Study Guide

North and South

By Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South Introduction

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. 

What is North and South About and 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.

North and South Resources

Websites

The Gaskell Society
Join today and become part of the glorious Gaskell revolution! Just kidding, but how about talking to other literature aficionados about Gaskell's work?

The Gaskell Web
This page has some awesome material, from e-texts of Gaskell's works to virtual walkabouts through some of her favorite regions of England.

The Gaskell Overview
A fantastic intro to Gaskell, with all kinds of helpful tips about her characters, imagery, and social history.

Movie or TV Productions

North and South (2004 Miniseries)
This is the most recent version of North and South you'll find in the movie or TV world. It has an awesome imdb rating, so it's probably worthwhile to check out. 

Movies or TV Productions

North and South (1975 TV Series)
It's got Patrick Stewart. What more do you want?

Articles and Interviews

"The Amazing Secret Life"
Get all the goods on Elizabeth Gaskell's life away from writing. Even a century after the fact, the Daily Mail's got your gossip covered. 

The Guardian Reviews North and South
If you want a solid critical reading of this book, follow this link. 

Elizabeth Gaskell at The Centre for Working-Class Studies
These folks are no doubt fans of Gaskell's novels because they were some of the first to support workers' rights. 

Video

North and South 2004 TV Miniseries (Episode 1)
Like the title says, this is the first episode of the 2004 miniseries. So have a cup of tea and settle in. 

North and South 2004 (Episode 2)
We're willing to bet you liked that first episode so much that you have to watch another. 

North and South Proposal Scene
Tired of waiting? How about we just skip to the good part?

Audio

North and South Audiobook
Tired of reading? How about listening instead?

North and South Audiobook (Stephen King Version?)
The person who posted this one says he's Stephen King. But for some reason, we suspect it's not the Stephen King you're thinking of. 

Images

Young Gaskell
Why is it we think of Margaret Hale when we see Elizabeth Gaskell? Maybe it's because both were related to ministers and dedicated their lives to helping the less fortunate. 

Older Gaskell
This image would have been created not long before Gaskell's death in 1865. 

Margaret Hale in 2004
Here's a pic of Daniela Denby-Ashe playing Margaret Hale in 2004. Is that how you pictured Margie?