'North and South' Analysis

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

'North and South' - Elizabeth Gaskell Genre: Social novel, Victorian Fiction Pages: 418

Published in 1855, Elizabeth Gaskell’s (1810-1865) novel ‘North and South’ explores class,poverty, the restrictions of gender (naturally!) and debates social injustice within the Victorian society. Without doubt, a powerful social novel, read even by Mr Charles Dickens himself. Although one that I wouldn’t read again…

I chose to give this novel a go, partly because it’s well known for being a classic piece of literature, and also, mainly, due it sitting patiently under my ‘To Be Read’ pile for quite some time - *cough Four years! *cough*. Nevertheless, I’ve dusted off the cover, smoothed out the pages and made a cuppa. Okay, quite a few cuppas because frankly, this book is long! I’ve read longer texts, yet as you’ll soon discover it really does go on.


‘North and South’ follows the journey of nineteen year old Margaret Hale, from her idyllic home in the south to the smoke-filled, factory-heaving north. Her move brings a fresh perspective onto poverty, the workers strikes and class inequality, particularly after she meets a new friend by the name of Mary Higgins; a poor, ill village girl. Not forgetting of course, Mr Thornton – the factory master, whom, let’s just say, Margaret has more than one disagreements with. Important to mention however, that Margaret Hale does not simply stand by and watch the destruction and impact of the industrial revolution around her. Oh, no. Considered the strong, powerful heroine of the novel, she frequently argues for her beliefs and fights the injustice she witnesses.


I do have mixed opinions on this novel. I like Margaret’s character, her bold personality and determination to stand up for what she believes in. She’s eager to learn, and listens to the men, with no thought to the restrictions of women ‘she [Miss Thornton] was sure I should be uncomfortable at being the only lady among so many gentlemen. I had never thought about it, I was so busy listening’. Yet most of all, her behaviour during the workers strike - ‘in face of that angry sea of men... For she stood between them and their enemy’, in the midst of the strike, facing the strikers and making an attempt to separate the workers from their master, she stands bravely to protect Mr Thornton from harm. I also like how Gaskell herself used the novel to make a stand for social concerns, with many themes being covered.


However, this novel is simply too long to be enjoyed. I felt at numerous points that it wasn’t going anywhere, and whenever there was a seemingly build up to an event, something else occurred to stop it from happening. I feel that it could have been drastically shortened and honestly really didn’t need to be as long as it was. Also, the variant chapter length began to become a little infuriating as some were pages upon pages, while others were literally three, and none of the chapters seemed conclusive to an idea or storyline, it simply continued onto the next. Structurally, I found it rather odd.


Overall, quite a short review for a long novel, yet it definitely wasn’t my favourite piece of literature and I’m sorry to say I wouldn’t read it again. Nevertheless, feel free to give it a read yourself, I know of many people who have read and enjoyed this novel so you never know. There is also an element of romance too, if that’s your thing! In conclusion, unfortunately I’d rate it a pitiful 2 out of 10, as I feel it went on longer than it needed to and it simply wasn’t engaging enough for me.


Let me know your opinions if you’ve given ‘North and South’ a read! Take care, Sophie x


Themes for Students (Contains Spoilers!)


This section includes quotes and theme ideas for students to use:

Trade/Class:

- 'He is the first specimen of a manufacturer--of a person engaged in trade-- that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it.’ - Margaret speaking of Mr Thornton, her first impression on businessmen and class


Gender: -‘I was very much interested by what the gentlemen were talking about, although I did not understand half of it. I was quite sorry when Miss Thornton came to take me to the other end of the room, saying she was sure I should be uncomfortable at being the only lady among so many gentlemen. I had never thought about it, I was so busy listening; and the ladies were so dull, papa--oh, so dull! - Margaret taking part in gentlemen’s conversations

- ‘and was there, in face of that angry sea of men... For she stood between them and their enemy.’ – Margaret stands between the strikers and the Thornton's


Industrial Revolution: - ‘no click of machinery, or mingling and clashing of many sharp voices; but far away, the ominous gathering roar, deep-clamouring.’ – The sounds of the striking, hints of the Industrial revolution


Love: - ‘Oh, my Margaret--my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead-- cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret-- Margaret!' - Mr Thornton to Margaret, after the strike


Maternal Love: - 'Mother's love is given by God, John. It holds fast for ever and ever.’ – Mrs Thornton to Mr Thornton




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