Mini classic review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.

“I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.”

I watched the BBC adaptation of North and South starring Richard Armitage years ago, and fell absolutely in love with the characters of this series and adored the romance between Margaret and John. I always planned on reading the book but only got around to doing so many years later — but I’m glad I finally read it.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s prose was lovely and evocative. It felt as though I were in the novel itself, as Gaskell’s narration is realistic, gritty and charming, all in one. Someone on Goodreads reviewed this book as ‘It’s Pride and Prejudice for Socialists’, and I can’t help but agree! Gaskell makes it clear her views on the treatment of workers in the 19th century through her protagonist, Margaret. Yet at the same time, a heart-warming romance is developing between Margaret and John Thornton, a business owner who doesn’t treat his workers with respect. It’s the kind of hate-to-love romance that I’m so fond of.

I am a sucker for romance, especially in classics books. I just love the miscommunication, the courtship, the turned-down proposals, the regret, and eventually the happy ending. I found John’s love for Margaret deeply touching, as even though he (incorrectly) believes she is in a secret relationship and potentially involved in the death of a man, he is still very respectful of her and protective.

Margaret is a fantastic female character — she’s prideful, strong in her convictions, and can be quite prejudiced at times. I so thoroughly enjoy reading female characters who have a backbone, especially in classic literature.

After reading this book, I’m so tempted to re-watch the BBC adaptation! I have added quite a few of Gaskell’s other books on my TBR as well — so excited to read more from her.


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