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North and South

Elizabeth Gaskell


By the mid-nineteenth century, the transition of textile production in England from a cottage craft to mechanized factories was complete. Still, the effects of the industrial revolution remain distant from the idyllic rural parish in the New Forest where Margaret Hale grows up. But with her father’s crisis of conscience in ministry, the country lanes of Hampshire give way to the crowded urban streets of the industrial North of England. Mr. Hale’s new role as a private tutor brings Margaret into contact not only with her father’s favorite student—one of the “masters” of a factory—but also leads to her meeting, and caring for, the poor families of factory workers.

Margaret finds her sympathies torn as she grows to understand the differing outlooks and interests of “masters and men,” especially as an industrial dispute brings the lives of both classes into crisis. But there is much more to Margaret’s life than politics and economics. An accomplished and beautiful young woman, she finds her abilities stretched by personal family tragedies, and her affections tested by differing claims on her life, both from intimate family members, and from suitors smitten by her unstudied charms.

North and South would have been titled Margaret Hale, if Elizabeth Gaskell had had her way. She was overruled by Charles Dickens in whose magazine Gaskell’s novel was first serialized, and who insisted on the present title. Dynamics between the leading characters have often reminded readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, although in the case of Gaskell’s protagonists, these qualities are more evenly distributed.

Contemporary critics were less than enthusiastic about the “women’s perspective” in the book, but appreciation has grown steadily and significantly for Gaskell’s writing and insights in North and South. Her sensitive handling of Mr. Hale’s religious scruples, her unsentimental portrayal of the urban working poor, and her prescient depiction of shifting social and gender roles all find a contemporary appeal. Although once neglected among Gaskell’s works, successive adaptations for television—the latest in 2004—have won for the book a higher profile and wider readership.

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A brief history of this ebook

  1. Update accessibility boilerplate

  2. Update Onix file boilerplate

  3. [Editorial] Remove quote marks around building name

  4. Fix various transcription errors

  5. [Editorial] Fix probably printer's errors

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