NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is the second novel I had to read for the Victorian Literature tutorial I’m taking at Oxford during my first term. It’s fitting that this follows Dickens’ Hard Times on our summer reading list because Dickens was actually the editor of the magazine that Gaskell’s novel was initially serially published from September 1854 to January 1855. Interestingly enough, Dickens is also credited with creating the title for this novel (in opposition to Gaskell, who wanted to title her work “Margaret Hale” after the protagonist). Set in the fictional manufacturing town of Milton, this novel follows Margaret as she transitions from living in rural southern England to urban northern England.

+ The social problem. I’d be amiss if I didn’t start by highlighting how well Gaskell addresses what is often known as the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The novel’s focus on the plight of factory workers during this time period is fascinating, especially in regard to the strike and its effect on the Higgins family. Little Mary Higgins humanizes the “Hands” that factory owners often disregarded as incompetent and lazy.

+ Community vs. class. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the overall message it delivers: personal relationships can be more important than one’s social class. The immense amount of character development in this novel is particularly apparent when you look at how many characters learn the lesson of community over class. This lesson is one of the many ways in which North and South is as relevant today as it was back in Gaskell’s lifetime.

+ Margaret Hale. Margaret reminds me of one of my favorite characters in literature: Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both characters are strong, independent young women who experience many changes in their lives. They are resilient and clever, intelligent and courageous, yet never lose their immense capacities for compassion and empathy. I think it’s telling that Gaskell initially wanted to name this novel after Margaret herself because it suggests that she viewed the protagonist as the real heart of the story.

One of my only complaints is that this novel ends very abruptly compared to its prior steady pace. Not only does the ending feel sudden, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. What happens to the Higgins family, Fred, and Mrs. Thornton? What was the point of the marriage proposal at the very beginning of the novel?  How does Mr. Henry Lennox feel about the concluding events of the novel? Does Margaret receive a lot of backlash for her decision or is there a positive response? It almost feels as though this novel was missing an epilogue to tie all of these loose ends together.

Nevertheless, North and South was an engaging and enjoyable introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think anyone who has read and enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre should definitely consider picking up North and South.

What are your thoughts on this novel? Have you read anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell? Let me know in the comments section below!



34 thoughts on “NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review

    1. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classics, too! ❤ I really need to reread it sometime because it's been a few years since I first read it. Have you seen the most recent movie adaptation?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I have seen the BBC several times (by several I mean at least 10 times) and it is the BEST. THING. EVER. Four hours worth of sweet, sweet romance. ❤

    I definitely enjoyed Jane Eyre – one of my favorite classics – and while I never was much interested in reading North & South you have just changed my mind. Although the abrupt ending is pretty disappointing. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin did the same thing, which is the main reason why I ended up really not liking that book…

    P.S.: I also really like the edition of the book you have. That cover is so cute!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I love North and South (the miniseries was pretty well done as well IMO). I always tend to see it compared to Pride and Prejudice (I think because of the initial first impression and the rejected proposal midway though) but Margaret as a character does have more in common with Jane Eyre than Elizabeth Bennett, I agree. And Elizabeth Gaskell was friends with Charlotte Bronte, so Jane may have influenced her writing a bit…

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  3. I’m glad you enjoyed North and South, I read it at university and loved it too. If you’re coming to the UK to study at Oxford, I would recommend a weekend trip to Manchester. It’s my city so obviously I’m a big fan, but Manchester was the at the heart of the industrial revolution, and it is the place Milton is based on. There is a cotton mill just out of the city called Quarry Bank Mill or Styal Mill that has been preserved by the national trust. You might find it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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