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The Gaskell Society Journal

Volume 10 (1996) pp. 14-26.


Mary H Kuhlman

About Gaskell's fourth novel, Jenny Uglow says, "North and South is part Bildungsroman,
part industrial novel." 1 Fused together, these depict the growth of the private main character,
Margaret Hale, and the conditions of the public world around her in Victorian urbanized and
industrialized Britain, so that Margaret is educated through various experiences of an
industrialized society. The title hints that this novel's theme is movement from one physical
place to another, places which represent the attitudes and values of those who choose them
and those who experience them. In all of Elizabeth Gaskell's fiction, places of movement,
like streets, wharves, market places, and railroads, are loci of education. In North and South,
moving to and within the industrial city called Milton, Margaret Hale acquires a breadth of
understanding and competence that contradicts our own century's stereotype of the sheltered
Victorian female. As she travels the public spaces of streets and railroads, she advances in
her private educational progress towards understanding both herself and her world, in order
to better serve her family and her society.
North and South is neatly organized; its first and last scenes take place in the same back
drawing room of the same affluent Mrs. Shaw's house on Harley Street, in neither "North"
nor "South" but rather in London. On the first page, Margaret's stereotypically feminine
cousin Edith Shaw is asleep in this private space, while Margaret waits for life to begin. In
the last scene of the novel John Thornton meets with the heiress who holds his lease.
Matured by her journeying through the novel, Margaret offers her tenant a mutually
profitable business proposition, and as they form a financial, social and appropriately
passionate alliance, they integrate both private and public concerns .
Before learning through experience in this novel, Margaret has had a formal education
similar to Gaskell's own. As detailed in biographies, especially Professor J.A.V. Chapple's
current studies of Gaskell's formative years, Elizabeth Gaskell was taught at home and at the
small private school taught by the Byerley sisters, first at Barford House near Warwick, later
at Avonbank at Stratford on Avon. Phyllis Hicks indicates that the broad, conservative
education Gaskell was offered there included literature in English (particularly poetry),
English grammar, history, music, drawing and dancing, some English composition and
arithmetic, some French and Italian. 2 Gaskell's four daughters had similar broad and
conservative educations. In North and South, Margaret would have been taught to read and
write and to perform household functions at home, and she was sent to London when she
was nine years old "to share the home, the play and the lessons of her cousin Edith" Shaw
(NS 8). 3 The narrator never mentions boarding school for Margaret and Edith, but does
mention a governess and some "masters."
Intelligent women of Gaskell's social class continued their education through formal
disciplined study. In letters to Harriet Carr, Gaskell writes of reading, studying, and teaching
younger girls to dance the mazurka. In October of 1831 she mentions settling down with
"my various books, writing materials & 'helps to learning'." 4 And in 1836, already a wife
and mother, Gaskell writes of studying and writing about Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron,
Crabbe, Dryden and Pope. 5 Barbara Brill and Alan Shelston connect works borrowed from
the Portico Library by William Gaskell -- the only Gaskell eligible for membership in the
Portico -- to MRS. Gaskell's writings and lifelong education. 6
Similarly, North and South shows that a serious young woman continues her education at
home. Margaret and Edith's regular morning routine as later teen-aged females in London is
to "read, or have lessons, or otherwise improve [their] mind, till the middle of the day"
(NS 12-13). Back at home in the Helstone parsonage, Margaret regrets the limitations of her
father's library and studies Dante's Italian, as the yet more intellectual and more sheltered
Phillis Holman in Cousin Phillis also does. Margaret is working on the Paradiso, making
what Gaskell calls "a dull list of words" (NS 23). A bit later, in Milton, her plan for the day
includes writing a letter, studying Dante, and walking to the home of a poor family.
The narrative demonstrates Margaret's formal knowledge and skills in the areas of literature,
music, drawing, botany, Scripture, needlework, geography, social behavior, enough
sociology to do social work, and enough arithmetic to manage household accounts. Margaret
asserts that she and her parents are "educated people," and thus at least the social equals of
the wealthy Thorntons (NS 148). She knows the Bible; after her mother's death, she recites
Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John. She understands a Latin quotation, and reads in French
from the spiritual classic, the Introduction to the Devout Life of Franois de Sales. She has
had piano lessons and drawing lessons; she is preparing to go out sketching when Henry
Lennox comes to visit her home at Helstone. She knows some botany and flourishes specific
names when she defends the dark tint of a quaint thatched roof in her sketch by explaining
that "the house-leek and stonecrop have grown so much darker in the rain" (NS 26).
