North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

Quite a while ago I read the synopsis and purchased North and South from Audible. I haven’t been a great lover of fiction set in this era in the past (1800’s) and have always preferred reading to listening, so kept putting it off. I wish I hadn’t, though, because this was probably the finest reading experience I’ve had this year, elevated by the fantastic performance of Juliet Stevenson.


North and South begins with us meeting Margaret Hale, a nineteen-year-old who’s living with her cousin and aunt in London. Her cousin is getting married so she decides to move back home to live with her parents in Heston. Soon after she arrives, her father, a clergyman, informs her he has had doubts concerning his faith and wishes to leave the church. This comes as a huge shock to Margaret and her mother, who are very much in love with Heston and their way of life.


They then move to the manufacturing town of Milton, where her father intends to tutor in order to secure an income. One of his pupils is Mr Thornton, a mill owner and a key player in the industry that supports the town.


One of the things I enjoyed the most was watching the transformation that took place within Margaret. When she moves to Milton she’s very naive and unaware of the hardship that factory workers face. She quickly learns of their struggles when she becomes friends with Bessie, a local girl of the same age who’s ill due to the conditions she had to bear. Margaret is told of a strike that’s taking place due and much of her discourse with Mr Thornton is concerning this.


The characterisation was fantastic, from Margaret’ seemingly passive father, who admittedly tried his best, to Mr Thornton, a man shaped by his past with very concrete ideas of what it means to be a master.


The plot was fantastic. I was literally dumbfounded with shock at some of the events that took place. None of it seemed sensationalist, though. It was authentic and believable the entire way through.


What was so great about this book is that it did something I’m not very familiar with in fiction of that era, namely challenge the status quo. There was diverse opinion so the reader could make up their own mind. Nothing was forced upon me, no views or ideals, just the facts.


Inequality is something that bothers me greatly and for the longest time I didn’t want to read anything set in this era. Books like this one show me that there was an appetite for change then and I’ll always find a differing perspective if I look for it.


If I had one slight criticism it would be that Margaret had little in the way of a flaw, just her naivety. That’s the only thing I can say in the negative, though.


I highly recommend this to everyone and anyone, the TV adaption, too. I marathon watched it last Friday night and I can honestly say I’ve never seen one that good before. I plan to watch it again and again, just like I intend to read this over and over. It’s now firmly placed as one of my favourites of all time.