Tag Archives: North and South

Elizabeth Gaskell – North and South (1854-55)

The heroine Margaret Hale lives in Helstone in the South of England–which is associated with old pastoral England, the aristocracy, etc–with her father, a clergyman, and her mother (kind of a bitch) and the servant Dixon, who constantly threatens to usurp the daughter role. The father leaves the church out of religious conviction and moves North to Milton. There she meets the Higgins family (whom she takes on as a charity project, but soon becomes their friend) and John Thornton, a captain of industry (with an awful mother), that callenges her Southern prejudices. While facing down an angry mob, Margaret runs outside and tries to save Thornton and gets hit in the head. She loses blood. Thornton is totally in love with Margaret, and pursues her vigorously even after multiple rejections. With the mother Hale dying, Frederick Hale (who is wanted for mutiny) returns to England. John sees him and Meg at the train station and assumes it is her lover. While there, Fred accidentally kills someone that’s trying to turn him in. When asked later about the event, Meg denies having been there, but she finds out that John knows after the case is dropped. Now all this time Hale is doing fine giving tutoring lessons but he goes to visit his old friend Mr. Bell at Oxford and suddenly dies there. Bell basically adopts Meg  and she will later inherit his money and be super rich. Meanwhile, the poor factory conditions drive a mob to try to oust Thronton, who can’t hold up for too long after repeated strikes. [side note: Boucher, the person who threw the rock at Meg, drowns himself in a puddle of water]. The Higgins family is a paragon of community responsibility, adopting children, etc. Thornton ends up losing all his money, but after a while he marries Meg and her fortune saves the Mill, etc.

North vs. South – many passages detailing the difference between the industrial north and the agricultural south. interestingly, when Meg returns to Helstone, things have already changed, which calls into question the foundation of her original judgment…or perhaps, her time in the urban space makes possible the pastoral encounter that before was only a pastoral ideal. But a shift to thinking about the urban poor rather than rustic is crucial, because it upsets the country/ctiy divide that founded much of Wordsworth, etc. pontification.

Brigid Lowe (2005) argues that North and South dramatizes the tension between permanence and change. Time seems to move at carrying speeds according to the geography. But there is also the tension between a realism of everyday life and “narrative itself — the plotting inexorably leads Margaret, and the reader, away from homeliness” (204). An interesting contrast to the homeliness-unhomeliness binary in something like Villette, where breaking from the domestic becomes the liberating possibility allowed by fictional narrative.

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