Of course Margaret has been taught needlework; at Helstone she helps her mother with a
wool tapestry; in Milton, she is "embroidering a small piece of cambric for some little article
of dress for Edith's expected baby" (NS 96). Margaret's other useful skills include map-
reading and travel-planning; consulting her father's "great atlas," she finds a "pleasant little
bathing- place" (NS 51) of a town where her mother can lodge outside the great industrial
city. She knows how to starch and iron clothes, and can be "Peggy the laundry-maid" for a
morning (NS 76). She has good interior decorating and entertaining skills; when John
Thornton admires the Hales' drawing room in Milton, it "appeared" to him that "all these
graceful cares were . . . especially of a piece with Margaret" (NS 79). She has acquired
useful social manners; greeting Thornton in the absence of her father, Gaskell says, "She felt
no awkwardness; she had too much the habits of society for that" (NS 61). She demonstrates
nursing skills when she visits the people of the New Forest and Bessy Higgins. In short,
Margaret carries out with unusual elegance the quite usual activities of an educated young
Victorian woman.
Most importantly, Margaret makes decisions, takes responsibility, and adds to the comfort
of her parents. Yet she lacks much factual knowledge and also what she calls "wisdom."
Admitting that she has not taken much interest in formal schooling for poor people, in either
South or North, she attempts to explain what real education would mean: "But the
knowledge and the ignorance . . .," she says, "did not relate to reading and writing." What
Margaret seeks for her society, and though she does not know it, for herself, is what she
calls "the wisdom that shall guide men and women" (NS 119).
Gaskell emphasizes that her heroine needs further education towards that wisdom at several
points when Margaret simply doesn't comprehend the situation. First, she describes the
Northern city of Milton as the Hales first see it chiefly from Margaret's naive point of view:
For several miles before they reached Milton, they saw a deep lead-coloured cloud hanging
over the horizon in the direction in which it lay. . . . Nearer to the town, the air had a faint
taste and smell of smoke, perhaps, after all, more a loss of the fragrance of grass and
herbage than any positive taste or smell. . . . Here and there a great oblong many-windowed
factory stood up, like a hen among her chickens, puffing out black "unparliamentary"
smoke, and sufficiently accounting for the cloud which Margaret had taken to foretell rain.
(NS 59)
Here Margaret "had taken" the wrong interpretation of the "lead- coloured" cloud over the
city, because her previous experience has led her to expect that a cloud signifies rain, and to
expect "the fragrance of grass and herbage" rather than the surprising "faint taste and smell
of smoke." The simile of the hen with chickens to describe a factory also comes from
experience with agricultural and domestic, rather than urban and commercial arrangements.
Yet the adjective "unparliamentary" is outside Margaret's viewpoint. She doesn't yet know
anything about parliamentary legislation which required millowners to construct furnaces to
burn smoke before it would be discharged into the city's air. Gaskell slips in her authorial
reference on an ongoing urban situation that is totally new to Margaret.
But soon after, Margaret's original ignorance is balanced by a dialogue between Richard
Hale and the millowner John Thornton which teaches Margaret lessons about atmospheric
science, industrial ecology and political science. Thornton refers to legislation to restrain
industrial air pollution. "You had altered your chimneys so as to consume the smoke, did
you not" asks Hale, and Thornton retorts, "Mine were altered by my own will, before
parliament meddled with the affair. It was an immediate outlay, but it repays me in the
saving of coal." He explains Gaskell's earlier use of the adjective as he continues, "I doubt if
there has been a chimney in Milton informed against for five years past, although some are
constantly sending out one-third of their coal in what is called here unparliamentary smoke"
(NS 82).
