Fangirl Friday: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

This fangirl friday we have a guest wench writing about a book that she loves and can always read. Some of you have read it, some of you have watched the mini-series, and some of you are possible fans. So join Rian after the jump and read all about it. But, BE WARNED, there will be spoilers!!

Not that I’m a rabid romance fan, but this book is easily my favorite. In the world. Ever. To be completely fair, first time I fell in love with the story was because of the BBC’s mini-series which is no stranger to our national television’s regular program.
I mean, who wouldn’t love looking at Richard Armitage in super-tight suits for hours, staring longingly at the woman he adores, telling her the most perfect words and completely upturning your idea of a perfect man. Also, he cares about worker's rights and doesn't think women are unequal.


Anyways, I loved the mini-series so much that I decided to read the book. Of course, I had to get a copy for myself. I could’ve already imagined myself going through an emotional rollercoaster with it and ravaging through a borrowed book just didn’t seem fair. Reading the book made me fall in love even more. But this time with the main female character, Margaret. The mini-series follows the story almost completely, but the book has such bigger depth and meaning than your average love story. It focuses mainly on Margaret and her point of view and uses the main characters to teach you about the struggles of the working class in England in the Victorian era.

The story at first follows Margaret Hale, an educated pastor’s daughter and John Thornton, a self-made manufacturer of cotton. We follow the development of their friendship and, finally, love, but also their development as people living in a dynamic world of the industrial revolution. They start off as very sheltered people, each in their own way, with prejudice and lack of understanding to anything outside of their social class. Each of them also shows the multitude of differences that existed between classes at the time. Margaret is a well-educated high-middle class woman whose family descends from the aristocracy. Thornton is a middle class man without formal education who made his own fortune by working and investing money in cotton.

Margaret had to get used to many new customs, like handshakes. And without gloves on *gasp*

The importance of this novel is multiple. Besides being my favorite book, it is an “industrial” novel whose main purpose was to educate the upper and middle class of the everyday struggles of the lower class. It is a historical novel representing workers (“hands”), their life standard of the age and their struggles with factory owners, “masters”. The theme of the novel is the class differences and conflicts of the time, but also the clash of men's and women's roles in the society. It is a rare novel of that era that shows a woman entrepreneur, a role Margaret unwillingly takes by the end of the novel. The novel was written by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854./1855.) and is considered one of her greatest achievement, although it wasn’t taken very seriously at the time. It perfectly captures the spirit of the time and presents it through a love story.

The story begins with Margaret, an 18-year-old returning from London to her parents in Helston, in the south. Helston is described as an idyllic English hamlet with perfect nature and ease of living. Upon her return to Helston, she discovers her father, the pastor, is suffering a crisis of faith and has decided to leave the clergy. A family friend, Mr. Bell, suggests they move to Milton, a city in the north where he owns property. Milton is shown as a large, dirty industrial center where money is the only real value. We are also introduced to Margaret's dislike of tradesmen and manufacturers and her love of men who work the land. 

Moving to grey and ugly Milton from green and perfect Helston is a turning point for Margaret. She is moved from a well-known environment where everyone’s roles were clear to a harsh and new world of the industrial revolution. As her father struggles to find a suitable source of income and as his and her mother's health slowly deteriorate, resulting in their eventual deaths, Margaret takes on more and more tasks to create a life for herself in Milton. Being a pastor’s daughter made her sensitive to the poor so she gets involved in the lives of workers and the poor, gradually making friends among them. At the same time, her father takes on tutoring and his most devoted student becomes Mr. Thornton. He is introduced as a wealthy and influential young man who rebuilt his family's estate and factory after his father gambled away their wealth. At first, Margaret sees him as a reserved and cold man and he is attracted to her independence and beauty. 

Despite her dislike of his work, Margaret and Thornton build an uneasy friendship. Through many fights, a mutiny in the factory and arguments on the treatment of workers and their living standard, they learn about each other's values and backgrounds. Even though it is clear Thornton is deeply in love with Margaret, literally to everyone who sees them, Margaret finds his declaration of love and marriage proposal an insult to her. 

After her father’s friend, Mr. Bell dies, Margaret is left with all his possessions and wealth, among them the house and mill of John Thornton thus becoming his landlord. Soon after, due to changes in the market, Thornton’s business starts to fail and because he feared bankruptcy, he approaches Margaret to discuss his lease. One of Margaret’s friends suggests that she should invest her newly acquired money into Thornton’s mill. Margaret to the rescue! 

After quite a long time, they meet in person and after hearing this business proposal from Margaret herself, Thornton makes a move again to win her over. It is the most adorable and the sweetest business meeting in the history of time and space. As it went in those days, they cuddled, kissed and bam! they’re engaged. 

Why I love it?

It has everything, a strong female lead, a male character who is sensitive and thoughtful. It has the social aspect I’m always interested in. I see a lot of myself in Margaret, especially her proud ways, not the best quality, but she admits when she does wrong. 
Her way of hiding her true feelings and powering through all the bad things makes her character a bit sad, but it is nice she gets rewarded at the end by becoming financially independent and getting to save her prince in distress from bankruptcy. That is also a nice detail to point out. It is also the second time she saves him. The first time, she stepped in front of him during a riot and got hit in the head with a rock. Such chivalry.
But their banter and romance is something that makes me squee and giggle like a little girl each time I read it. They have a great dynamic and even if you start by not liking them individually, you will definitely end up shipping them.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes Victorian-era men professing love in different ways only to be rejected.

Hope you enjoyed this Fangirl Friday! I know I had fun reading and writing this. 
Sending lots of love,


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