“I wish I could tell you how lonely I am. How cold and harsh it is here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I think God has forsaken this place. I believe I have seen hell and it’s white, it’s snow-white.”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South(BBC series)
North and South, written by Elizabeth Gaskell, is Pride and Prejudice meets The Jungle. I’ve been putting off reading this novel for over a year and wish I would’ve read it sooner, because now I’ve found my second favorite classic. Unfortunately, North and South is less recognized and has not been studied as thoroughly as the two latter classics. This doesn’t mean the novel isn’t worth the read or that it’s a copy of Pride and Prejudice or The Jungle.
North and South is a compelling read with a perfect title. Margaret Hale, the protagonist, is uprooted from her house in the south of England when her father leaves the Church on a matter of conscience to take up teaching instead. And as the title suggests, her family moves to an industrial town in the north, Milton. Initially, Margaret romanticizes the south and is repulsed by her surroundings. Though the quote above is not directly from the book, rather from the BBC series adaptation, I find that it perfectly depicts Margaret’s dislike of her situation and the poverty-stricken setting she lives in. Her reference to hell being snow-white refers to the factory work itself. In the novel, Milton is a town known for its many cotton mills, where the lower-class work for unfair wages.
Nonetheless, Margaret is an admirable character who is both strong and flawed. Because of this, she practically comes off the page and her character development is brilliant. She learns to make the best out of her situation and, in the process, befriends some of the mill workers. By doing so, she develops a sense of social justice that she never had before in the south. Then, there is her acquaintance, Mr. John Thornton, who is a mill-owner and her father’s pupil. She immediately dislikes him at first, but their relationship and his character develop throughout the story.
Now, back to the perfect title—one that represents more than Margaret’s story. By definition north and south are opposites, not in just their locations but in their mannerisms and ways of living. In being from the south, these two ways of life clash when Margaret moves. Similarly, there is a clash between social classes in Milton. The poor aren’t given fair wages while the mill-owners are well off. Because of this, the mill-workers use their union to demand higher wages.
There’s more I could go on and on about, but I’ll leave the rest for you to enjoy through its cheerful and depressing moments. Just know that North and South is a captivating read that I recommend to anyone because of its many layered conflicts.
Yousra Medhkour is Layali’s Reviews blogger. She is a senior at the University of Toledo. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of English, with a concentration in creative writing, and a minor in Studio Art. She spends her free time reading countless books, a hobby that nurtured her love for words. With this passion of hers, Yousra aspires to become a published author.