Sunday, January 26, 2014

Margaret Hale

I finished reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I tried to explain the premise to a friend.  It ended up sounding like Pride and Prejudice.  "Wait, so the girl and the boy meet and don't like each other?  And then the man falls in love with her in spite of himself and proposes and gets rejected?"

But it's not Pride and Prejudice.  It's something much more nuanced.  The woman, Margaret Hale, is someone from a culture where class and distinction are based on birth and education.  It doesn't matter that she is poor and her father a clergyman; she is a gentleman's daughter by right.  However, when her father has religious doubts that lead to a conscientious decision to leave his position in the Church, they move to northern Milton.  There, she meets a man, Mr. Thornton, who is self-made, working his way up from shopboy to mill owner.  His place in society was not determined by his birth but by his own hard-won efforts.  Margaret doesn't fit into the mill owner/mill worker class distinctions in Milton and Mr. Thornton's lack of knowledge of Greek literature and tradesman skills render him unworthy of the title 'gentleman'.  When they meet, it's a clash of cultures.  

Learning to respect/like each other, then, is not simply a situation where one person learns to get over hastily formed opinions; it's a paradigm shift.  Each person learns to see outside of their own deep-rooted upbringing and background to find common ground.  It's a fascinating social commentary on industry, social class, progress and gender roles.  But it's also a great observation about relationships and people.  

Definitely a good read.  Good job, Elizabeth Gaskell.  Good job.  


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