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!

Yours,

HOLLY

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34 responses to “NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review”

  1. oh, that sounds great! really good review! since “jane eyre” is my favorite classic, i am sure i will like this one! have to put it on my tbr! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    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. yes i did! i immediately watched it after reading the book and i loved it too! ❤ ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this book. So glad to see your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 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

    1. I’ll definitely have to watch the BBC adaptation now that I know you love it so much! ❤ I hope you enjoy North & South!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the BBC more than the book. Am I talking about North and South or Sherlock?
    And yeah, the ending was abrupt, but I don’t see how it could’ve ended any other way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True! I would have liked more context afterwards, though. I’ll definitely have to check out the BBC version!

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  5. 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…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s awesome that these authors were actually friends in real life! ❤ Can you imagine having such a successful squad?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gaskell actually wrote the first ever bio of Charlotte http://amzn.to/2iybYU8

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ditto on the miniseries. Elizabeth gaskell is one victorian i havent read. Must pick up a copy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to check out the miniseries! Everyone seems to love it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The adaptation is so good. I really need to read more Gaskell. I’m not sure where to go next.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same! I might check out Wives and Daughters next

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  8. One of my favourite novels. read it in Jan and loved it. I will be reading WIves and Daughters soon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll have to check out Wives and Daughters as well! 🙂

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  9. I love love love love love love love this book! If I had to choose an all-time favorite, it’s probably this one here.

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    1. That’s so great to hear!!! ❤ I love learning about people's all-time favorite books!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I absolutely loved Jane Eyre, so I’ll definitely consider picking this up at som point! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this book and I have read it many times – its far more aware of social politics than Trollope (my other C19th favourite).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! I haven’t read much Trollope, but from what I have read I definitely prefer Gaskell.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also love Trollope. He can be very, very funny.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I absolutely loved this novel. And especially the strength of the main character. She’s still a female role model for a strong woman – even to this day, I would say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree! She’s definitely one of my new favorite characters 🙂

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  13. 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

    1. Oooh, thanks so much for the recommendation! I’ll definitely add Manchester to my list of places to visit 🙂

      Like

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