North and South
Book By Elizabeth Gaskell
Review by Janelle A. Spiers
September 17, 2014
“ ‘I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine.’ ” ~ Mr. Thornton, Chapter LII
“He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it.” ~ Margaret Hale, Chapter XXI
WARNING: Please be aware that if you continue reading this Book Review, you may be subject to reading spoilers and or secrets of the original book. However, all attempts shall be made to hide the crucial points, in the event that this review encourages you to read this book. Any information divulged will be deemed by the author of this review necessary to the review, or, not capable of ruining any major surprise.
North and South, written by Elizabeth Gaskell, is the story of Ms. Margaret Hale, a pretty country girl from Southern England, and Mr. John Thornton, a diligent factory owner from Northern England. When their paths cross and their stories begin to tangle, they learn to overcome their differences in opinion and character and prove to themselves and each other what potential they have to face their problems.
Subtly, and quite intricately, Gaskell weaved many significant themes into her writing. There is a strong theme of sacrifice seen mostly by Margaret Hale, as she struggles to care for the poor and orphaned folk of a poor manufacturing town. Loyalty to one’s family and relations is emphasized as important, but there is also a theme of overcoming pride. Misunderstandings and different opinions taint the eyes through which the characters look, and so they must come to realize where their prejudice has led them. And then there is also the theme of love, which Gaskell painted beautifully into the English landscape of North and South.
The story of North and South is a touching story of clashing opinions, loyalty, and romance. Margaret Hale, born to a vicar and a lady, is a beautiful woman, but the way she carries herself portrays haughtiness, which frustrates a love-struck Mr. Thornton, whom she meets after she and her family must move from their home in the country to the smoggy industrial city of Milton.
Mr. Thornton, a rich factory owner, works diligently to provide for his mother and sister, and restores them from absolute poverty to a more comfortable living. Margaret Hale finds Mr. Thornton to be very disagreeable and cold-hearted towards his employees, but what she does not know is the struggle Mr. Thornton goes through to look into the well being of his factory workers. As Milton is plunged into a factory strike and a fearsome mob, Margaret’s dear parents die, and as tension in the industry begins to threaten the happiness of both Mr. Thornton and Ms. Hale, each are forced to rely on the other for help, and it takes such hardships for them learn to understand the other’s heart and their own.
Margaret Hale is the protagonist character of North and South. She has a compassionate heart towards any person less fortunate than herself, but she has very little tolerance for those in a position of authority. She has a fault of prejudice but a gift of tenderness and loyalty to her family. Margaret is a memorable character in her manner of speech and action.
Mr. Thornton, in relation to the main character, is the antagonist at the beginning of the story. Margaret dislikes him, and he is often the means of keeping her from happiness, however, Mr. Thornton has a very great heart. He is earnest and kind to his family and those he cares for, but he has learned to be firm and strict with his factory workers and is often looked upon as being cold. Mr. Thornton’s fault that he cannot take criticism without offense and often broods upon such comments, especially when they come from Ms. Hale.
The supporting characters of North and South are each an important role. Mrs. Thornton is the mother of the hero, and she is a very bold, outspoken, strong woman who loves her son and hates anyone who makes him sad. The passion of her love for her son is touching, and her air is foreboding to those who cross her. Mr. and Mrs. Hale are weaker, older parents who have poor health but loving hearts. Mr. Hale is supportive of his family and struggles to be a means of providing for them. Mrs. Hale has a delicate health, and it is weakened by her worry for her exiled son, to the point that the doctor has no hope for the poor woman.
Then there are the townspeople of Milton, including Nicholas and Bessy Higgins. The father and daughter had given up hope for Bessy’s survival. When she contracted consumption in the cotton mill, she grew weaker and longed for death. Once befriended by Margaret, hope began to lighten their eyes, and upon Bessy’s death, Margaret grew to be a great comfort to Nicholas as he mourned for his dead daughter.
Mr. Bell is the godfather of Margaret and Frederick Hale, and it was by his hand and suggestion that the Hales moved to Milton. He provided for Margaret when her father died and left all he had to her, which made her a great landowner in Milton. His good-natured heart blessed the young woman in her time of distress, and they grew very fond of each other.
The quality of writing is exquisite, and Gaskell did a wonderful job of embracing the different ideas, thoughts, and dialects of various classes of people. She weaves a wonderful speech by the educated Margaret, an honest and frank conversation from Mr. Thornton, and the uncouth, uneducated talking of the Higgins’. Her words paint a pretty picture, and her description is sincere and light. However, being published in 1855, the English that we speak nowadays is quite outdated, and so many of the idioms, phrases, and words have lost their understandability. Depending on the reader, North and South may be hard to understand, especially when the uneducated characters speak.
North and South was published in a magazine called, Household Works, in a 20 part series, edited by Charles Dickens, in 1854. It was not until the next year that it was published as a book, and Gaskell added other pieces to the printed copy because she was unable to write and develop the story as much as she wished in the magazine.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born in Chelsea, London, England on the 29th of September 1810. Her writing career began in 1836 when she and her husband wrote a collection of poems, and her work was often published through various magazines and newspapers. Gaskell was a close friend to Charlotte Bronte and she worked with Charles Dickens, he being the editor for North and South.
The worldview of this novel is Christian, with a strong placement of faith in God and his goodness. Mr. Hale is a pastor, and he is seen to pray several times with his family. There is also a small element of Atheism from Nicholas Higgins, who has never been encouraged in any other religious faction but his own.
There is no profanity or language in North and South. All of the characters have clean mouths, but they do gossip and speak openly about their frustrations toward other characters at times. The subject of sex is also non-existent. A small alcohol addiction is seen from one of the characters, but he typically drinks when he is greatly unhappy, and when this struggle is made clear, the character is strongly encouraged to reform and does make an effort to try.
There is a brief chapter in which there is a bit of violence. A mob attacks the Thornton home, and in the process wounds Margaret Hale when a rock is thrown at her, but there is no graphic description. Death also occurs, later in the story, to several characters. They die either from illness or old age, although one man dies while intoxicated, and another is alluded to having committed suicide by drowning himself in the river.
The plot of this book is well planned, and it is carried through to a very solid ending. Each of Gaskell’s characters also remains steady, according to their original personality. Although several of the characters are seen to grow in maturity, understanding, or character, they remain constant. The quality is also continually good.
The story of North and South is captivating and enjoyable. Gaskell’s characters are even more so, filled with life, longing, and love. Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale take a place in the hearts and minds of their readers, and they will always be dear classic characters. From Hampshire to London, the journeys of the beautiful Margaret Hale will be loved and cherished. From poverty to a rich factory owner, Mr. Thornton’s perseverance will continue to encourage us, embolden us, and live on forever.
Theme ~ Positive! (For topics that are worth pondering and pursuing.)
Plot Line ~ Positive! (The story line is easy to follow and also pleasant read.)
Characters ~ Positive! (For memorable, lovable characters with human qualities.)
Writing Quality ~ Undetermined! (For understandability: the readers must determine this for themselves.)
Mature Content ~ Positive! (For clean, wholesome, and non-graphic writing.)
Congruency ~ Positive! (The joints of this book are very smooth.)
The total score for North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is 5.5 out of a possible 6 positive points.