There was a time when I finally finished all of Jane Austen's books (twice) and I suddenly didn't know where to turn next. I loved reading about dances, and witty banter, and most importantly, Society with a capital S. After getting stuck in a long reading rut, I stumbled upon North and South, and despite the lack of dances, I found beautiful writing, memorable friendships, and a fair amount of tempestuous romance. This book is more political and industrial than my Austen-norm, but it was just the right book for my fix. I found myself sucked into the troubling world of cotton factories, and unjust class prejudices. Margaret Hale has now become one of my favorite heroines. She's pulled out of her comfortable country lifestyle and thrown into this busy working environment, and we are reminded that there are two sides to every story.— Leah
North and South is a wonderful blend of social comment on the dramatic changes in society brought about by the industrial revolution and a compelling love story. Written from the author's first-hand experience, the novel follows the story of Margaret Hope, the young heroine, in her move from the tranquil setting in rural southern England to the raw and turbulent northern town of Milton. Margaret takes an instant dislike to her new home and its people. She hates the dirt, noise and lack of civilisation. Her distaste extends to handsome and charismatic cotton mill owner John Thornton whom she believes epitomises everything unpleasant about the North. However, as Margaret gradually begins to settle in Milton, she learns about the poverty and workplace struggles. As events conspire to throw Margaret and Thornton together, the two spirited characters have to overcome their repressed physical attraction for one another and conquer prejudices of class and circumstance. The passion and the history embedded in this narrative is as appealing and engrossing today as when it was first published.
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About the Author
Mrs Gaskell was born Elizabeth Stevenson in London in 1810. Her mother Eliza, the niece of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, died when she was a child. Much of her childhood was spent in Cheshire, where she lived with an aunt at Knutsford, a town she would later immortalise as Cranford. In 1832, she married a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell (who had a literary career of his own), and they settled in Manchester. The industrial surroundings offered her inspiration for her novels. The best-known of her other novels are Cranford (1853) and North and South (1855). Gaskell was also a skilled proponent of the ghost story. Her last novel, Wives and Daughters, said by many to be her most mature work, remained unfinished at the time of her death in 1865.