North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South Introduction
In A Nutshell
A younger version of Daddy Warbucks meets the female version of Eugene Debs, and mayhem (and love) ensues. An uptight girl meets a working-class boy who's made his fortune, and mayhem (and love) ensues.
Two way different stories, right?
Wrong. These seemingly polar opposite scenarios both describe what happens in North and South when Southern (southern England, that is) belle Margaret Hale encounters Northern self-made man John Thornton. Three hundred pages, multiple deaths and some fierce social commentary later, they realize that okay, yes they do like-like each other.
Let's get back to that "fierce social commentary" part. Because if anyone deserves to be called fierce, it's Elizabeth Gaskell.
When it was first published in 1854, North and South was met with some pretty harsh criticism. Its editor, the super famous Charles Dickens, said the story was way longer than it needed to be. But more criticism was directed at the fact that Elizabeth Gaskell (a woman!) dared to write sympathetically about the rights of English workers. Even right up until the 1930s, critics' main view of Elizabeth Gaskell was that she "makes a creditable effort to overcome her deficiencies [as a woman] but all in vain". Yeesh. Sexist much?
North and South is all about challenging authority, especially when authority tries to work against compassion and justice. Margaret Hale constantly steps beyond her boundaries as a woman in Victorian England. Her brother challenges authority by disobeying his commanding officer in the navy and causing a mutiny. The laborer Nicholas Higgins organizes workers' strikes and insists on the rights of workingmen. Anywhere you look in this book, you'll find someone fighting the power. And that was something that the stuffy Victorians were really not into. And because of this, they totally thought that North and South would be forgotten over time.
But more than a century and a half later, North and South is anything but forgotten. It endures because of its class-consciousness and its interest in labor issues. It also endures because of it contains insane family drama, a cast of memorable characters, and an awesome, Pride and Prejudice-style romance. North and South been adapted twice as a miniseries, the first time with Patrick Stewart (!) playing the role of John Thornton. Hey, when Jean Luc-Picard is on board, so are we.
Why Should I Care?
Hey, let's do a quick experiment. Go to your favorite news source that doesn't feature headlines about celebrity meltdowns. Nothing against celebrity gossip (we love celebrity gossip) but we're going to need you to check out some hard-hitting journalism.
Got it? Good.
Okay: now scroll down until you find an article about labor issues. You know: anything that has to do with disgruntled workers, or bad working conditions, or strikes, or labor unions, or work-related lawsuits.
We bet that it took you approximately 23.09 seconds to find an article about one of these things. And that's probably if you were searching at a super relaxed pace. Labor is a big, serious, omnipresent issue. It's everywhere you look.
And it has always been, everywhere. Clashes between bosses and workers have been around since, well, bosses and workers were invented. The question of labor gets people hot under the collar and ready to fight. And why shouldn't it? It's a powder keg of emotional issues: greed, power, responsibility, people's livelihoods, morality… dang, that sounds like a good novel. Someone should write that novel.
Sike. Somebody did write it. Someone named Elizabeth Gaskell. And it's called North and South. And it's awesome.
North and South combines all of the fascinating topics that the issues of worker/boss relations bring up, plus tons of other juicy ones. In North and South you get fired up over the question of how to handle striking workers… and what love means. You ball up your fists over the ethics of child labor… and learn about mutiny in the English navy. You ponder how much responsibility an employer has toward his employees… and marvel at how jealous and catty people can be.
Basically, North and South combines the meaty political commentary of a reputable news source and the gossipy thrilling goodness of a tabloid. And we don't know what's better than that.