North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth GaskellIt is 1855, and Margaret Hale leaves her wealthy aunt’s house in London to return to village life with her parents. No sooner has Margaret arrived, when her father announces he has lost his faith in the Anglican Church and is resigning his position as minister. The family relocates to a bustling industrial town in the north of England, where Mr. Hale finds work as a tutor. Margaret is shocked by the noise, smoke and poverty of the city and the unrefined ways of the rich industrialists. She befriends a dying cotton mill worker with chronic lung disease who provides Margaret with insight into the lives of the working poor. Margaret’s strong opinions soon bring her into conflict with John Thornton, a local mill owner and student of her father’s.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Although Gaskell wrote this novel in serialized form for Charles Dickens’ magazine, its gripping melodrama is still appealing to readers 150 years later. We were struck by the similarity between Gaskell’s misunderstood hero and heroine and the characters in the books of Jane Austen. It was also interesting to see how the division between factory owner and union member in 1855 is remarkably similar to the situation today. This is not an easy read by modern standards -especially the heavily accented speeches of factory worker Mr. Higgins -which become more incomprehensible by the page. However, we felt it was well worth reading, especially for the strong female characters.

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