Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South

North and South is a classic book that is more focused on the social divides between the north and south of England.

With the story focusing on Margaret, a young woman who returns from London after spending a few years in the social circles of the London elite.  Returning home she finds that her father is having trouble with his work and faith, before deciding that he has to go somewhere else.  This is where, the family; mother, father, Margaret and the faithful servant all move to Milton, an industrial town that is clearly not what the family is used to.

North and South is more focused on the social divisions, not only between north and south of England, but also class divisions.

The focus is predominately on Margaret, the only daughter to this couple and one who has to deal with a lot of stuff in the 2 years that her family has been in Milton.

Mr Hale, Margaret’s father, is the one who reduces their money by wanting to stick to his religious convictions – which is fair – however he is shown to lack a spine, having Margaret do the deed in telling her mother the news, while he is out for the full day.  He doesn’t even seem to manage anything on his own, which is fair since he asks for help from his friend Mr Bell to get a job in Milton, but everything seems to involve him asking for things from other people, not thinking about how it will affect his family, not thinking that perhaps that he should do the deed in telling his wife why he wants to leave.

Mrs Hale doesn’t add that much to the family dynamic, most of the time she comes across as wanting to be a centre of attention.  There doesn’t even seem to be that much love between husband and wife, like over time they have just been bringing each other down, of course it does need to be said that there are moments within the book where Mrs Hale talks of her love for her husband and the reason why she married him.  It just felt a bit off, considering that they married for love rather than money, though if they lost the love for each other then that works, but considering they just seem to lack full respect for each other, it just didn’t do much for me.

Mr Thornton is a mill owner, earning his fortune through hard work, he does fall in love with Margaret, although his mother doesn’t approve, considering Margaret’s status is lower than their own now.  He does appear to be a very serious man, although he is hard working and essentially the opposite to Mr Hale.  He is an interesting character, considering Mr and Mrs Hale are rather dull and lacklustre.

Margaret has so much on her shoulders, she is also the one the make a bridge between the social classes, although she’s not the heroine, she doesn’t save the day; but she does help people.  She has good character although throughout the book you still see that she is human, she’s not perfect, she does have moments of being negative, of disliking people of thinking horrible thoughts, being resentful.  I found it interesting that she turned down a marriage proposal at the start of the book, then again over halfway through the book and the way she views men; she doesn’t view them as someone she has to marry, there is little to no spark of her lusting after a man.

I have never been a big classical book fan, and although I have enjoyed this book, it’s unlikely for me to re-read this again, since there was so many reasons for me to stop reading and the character’s did come across as bland, particularly Margaret’s parents.

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