North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my all-time favourite classics. I also love the BBC period drama from a while ago starring the dreamy Richard Armitage. I don’t think I have told you before how much I love these BBC adaptations of classics. Anyway… Set around 1851, North and South has often been referred to as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. It is a love story at its core but also explores the differences between the agricultural South of England and the industrialised North and the lives of factory workers.
North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a parson, who enjoyed a genteel upbringing in the southern England countryside. When her father leaves the Church over a crisis of conscience, the family moves to the northern mill town of Milton in the north. A place far different from the rural South. Milton is a town in the throes of the industrial revolution.
At first Margaret hates the ugliness and dirtiness of Milton. But over time she sees the suffering and poverty of the cotton mill workers and becomes passionately involved in their struggles.
She meets John Thornton, the owner of Marlborough Mills and a student of her father’s. He is a newly made man who Margaret first looks down on and then opposes due to his treatment of his workers. Despite their clashes and differences, there is also a spark of another kind between the two.
From social calls to strikes, class struggles to mutual misunderstanding between the two protagonists, North and South has it all. It really gives you an insight into how the industrial revolution transformed towns and the lives of people and the hardships workers endured before the time of workplace health and safety regulations. I also love how Margaret is no demure miss and speaks her mind, even if she sometimes speaks out before having all the facts. At times I felt sorry for Mr Thornton due to Margaret’s fierceness.
I could talk all day about this book but I better leave it there before this becomes an essay.
Have you read North and South? Or seen the miniseries? Or read any other Elizabeth Gaskell novels?