Synopses & Reviews
North and South is Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 novel that contrasts the different ways of life in the two respective regions of England. In the North the emerging industrialized society is sharply contrasted with the aging gentry of the agrarian based South. The plot of North and South centers around the main character Margaret Hale, the daughter of a non-conformist minister who moves his family to an industrial town in the North after a split from the Church of England. With important underlying social themes, North and South stands out as one of the greatest novels in the history of English literature.
"A really remarkable picture of the reality, as well as the prosperity, of northern industrial life, and an interesting examination of changing social conscience." —Joanna Trollope, author, Second Honeymoon
"Gaskell saw the emotional and economic realities of ordinary life with a steely honesty." —The Times
"Pah! to Dickens. Eat your heart out, Little Nell. That Elizabeth Gaskell could write a death scene to make your socks melt." —Scotsman
"One of the most perceptive novels of the mid-Victorian era." —Glasgow Herald
Milton is a sooty, noisy northern town centred around the cotton mills that employ most of its inhabitants. Arriving from a rural idyll in the south, Margaret Hale is initially shocked by the social unrest and poverty she finds in her new hometown. However, as she begins to befriend her neighbors, and her stormy relationship with the mill-owner John Thornton develops, she starts to see Milton in a different light.
About the Author
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (née Stevenson) was born on 29 September 1810 in Chelsea, London. Her father William, was a civil servant. Her mother, Eliza, died on 29 October 1811 and she was brought up by Hannah Lumb, her aunt, in Knutsford, Cheshire, a small town near Manchester which later became the basis for Cranford
In 1832 she married William Gaskell, who was a Unitarian minister and they settled in the industrial city of Manchester. They had several children: a stillborn daughter in 1833, followed by Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), known as Meta, Florence Elizabeth (1842), William (1844-1845) and Julia Bradford (1846).
After her only son, William, died of scarlet fever she began to write. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. It was an immediate success, winning the praise of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.
Dickens invited her to contribute to his magazine, 'Household Words', where her next major work, Cranford, appeared in 1853. North and South was published the following year. Gaskells work brought her many friends, including the novelist Charlotte Brontë. When Charlotte died in 1855, her father, Patrick Brontë, asked Gaskell to write her biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857).
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeths final novel, was left unfinished when she died suddenly of heart failure on 12 November 1865 in Holybourne, Hampshire, aged 55.
Reading Group Guide
Milton is a sooty, noisy northern town centred on the cotton mills that employ most of its inhabitants. Arriving from a rural idyll in the south, Margaret Hale is initially shocked by the social unrest and poverty she finds there. However, as she begins to befriend her neighbours, and as her stormy relationship with the mill-owner John Thornton develops, she starts to see Milton in a different light.
1. Why do Margarets parents allow her to shoulder such heavy burdens - her fathers crisis of faith and her mothers illness - at such a young age?
2. Why does Margaret not tell her mother and father about Mr Lennox and Mr Thorntons proposals? Why does she have to wait to be asked directly by her father?
3. 'North and South explores themes that still seem strikingly modern' (Daily Mail). Do you think that the attitudes expressed in the novel about the north and south divide are relevant today?
4. Why is Margaret prejudiced against the industrialists of the time? How important is social class to the novel?
5. Who is the better Mother - Mrs Hale, Mrs Thornton or Mrs Shaw?
6. The scene where Margaret stands between Mr Thornton and the striking workers is a turning point in the tale. What motivates Margarets to put herself in this vulnerable - both emotionally and physically - situation?
7. Margaret is a strong female heroine. Do you think this is unusual in a Victorian novel? Why does Elizabeth Gaskell contrast Margaret so dramatically with the other girls of her age in the book for example Edith, Fanny and Bessy?
8. The original title of the book was Margaret Hale and it was only under pressure from her publishers that Gaskell changed the title to North and South. Do you think this was the right decision to make? Do you think you would read the novel differently if it had its original title?
9. Elizabeth Gaskell describes Mr Thornton as ‘large and strong and tender, and yet a master. Do you agree with her description? Can you be tender and a master? Does Mr Thornton prove this?
10. Was Margaret right to lie to the police officer? Do you think she should have told Mr Thornton the truth straight away?
11. Look at Margarets relationship with the Higginses and compare it to Mr Thorntons relationship to them. What are the differences and the similarities? Who gains the most from the connection - Margaret, Mr Thornton or the Higgins?
12. Both Margaret and Thornton know that their families will not approve of the marriage. Are they right to marry? Can they be happy?