A second instance of Margaret's lack of understanding comes when she first speaks to the
working class Nicholas and Bessy Higgins and proposes to visit their home. Although home
visitation of the lower classes by the middleclass woman was part of Gaskell's personal
ethical code, and part of her characters' family tradition, this scene gives the reader mixed
signals. Newly arrived in this industrial Northern city, Margaret is "attracted and interested"
in these working class people and asks their address and name. She is surprised that
Nicholas Higgins asks why she wants to know them:
At Helstone it would have been an understood thing . . . that she intended to come and call
upon any poor neighbour whose name and habitation she had asked for. 'I thought -- I meant
to come and see you.' She suddenly felt rather shy of offering the visit, without having any
reason to give for her wish to make it, beyond a kindly interest in a stranger. It seemed all at
once to take the shape of an impertinence on her part; she read this meaning too in the man's
eyes. (NS 73)
An upper middle class young woman would not have asked for the "name and habitation" of
an older man of her own class, nor would she presume to visit with a "kindly interest in a
stranger" if he were of her own class. Gaskell holds this scene in a delicate balance,
interpreting Margaret's motives as generous, gracious, disinterested, but also revealing the
working class view. That a member of the working class might see the middle class
woman's determination to come (at a time of her own determining) into his house as having
"the shape of an impertinence" may surprise Gaskell's readers as well as Margaret Hale,
with the "meaning too in the man's eyes." Higgins then says clearly, "I'm none so fond of
having strange folk in my house . . . yo' may come if yo' like." Yet the scene continues with
the middle class reaction; Margaret is "half amused, half-nettled," and "not sure she would
go where permission was given so like a favour conferred" (NS 74).
From this dialogue and other encounters with this family, Margaret learns enough
psychology and sociology to appreciate the Higginses, though never to lose sight of the class
differentiation that she, the author, and their Victorian culture assume. Gaskell balances
Margaret's original misunderstanding by a developing mutual appreciation, made explicit
when Margaret and her father visit Higgins's home shortly after Bessy's and Mrs. Hale's
deaths. Although the exhausted and unemployed Nicholas remained seated, "Margaret could
read the welcome in his eye" (NS 290).
Margaret's original ignorance of Northern customs offends John Thornton at the end of his
first long conversation with the whole family: "He made an advance to [shake hands with]
Margaret . . . It was the frank familiar custom of the place, but Margaret was not prepared
for it. She simply bowed her farewell" (NS 86). Margaret also did not know the customs of
workingclass hospitality. In the Higginses' home, "although the day was hot, there burnt a
large fire in the grate, making the whole place feel like an oven; Margaret did not
understand that the lavishness of coals was a sign of hospitable welcome to her" (NS 99).
Unfamiliar with these customs, Margaret is still more ignorant of her own future. Gaskell
uses nicely ironic foreshadowing when at Helstone Margaret declares "I don't like shoppy
people" (NS 19) and that does not expect to associate with "cotton-spinners" (NS 46). When
Mrs Thornton asks, "Have you seen any of our factories? Our magnificent warehouses?"
Margaret feels "utter indifference" to "manufactories" (NS 86), unaware that she will be
investing in a "manufactory" -- and embracing a manufacturer -- on the last page.
Several times Margaret explicitly states her need to learn in her new environment. "You
know, I'm a stranger here, so perhaps I'm not so quick at understanding what you mean," she
says to Bessy Higgins about industrial life (NS 89). "I know so little about strikes, and rate
of wages, and capital, and labour, that I had better not talk to a political economist like you,"
she says to John Thornton (NS 118). Further,"I am very ignorant," Margaret says to
Nicholas Higgins, about the masters' reducing wages (NS 134), and "I don't know enough
about it," she says to Bessy, about a strike (NS 137). Naturally, when thinking of Margaret,
Mrs. Thornton believes her to be "sadly prejudiced and very ignorant" (NS 210).
But Margaret mitigates her ignorance by first enduring, then actively seeking new
experiences. She acquires a new kind of liberal education, with special emphasis on
economics and the social sciences. First, already interested in language -- in the New Forest
she "learned and delighted in using" the "peculiar words" (NS 17) of the local people -- she
now learns new vocabulary, like clem and knobstick, new grammar like Higgins's use of
"hoo" for "she" and new idioms heard on the street, the "sayings . . . which amused her even
while they irritated her" (NS 72). By the time Margaret and her father attend the Thorntons'
dinner party, "She knew enough now to understand . . . even some of the technical words
employed by the eager millowners" (NS 163). Besides diction, Margaret learns new
semantics; her father tells her, "Don't call the Milton manufacturers tradesmen" (NS 65) and
she hears for the first time what experience will further teach her, that the noun
"manufacturer" designates a social class she has not previously known.
