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Review – North and south


North and south

Title: North and south
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre: historical romance
Publisher: Jo March
Year: 2011
Rating: 5/5

Conceived initially as a serial novel for House Words magazine, North and South became an editorial work in three volumes in 1855 thanks to its enormous success.
Born from the pen of the English writer Elizabeth Gaskell, the novel tells the story of Margaret Hale, and its main objective is to bring to light the contrasts between the north and south of England. In fact, the events take place during the years of the industrial revolution. Helstone and Milton, the towns mentioned, with typical rural or industrial characteristics, are used as a side dish for the love story of the main characters.

North and southThe main characters are Margaret Hale, a gentlewoman from the south, and John Thornton, a great businessman from the north who has worked all his life to build a position among Milton’s industrialists. The two embody the profoundly different souls of a country at the height of the industrial revolution.


North and south – Plot

Forced by a thoughtless choice of her father to move from the rural town of Helstone to the heavily industrialized Milton, Margaret is a girl who finds the courage and willingness to adapt herself to a new lifestyle. Well prepared to face the economic struggles of her family, however, Margaret has issues to adhere to the mentality of the industrialized cities, as well as to free herself from the prejudice typical of her environment of origin towards those who need to work to survive. 

John Thornton is an industrialist who had to work hard to earn the respect of the city until he became the richest in the country. Unfortunately, his business skills make him look like a cruel and ruthless man, which does not help him make a good impression on Margaret.

Important are the peculiar secondary characters of Higgins and his sister Bessy, who represent the class of workers who fight to get the rights that are them denied.

About Margaret, at first, I could not identify myself with her. Then, when I began to compare her to Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind because of the presumption that she shows towards those who she does not consider her peers, I liked her a lot.


North and south – Gentleman and man

There are many themes in this novel. In particular, the characters of John and Margaret’s father are useful to highlight the difference between gentleman and man:North and south

  • the gentleman is the one who enjoys the fruits of his social position. He can devote himself to the study and development of hobbies and skills;
  • the man is the one who acts in order to achieve a goal and cannot live inoperative.

Furthermore, respect from society is acquired by the former thanks to his position, and by the latter through action and initiative.
Actually, in rural England, the rhythms are marked by the slow agricultural cycle, while in the industrialized north the lack of resourcefulness can cost the life. It is important, however, to clarify how John Thornton, despite being a man, tends to grow personally, choosing the culture of the gentleman.

There are sparks and discussions between the main characters because of the divergence of their opinions.
Mr Thornton’s character is really well developed and his actions are coherent from the beginning to the end of the novel. I especially liked the scenes told from his point of view and I fell in love with the sweetness of his feeling empathizing with him.

The moral

North and southAs already happened in Pride and Prejudice, this novel wants to leave us with the moral of not to be influenced by the prejudices that society transmits us and by our first impressions. Fortunately, after a stay in London, the protagonist is able to change her own judgment. She recognizes that the industriousness of the north can be more stimulating than the laziness of the rural bourgeoisie. In this way, a new concept of man and respectability is made, which will also be attributed to workers like Higgins.

Another theme that immediately jumps to the eyes is that of filial piety. In fact, it is not rare to see how much Margaret is linked to her parents. She is willing to take on family problems; she treats them with love and patience and suffers a real shock when 


both and then her godfather die leaving her alone.

Personal conclusions

Overall, I loved the book and I was pleasantly surprised. My experience with this novel began with the 2004 BBC TV series, which does not fully represent its beauty. In fact, one of the strengths of the book, missing in the television transposition, is the character of Mr Bell, which I really liked.
The reading is not the most fluent, but it is a novel that I highly recommend to those who want to know an author who, like Jane Austen, criticized the society and the problems of her time.

Elizabeth Gaskell

North and southBorn in 1810 by an Unitarian priest, Elizabeth Gaskell went to live with her aunt after her mother died, when she was a year old.

After her marriage to William Gaskell, she moved from Knutsford to Manchester. Here she was quite impressed by the difference between the small rural town and the industrialized metropolis. This, together with her distance relationship with her parents and her brother’s distance, will be one of the recurrent themes of her writing to which she dedicated herself after the death of her only son. 

Once she met success she retired to Hampshire where she died of a heart attack at the age of 55.

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4 commenti su “Review – North and south”

  • I love this book! It’s my joint favourite,along with Pride & Prejudice. I agree with you that while the film version is beautifully done,the book is simply wonderful!
    Gaskell’s carefully chosen words depicting the inner turmoil of the two protagonists and the insight we gain into the strength of John’s feelings,his utter love and devotion for Margaret must be read to be truly appreciated.
    Loved reading your thoughts.

  • Great review, Loren. I like your thoughts and feel you captured the essence of the book well. I love North & South, both the miniseries and the book. The book gives more insight into John Thornton and the movie shows the mastery of Richard Armitage of that insight. He expressed those subtle feelings so well. Thanks for sharing your review.

    • Thank you for your comment Janet! I like the tv-show, we can say that Richard Armitage is a great incentive! LOL

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