Book Review: North and South

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

Book: North and South


Author: Elizabeth Gaskell


Genre: Fiction/Social Commentary/Coming-Of-Age/Romance


Summary: 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 intensified 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. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature. - Penguin Classics, 1995.


This book was recommended to me as a novel with similarities to Pride & Prejudice. As I loved the Austen novel, I decided to give this book a read. I cheated a few years ago by watching the BBC adaption, but since I hadn't watched it recently, I felt there was no harm in reading the novel now.


As always, spoilers will be kept to a minimum.


Overall, the novel is very well written and the plot lines are typical of the time. The novel was published in Charles Dickens's literary magazine so this gives you a hint of what kind of reception the novel was bound to encounter. While it is a coming-of-age story for Margaret and a bit of a romance, the story is mostly a social commentary of the time on the relationship the North of England had with the South, as well as the relationship between factory masters and their employees. The social justice thread is very much tied in to the rest of the plots in the novel.


Margaret herself as well as John Thornton have a relationship that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, although Gaskell is much more open about communicating John's feelings throughout the course of the novel, rather than focusing solely on Margaret. While their "romance" is very clear from John's side of the equation once he confesses, Margaret's feelings are much more subtle - some might even say they're nonexistent. However, I think we can forgive Gaskell for not fully developing this romance since it appears Dickens rushed her to finish the novel. As it stands, it's developed enough so that the ending, while nice, isn't exactly satisfying.


The other characters, Margaret's parents, Thornton's mother, Higgins, and the other factory workers are all unique, lively characters in their own rights and they all make an impression on the reader in their own ways. They each contribute to the development of Margaret and John, as well as influence their worldviews. Their own plot lines are interesting enough to make the reader invested on finding out how they end. 


Gaskell writes very well in the novel and her opinions, while popular among other writers of that time period, are woven in such a way so as not to be patronizing or preaching. 


I enjoyed the book very much overall. I only believe that the romance could have been better developed.


I give North and South an A-.




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