She learns new ideas of architecture when she visits the Thornton house, set within the
precincts of his mill. She has new concepts of interior design to study, although not to
practice; Gaskell writes disapprovingly of "the taste that loves ornament, however bad"
(NS 61). She must learn applied economics as she finds out the cost of rents in Milton
Northern, and the difficulty of hiring a domestic servant from a working population that
prefers the higher wages in the mills. She learns industrial public health when Bessy tells her
how she became ill because of breathing fibers in the mill: "The fluff got into my lungs, and
poisoned me" (NS 102). She notes social geography as the railway first brings her to the
North, and she sees Northern "country-folk" and town shopmen as "more 'purposelike'" than
their Southern counterparts (NS 58). Lessons about atmospheric science and ecology are in
the fogs of November and the year-round smoke in the air of the industrial city. Daily
experience there offers lessons in sociology, psychology, human resource management,
political economy and industrial relations.
North and South proceeds to educate by three types of experience: 1) event: 2) dialogue 3)
movement. First, Margaret learns during and from the dramatic events of the novel's
complex plot, including several that force her to be aware of herself as an object of
masculine desire (Lennox's proposal, reactions to her shielding John Thornton, Thornton's
proposal, Thornton's mistaking her brother for a lover). Scenes of emotion and even
violence (a rock strikes Margaret, Boucher strikes Higgins) are interspersed with narrative
of a character, usually Margaret or John Thornton, reflecting on an event -- one might say
"studying" it. Especially noticeable events are the six deaths that Margaret is closely
connected with. Three of these are by natural causes (her parents and Mr. Bell); Margaret
believes the death of Leonards is also due to "natural causes," although some readers
classify it as a manslaughter. One death is the result of industrial poisoning (Bessy Higgins),
and one by suicide (Boucher). Each death adds to Margaret's experiential learning; asked to
view the body of Bessy Higgins, she hesitates, saying "I never saw a dead person, No! I
would rather not." (NS 216). But she does go. After Leonards's fall and Frederick's escape,
although terribly shaken, she accepts responsibility and looks for the fallen man, "somewhat
fearfully," in case he needs help (NS 265). When Boucher commits suicide, the men -- both
the workingmen and Margaret's father the ex-minister -- declare themselves unable to tell
the widow; Margaret goes to the worker's home and, significantly, goes in uninvited and
actually locks the door behind her, taking control over the house and situation by right of her
personal competence and superior social class. Her father's sudden death leaves her
prostrated and dependent on her aunt's care, but when Mr. Bell is dying, she asserts herself
and, in effect, passes an important test.
The second method of education is dialogue. As Jo Pryke has demonstrated, Margaret learns
much about industrial relations and political economy by listening to, and usually
participating in dialogues, or by what Pryke terms the "conversation method." Pryke
describes Margaret's growth in one significant dialogue with John Thornton and two with
Nicholas Higgins; others in key dialogues are Richard Hale, Frederick Hale, Bessy Higgins,
Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Bell. This is a school for more than one pupil: Thornton learns,
especially from Higgins. Higgins learns, especially from Richard and Margaret Hale. Mrs.
Thornton and Mr. Bell do not choose to learn much, and Mrs. Hale not at all. As Pryke says,
in these scenes distinct points of view are explicated, not battled but balanced with differing
views. 7 Participants grow in understanding later demonstrated in action, as in the forming of
a mutually appreciative relationship between Thornton and Higgins. Speaking in London to
a member of Parliament, Thornton says that "starting from a kind of friendship with one, I
was becoming acquainted with many . . . we were both unconsciously and consciously
teaching each other" (NS 431).
Education through dialogue predates Socrates, but it is significant that Gaskell was familiar
with works published to teach female readers through dialogues. On her eleventh birthday
her father gave her the two volumes of The Female Mentor, which instructs by moral stories
and the conversations of "Amanda." 8 Mrs. William Parkes uses conversations between Mrs.
