Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South



I am reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South right now. I have the Norton critical edition edited by Alan Shelston. How I wish I were reading this with a seminar or an English Literature class. I have seen the BBC DVD version of North and South and liked it so much that I decided to read the book. Normally I read a book first, then complain about the film version. Like that dreadful 2005 Pride and Prejudice, I am still suffering post-traumatic stress from that atrocity.

Anyway, there are a few things that are not clear. So far I am up to page 140. First, if Mr. Hale is a dissenter and decides to leave the church then why does he still pray and discuss the goodness of God? Is dissent with England’s church at the time (mid 1850s) based on degrees of dissent?

Also, I do not know what Margaret Hale is getting at when she keeps insisting that Mr. Thornton should be involved with his employees after hours. I understand Nicholas Higgins position. He is a union leader and feels like workers are not earning enough of the profits. And then it is exactly him (Higgins), in the movie version at least, that specifically states that a master should not tell an employee what he or she should do with their wages. He says this when masters demand after the strike that workers cannot work at their mills if they pay into the union. I understand this, and Mr. Thornton says as much however Margaret continues on in this vein.


9 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

  1. I’m not a christian, buy I absorbed a certain amount of the trends around me. The dissenter tradition in the 1850s was a result of the industrial revolution, although it originates in 1600’s with the Quakers, etc. The Salvation Army is an example of what you describe from Mrs Gaskell’s time.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissenterhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_conformisthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvation_armyhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BaptistIt doesn’t look that divisive now, or revolutionary, but sense of being one’s own pilot (or to listen to a person who would also understand how you feel) seems to have exercised a lot of people at the time.Thanks to the Gaskells and others like them, a dissenter would eventually go on to hear about Engels and Marx from the Unions, who weren’t so really so dissimilar to these Preachers. It was hoped that secularism would be less hierachical.Mr. Hale is an example of the sort of Christian who would go on to sure-up the British Empire. And think of Jane Eyre’s ‘rescuer’ St.John Rivers, who tries to get Jane to join him as a missionary in India.Sorry to say that I’ve not actually read the booke you are talking about — but I recognise it.


  2. Ah, look what I just read. </></>“Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.”</></>There is a footnote for Churchwoman. It says “A member of the Church of England. Despite her father’s defection Margaret has remained within the established church. </></>So I guess Mr. Hale still believes in God, but has dissented from the “established” Church of England. </></>”Mr. Hale is an example of the </>sort of Christian who would go on to sure-up the British Empire. And think of Jane Eyre’s ‘rescuer’ St.John Rivers, who tries to get Jane to join him as a missionary in India.”</></>Not quite. Mr. Hale is gentle and reads a lot of Latin and Greek. I remember St.John Rivers as more of a bully. Was Rivers part of the </>”Established” Church of England or some other type of Christian? Do you remember. I have Jane Eyre, perhaps I should look it up. </></>Thanks for the links.


  3. By the way, when are you ever going to humor me and read a book at the same time that I am reading it? Are you too clever and chic for the old 1800s books?


  4. Well like you say… I ought to read the book at the same time as you, remind me next time.It isn’t certain about Rivers, but many missionaries from Victoria’s time were from the more specialised, and dare I say, more entrepreneurial, churches, for instance like the famously lost David Livingstone was a Presbytarian (whatever that means)….one of the panel happened to interchange prebytarianism with dissenters.“The Empire” were glad to co-opt as many volunteers as they could get for the colonial project….back then it was more a case of “Winning Hearts and Souls”.


  5. In a Class Warrior context, the text you have given me stems more from “resent” than “dissent”. . . ?Or maybe I think this because there is still a lot of jealousy.


  6. Sorry, my post from 1:43 PM, doesn’t read too well….I was listening to a radio programme about “Heart of Darkness”. The introductory section of this 45 mins was annoyingly long….but anyway, I was surprised to hear one of the panellists talking about an example: David Livingstone — missionary/explorer/mentally weakened, he was referred to as a ‘Dissenter’.http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/feed://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/radio4/inourtime/rss.xml


  7. I am in a graduate English seminar at the moment, “Reading the Victorian City,” and we are deep in the throes of “North and South.” Wish you were here! We have been reading the novel and way too many secondary sources like crazy over the past three weeks and I can tell you would love it. The novel is deep, complex, challenging, sexy, haunting, painful, baffling…It reminds me of “Jane Eyre.” I can send along the salient points and papers from class. I have the movie on order at the library but it can never do the book justice. In short response to your blog: Mr. Hale cannot abide by the doctrines of the Church of England. He will not “re-up” wth them, which he must do by law. Someone with less of a moral core would be like, “Whatever, let me keep my parsonage,” but he has real philosophical differences wth the church. He dissents but is still a Christian with strong moral values. Margaret remains a Church of England follower. All is for naught, of course. Vis a vis the workers: Thornton needs to remember where he came from – and where he ultimately returns. Margaret gets Higgins the job, not because he is a friend of Margaret (whom Thornton adores) but because he is a good worker, despite being a union man. The novel is fraught with master/worker issues, which is given great play in the relationship between Higgins/Margaret and Higgins/Thornton. Disscet the riot scene at the Mill. I could go on and on… Margaret is an amazing character, the ending is one of the best ever written, the motherhood trope is fascinating, domestic/urban circles…contamination…Read Deborah Nord’s commentary. Enjoy!


  8. Thanks Suzie q. I would love any notes you have if it is no big deal. Will I find Deborah Nord’s commentary in the edition of North and South that I have? I thought the movie was good, but I did like the book better, it filled in a lot. </></>In the movie Mrs. Thornton and Fanny comes alive. That Fanny is something, I love how dramatic she is. LOL! The mother, yes I love her too. I also read that Gaskell wrote this book in order to make the masters not look so bad because supposedly she was accused of making them look too bad in Mary Barton. </></>Thanks for the long comment. I enjoyed it.


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