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Love story prospers in North and South

If Charles Dickens had written Pride and Prejudice, the result would have been North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Part love story, part social novel, this story is both deep and highly enjoyable. 

I read this book so many times during the summer after checking it out from the library that I bought it, and now my little sister thinks I’m crazy. I’m perfectly sane, I assure you! There’s nothing crazy about devouring a book several times in a row and then writing an article trying to convince other people to read that same book… right???

In the book, the protagonist, Margaret Hale, moves from her beloved village, Helstone, in the South of England to the smoky, industrial town of Milton in the North with her parents. While there, she must learn about a new world and reconsider her prejudices about employers vs. employees and the North vs. the South. Throughout the story, Margaret progresses from a girl to a woman, weathers the turbulence of a strike, and learns how to love. 

Margaret Hale is an amazing character. She is both highly relatable and inspirational. She loves her family and will do anything for them, even if it gets in the way of her own desires. 

She is selfless and confident in her own opinions. This latter trait also gets her into trouble when she finds her beliefs challenged by Mr. Thornton, her love interest. 

However, she is willing to admit when she is wrong and changes her outlook on life as a result. She is an amazing character.

The love interest is Mr. Thornton, who is the owner of a large cotton mill in Milton. He represents the employer class. He is honorable, strong-willed, trustworthy, and fair. 

I want to call him “sweet,” but that would not be entirely accurate. He is too – firm – to be “sweet.” However, he cares deeply about his family and, later, Margaret. 

He has strong principles that he will not compromise, no matter the consequences, and his character arc as he comes to appreciate his mill hands is simply amazing. I LOVE Mr. Thornton. 

One thing I adore about this book is that Mr. Thornton and Margaret actually belong together. In some stories, one person in a relationship is exceptional and the other… isn’t. 

This is not the case in North and South. Margaret and Mr. Thornton are each amazing characters, and they actually complement each other. Their diverse backgrounds help them make changes together to create the best of both worlds. I fully support their relationship.

Another important character is Nicholas Higgins. He works in one of the many cotton mills and is a leader of the trade union that starts the strike. Through his character, the reader learns about the lives of the lower class and the hardships they face. His relationship with Mr. Thornton also shows how employer and employee can work together instead of always fighting each other.

My favorite part of the book is when Mr. Thornton offers Higgins a job at his mill and the progression of their relationship. They become friends and begin to bridge the gap between the millowners and the mill hands. It’s cool seeing the two “enemies” realize they actually have a lot in common. 

I also love the social commentary of North and South. It’s fair to both sides by acknowledging that both employers and employees have both their good AND bad points. 

Yes, Mr. Thornton has things to learn, but Higgins and the other workers need to learn, too. Employers aren’t completely evil, and employees aren’t perfect angels. 

They have to work together without either subjecting the other. There must be balance – and this book shows that. This book also shows the way to truly change the world. Societal change should not be made by governments (except as a last resort). Individuals making changes is much better and will cause a greater and more lasting good. 

In North and South, Mr. Thornton provides benefits for his employees because of the economic benefit it gives him – more satisfied, healthier employees will work harder and be more loyal to him. Such advantages would encourage employers to make changes much better than government rules and regulations. 

I also love the faith content in this book. North and South shows that faith is important. When people have faith, they have greater hope in life and in death. 

It is so nice reading books where religion is the rule, not the exception. It is so ingrained into the 1800s society that it comes out in the book – SOOO nice. 

Also, it’s inspiring seeing the individual characters’ reactions to faith and doubts. Margaret’s faith is tested during all the trials she must endure in Milton. Mr. Hale’s religious doubts were the reason the family came to Milton and propelled the main plot of the story. Mr. Thornton turns out to have the deepest faith; it is he who strengthens Mr. Hale, the former parson, after Mrs. Hale dies. It’s another aspect of Mr. Thornton’s character that is amazing. 

Religious commentary is only in the background of the story (as in it doesn’t preach any one belief), but reading about characters whose faiths are tested motivates me to grow my own faith.

Another thing I love is this book’s purity. The romance is clean, but it goes beyond that. The book is uplifting and inspiring. It encourages me to become a better person without coming across as heavy-handed. The book discusses many heavy topics, including a suicide, but the distinction between right and wrong is always clear. 

Have I convinced you yet? To read this book, that is, not that I’m crazy. North and South is entertaining, inspirational, and thought-provoking. You can read it for drama, romance, social commentary… or anything else. It’s the best book I have read in a long time.

BONUS – The BBC miniseries North and South is soooo good. ESPECIALLY the music. I’ve been listening to the North and South soundtrack practically nonstop. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, which makes an interesting contrast to the scenes of hardship and anger. I also love Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton – although it is strange hearing Thorin’s voice (LOTRs reference) in 19th century England.

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Samantha Lamb
Samantha Lamb, Staff Writer
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