L and Mrs. B to teach topics including "Household Concerns" and "Moral and Religious
Duties" in Domestic Duties; 9 Mrs. Parkes was Frances Byerley, one of the sisters whose
school Gaskell attended from 1821 to 1826. Pamela Corpron Parker has discussed two other
sources for the extended dialogues about political economy in North and South: the didactic
narratives of Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau. 10 Marcet's Conversations on Political
Economy uses dialogues between Mrs. B and Caroline to instruct young female
readers. 11 Martineau's series, Illustrations of Political Economy, aims its pedagogical
narratives including many expository conversations at a general audience. 12
The third type of educational experience in North and South is movement as both agent and
symbol of growth, not only in major plot events like the Hales's relocation from a Southern
to a Northern address, but also in small psychologically telling scenes, like John Thornton's
impulsive trip outside the city on an omnibus as he reacts to Margaret's rejection. Two
physical environments, city streets and railways, locate educational experience represented
by physical motion.
Walks on city streets engage Margaret in the industrial city's life. Although it is at first "a
trial" for her to share streets with throngs of millworkers, she meets Nicholas and Bessy
Higgins while out on a walk; she enters their working class neighborhood, not once but
many times. Friedrich Engels said that the middle and upper classes of Manchester might
never enter the streets inhabited by the working classes. 13 But Margaret Hale does. She is
conscious that she has successfully expanded her experience when she walks up an off-street
courtyard of laborers' dwellings to say goodbye to the Higgins family, risking, "at every
breath of wind [to] have her face slapped by wet clothes, hanging out to dry on ropes
stretched from house to house" (NS 367). Small houses of three or four rooms packed into
"courts," and drying laundry in the common area of the crowded court are marks of housing
for the urban poor, and upper class Margaret has a wider view of life in having learned about
Later in London, Margaret also chooses to enter the streets of the poor. Making her single
life useful with philanthropy, she goes into what her cousin calls "all those wretched places
she pokes herself into" (NS 427). At this point too Margaret is deliberately expanding her
experience beyond middle class expectations.
Like these streets, the railway in North and South is also an agent and symbol of personal
development. For the early Victorian public, the rapidly expanding steam railway system
signified the triumph of their material culture over the lesser achievements of the past, the
promise of progress, the rightness of capitalism. Yet Victorian Britain generally accepted the
railroad's sudden arrival as just one among many rapid changes. Rail transport and long-
distance public transportation were not new; for centuries horsedrawn coaches had
transported people, and horsedrawn wagons had carried freight on rails. Other Gaskell
novels do mention the steam powered railroad as new, even controversial. In Mary Barton,
she describes Mary's travel by railway from Manchester to Liverpool as a great adventure,
because "Common as railroads are now in all places as a means of transit, and especially in
Manchester, Mary had never been on one before" (MB 332). In Cranford Gaskell depicts
some of the rural hostility toward the coming of railways seen in George
Eliot's Middlemarch. But more characteristic of her own attitude toward railroads is the
millworker in Mary Barton who says, "I'll never misdoubt that power-looms, and railways,
and all such-like inventions, are the gifts of God" (MB 454). Usually Gaskell takes the "gift"
of the railways for granted. Cranford shows Gaskell's nonchalance about railways in that her
fictional Cranford has a rail line, even though its real- life counterpart, Knutsford in
Cheshire, was not served by a railway until about ten years after the novel was published. As
Jack Simmons says, the railroad rapidly became "part of the furniture" in British society. 14
As part of the narrative furniture of North and South, Margaret Hale moves by railways
from London to Helstone to Milton, and then later to London; the plot calls for her to board
a train at least fourteen times. Margaret's brother Frederick comes to visit his dying mother
by rail; as he is about to leave England, a suburban railway station is the occasion of his
dramatic struggle with his enemy. As the other man falls or is pushed off the platform,
Frederick escapes into the train that whizzes in at the nick of time. Also contributing to plot
movement are other railway journeys taken by Margaret's father and brother, by Mr.
Thornton, by Mr. Bell and by the Shaws.
