fallen ill. Her and Mr. Thornton disagree about many things, but when a strike occurs and Mr. Thornton is in danger, Margaret throws herself in front of him, saving him from something thrown from the crowd. The next day, Thornton proclaims his love but is rejected by Margaret.

Now, of course, the real intrigue can begin. Margaret has an older brother who is essentially banished from England. He committed mutiny against an unfair leader while in the navy, and if he is seen again he will be hanged. Regardless, he snuck back into the country to visit his sick mother. After a few days, he and Margaret walk to the train station together and Frederick leaves. Mr. Thornton happens to see them together and mistakenly assumes that Frederick is some sort of secret lover.

Meanwhile, things start to go really bad for Margaret (I won’t give it away) and she is forced to move to London to live with her newly married cousin. Now removed from Milton, Margaret realizes how much she misses the town…and Mr. Thornton. When he finally comes back into her life and learns the truth about her, we get the happy ending we’ve been expecting from the day that Margaret and Thornton met.

The book is really interesting as a Victorian novel because it challenges gender roles and describes the effects of industrialization. It highlights class differences and shows how society changed with technology. Driving it all is, of course, the romance. I really enjoyed reading it, and I would highly recommend North and South.

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