Elizabeth Gaskell was a Victorian novelist and a friend of Charlotte Bronte, whose biography she wrote. I see her as being somewhere between Jane Austen, particularly in Wives and Daughters, and George Eliot. In North and South, she paints a vivid, contemporary picture of the growing differences in England with the advent of the Industrial Revolution (the ‘North’) and an older, more agrarian culture (the ‘South’).

As a minister’s wife living in Manchester and active in supporting the local communities, her depictions of class and other tensions triggered by the Industrial Revolution are based on first-hand observation. These tensions play out both in master-worker relations, and in the adjustments of a more established and aristocratic class to newer, self-made industrial wealth.  Through some strong and appealing characters on all sides, this is history rendered immediate through fiction written more or less at the same time as the changes it describes.  And a fine human story, to boot.

In this triologism, we see the last soft touches of the former, genteel country life lived by the three southern protagonists, just as they embark on their northern exile. The next mention of the sky, as they head towards their new home town, is much darker.

‘The great long misty sea-line touching the tender-coloured sky; the white sail of a distant boat turning silver in some pale sunbeam…  But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be.’

Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (London: John Murray, 1925), p. 66

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