North and South

Elizabeth Gaskell melds class warfare, manufacturing strikes, social impact of the industrial revolution, all into a breathtaking romance written in 1855. We first meet Margaret in London society, where she lives with her aunt and cousin for years before returning to her simple parsonage home to live again with her mother and father. A few weeks after she returns, she finds that her father has lost faith in the Church of England, and they must leave the south to take a tutor’s position in a mill town in the north (Milton). Milton is described with all the usual horror of industrial towns, poor air quality, squalid living conditions. And yet Margaret finds a place for herself and family (and maid Dixon). One of her father’s pupils, Mr. Thornton, falls in love with her, and declares himself after a dramatic event where she tries to break up the mob out to kill him (he’s a mill owner), throwing her arms around his neck to protect him from the crowd. She rejects him out of confusion, she doesn’t love anyone. But of course, time works on her heart, especially as he no longer refers to it and withdraws a bit. Brother Frederick is accused of mutiny and would be hung if he returned to England, yet he sneaks back in on her mother’s deathbed. No one knows he’s in town, but when Margaret and Fred go to the train station, Mr. Thornton sees them holding hands and yadda yadda. Fred pushes away a drunken lout who wants to turn him in for the reward money, and the guy ends up dying a few days later, mostly from his insides being much from heavy drinking. The police ask if she was there that day and she lies, denies. Thornton knows she is lying but covers up for her by refusing to press the inquest. Her father dies at his old friend Mr. Bell’s home in Oxford after asking Bell to care for Margaret when he’s gone. Bell dies a few months later, leaving Margaret the heiress to a lot of land in Milton, becoming Mr. Thornton’s landlord. Thorton’s fortunes have turned, and we end the book with Margaret loaning him money before they swoon into each others’ arms. Very interesting intra-class talk between the workers and Thornton, his progressive views helped by Margaret’s insistence that everyone just talk to each other instead of hiding things.
Reco’d by the Trotsky folks after they heard me going into ecstasies about Vera Brittain.