IRJE: North and South

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, is a novel that can be unquestionably classified as ahead of its time. The story is centred around Margaret, who is in every respect breaking the woman’s stereotype of that era, by existing alongside everyone else, rather than conforming to the ways of her friends and family. Margaret is a compassionate, strong, versatile individual who’s soon to be embarking on a drastic lifestyle change. Despite being written in 1854, Margaret lives in a reality where embellishing isn’t required when describing the home she loves; a concept which we even struggle with in the 21st century. However, what she has yet to discover is that soon, she won’t be able to call that her home.

“Tell me about Helstone. You have never described it to me. I should like to have some idea of the place you will be living in, when ninety-six Harley Street will be looking dingy and dirty, and dull, and shut up. Is Helstone a village, or a town, in the first place?”

“Oh, only a hamlet; I don’t think I could call it a village at all. There is the church and a few houses near it on the green—cottages, rather—with roses growing all over them.”

“And flowering all the year round, especially at Christmas—make your picture complete,” said he.

“No,” replied Margaret, somewhat annoyed, “I am not making a picture. I am trying to describe Helstone as it really is. You should not have said that.” (p. 9)

This passage conveys just how much Margaret values her life in the Southern part of Britain. It may not be in an overly apparent way, however her honest, genuinely positive description of it reveals her outlook. I also admired the way she stood firmly with her opinion, instead of simply stepping down and pushing away her values in order to maintain pleasant conversation. I find that that isn’t seen nearly enough, and it’s a refreshing change. On another note, this scene is unfortunately foreshadowing the fact that she will soon be moving to the place that she earlier referred to as “dingy and dirty”, and that’s the Northern part of Britain. I found this very interesting, because in novels it seems that there’s consistently a buildup for something that eventually gets taken away, dragged down, or defeated. Does there always need to be an unpleasant change in order to find future success or happiness? Because if so… we’re being taught the wrong things!

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