Educational methodologies incorporate repetition and review of patterns in building up
associations. As the railways opened up opportunities and connected regions, they did not
challenge established social patterns. When Gaskell's upper middle class characters travel by
rail, they do not mingle with industrial workers as Margaret Hale does on streets. Nineteenth
century society's assumptions about socioeconomic class distinctions were embodied in the
railways' separate classes, with differing ticket costs. People of several social classes must
have sometimes crowded together in stations and on platforms, but as Michael Robbins
says, "On the trains, and at stations, class distinctions were established and
respected." 15 When Mary Barton takes her train to Liverpool, Gaskell describes a mix of
social classes, united in that "each [had] some cause for anxiety stirring at his heart"
(MB 332), but probably traveling in separate carriages. In North and South, when the upper
class Mr. Bell hurries onto a train, struggling to conceal his grief over the death of
Margaret's father, he finds the carriage empty except for one other gentleman. This person
cannot be a worker or tradesman; by plot-complicating coincidence, he is Mr. Bell's friend
and tenant, the wealthy John Thornton. British railways also reviewed gender role
expectations. Women were offered special accommodations, and in North and South, when
Margaret Hale feels "terribly sick and faint" at the suburban station after her brother's
struggle with his enemy, she can "turn into the ladies' waiting-room and sit down for an
instant" (NS 264). As Margaret, still upset, takes the down train for a relatively short journey
home, the railway experience repeats established patterns of social class and gender
differentiation. When the "train drew up," Margaret is "civilly helped into a carriage by a
porter" (NS 265).
Gaskell emphasizes railway travel as both agent and symbol of Margaret's growth in at least
two of the changes made to the original version of North and South when she improved the
narrative's structure. North and South first appeared as a serial in Charles Dickens's
publication Household Words, from September 1854 through January 1855. Feeling that the
pressure of deadlines and restrictions of space made the novel's ending "huddled and hurried
up" (Letter 225), Gaskell took the opportunity to revise for the first two-volume edition,
published later in 1855.
First, she emphasizes growth in travel in that she wrote two completely new
chapters. 16 These narrate an overnight journey that Margaret takes with her godfather, Mr.
Bell. They travel by train from London back to her former home in the tranquil southern
village, and Margaret discovers that her lovely Helstone has changed in the few years since
she lived there: "There was change everywhere; slight, yet pervading all" (NS 394). In fact,
Gaskell here represents by the pervasive sense of loss and change in the physical setting the
losses and changes in Margaret's personal life. Further, this experience brings Margaret to
reflect from her "own painful sense of change," that "The progress of all around me is right
and necessary." (NS 400) That Margaret grasps this lesson in a single chapter signifies that
she has already mastered many previous lessons in wisdom.
In a second, more subtle alteration, Gaskell rewrote the narrative of Mr. Bell's death. In both
the serial issue and in the revised two-volume version, Mr. Bell is expected to visit the
Lennoxes and Margaret in London but "did not make his appearance," and then a letter
arrives from his servant telling that he is dying. Edith is terribly upset and cries. In the
original version, Edith says that she will ask her husband to travel to Oxford to see how Mr.
Bell really is. Margaret "wished for a long time in silence that she might accompany him,"
and finally she "surprised herself by asserting something of her right to independence of
action." Thus she is rather suddenly in the railway carriage with Captain Lennox. 17
But in the revised version, Margaret waits no "long time" -- or any time at all -- to resolve to
go. As we read North and South today, Margaret immediately is packing for the day trip,
although her conventional cousin and aunt feel that she should not go alone. She is delayed
by "various discussions on propriety and impropriety" (NS 410) until she misses her train.
But for Gaskell, this is no problem; Margaret simply travels -- now with Captain Lennox
accompanying her -- on the next one. In revising this section, Gaskell retains the words
"asserted something of her right to independence of action." In both versions she narrates,
"It was always a comfort to her that she had gone," and that Margaret accepted the death of
her godfather (who was dead by the time she reached Oxford) with some gratitude that he
had been spared a long illness (NS411). The subtle but significant shift in this episode
focuses on Margaret's competence, as it becomes Margaret's own immediate and correct
decision to travel to experience the death event and to be of service if possible. Thus, as
Gaskell clarifies in her revision, the little day journey is both a sign and an occasion of
The result of all this education may be seen in Margaret's growing sense of her mission in
life. At that first scene in the back drawing room in London, she looks forward merely to
"the delight of filling the important post of only daughter in Helstone parsonage" (NS 6). By
the end of the novel, having lost the parsonage and the parents, but having gained
experience through dramatic event and reflection, dialogue, and movement, Margaret has
learned to take "her life into her own hands," and finds "duties" for herself (especially in
visiting the poor) (NS 416-17). This developed sense of personal mission could simply
reflect Gaskell's Unitarian ethics, but Gaskell may also have had in mind her analysis of
Florence Nightingale as a role model for service to others. Part of North and South was
written at Lea Hurst, the home of the Nightingale family, in the fall of 1854, only a few
weeks before Florence Nightingale took charge of nursing in the military hospitals in
Turkey. Driven from an early age by a sense of mission, Nightingale had already made a
name for herself in caring for cholera patients, although her greatest fame as "The Lady with
the Lamp" would come a few months later. Writing from Lea Hurst, Gaskell identifies
Nightingale's chief limitation as "this want of love for individuals" (Letter 320). In Margaret
Hale, as in Elizabeth Gaskell, the determination to help others is balanced by keen interest in
North and South balances no simple set of opposites (North-South, capital-labor,
male-female) but rather a more complex range of possibilities of geography,
culture, socioeconomics, politics, psychologies, values and
attitudes. Bildungsroman is fused with industrial novel, but many other competing
forces remain in conflict: the mother and the aunt cannot welcome Margaret and
John's union, and manufacturers and workers will not give up their separate
interests. In the final dramatic plot event, as Margaret Hale and John Thornton
move into each other's arms, their dialogue assures us that they will not forget the
education they have gained by experience. Yet Gaskell also tells us that to grow in
understanding for service, a woman must not always stay at home.


1. Jenny Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories, London: Faber &

Faber, 1993, 369.
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2. Phyllis D Hicks, A Quest of Ladies: The Story of a Warwickshire School,
Birmingham: Frank Juckes, 1949.
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3. For references to North and South and Mrs Gaskell's other works, see
'Bibliographical Note', iv.
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4. J A V Chapple, 'Before "Crutches and Changed Feelings": Five Early
Letters by Elizabeth Gaskell (ne Stevenson)', Gaskell Society Journal 4
(1990), 1-27. The quotation is from Letter 3 on 13.
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5. The Letters of Mrs Gaskell, ed J A V Chapple and Arthur Pollard, Harvard
University Press, 1967, No.4, 5-8.
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6. Barbara Brill and Alan Shelston, 'Manchester: "A Behindhand Place for
Books": the Gaskells and the Portico Library', Gaskell Society Journal 5
(1991), 27-37.
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7. Jo Pryke, 'The Treatment of Political Economy in North and South',
Gaskell Society Journal 4 (1990), 28-39.
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8. Mrs Phillips, The Female Mentor or Select Conversations, London, 1798, 2
vols. I am grateful to Mr C C Waghorn for allowing me to inspect these
volumes, which he describes in his article 'Another Birthday Present for
Elizabeth' in the Gaskell Society Newsletter, August 1993, 13-15.
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9. Mrs William Parkes, Domestic Duties, or Instructions to Young Married
Ladies on the Regulation of Their Conduct in the Various Relations and
Duties of Married Life, London, 1825.
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10. Pamela Corpron Parker, 'Political Economy and the Woman Writer:
Nineteenth-Century Economic Discourse in the Works of Jane Marcet,
Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell', unpublished essay, 1995.
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11. Jane Marcet, Conversations on Political Economy, in Which the Elements
of that Science are Familiarly Explained, London, 1816.
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12. Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, 25 issues London,
1832-33; reprinted 9 vols, London, 1833.
=> Back
13. Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845.
Trans. W O Henderson and W H Chaloner, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958,
=> Back
14. Jack Simmons, The Railway in Town and Country: 1830-1914, North
Pomfret, VT: David and Charles, 1986, 16.
=> Back
15. Michael Robbins, The Railway Age in Britain and Its Impact on the World,
Baltimore: Penguin, 1962, 48.
=> Back
16. These are now Chapters 20 and 21 in Volume 2 in the World's Classics
edition, chapters 45 and 46 in the Penguin edition.
=> Back
17. Chapter 44 in Household Words, 10.252 (20 January 1855): 550-51.
=> Back