Fiction — eBook. Floating Press, 2011. Originally published 1855. 729 pgs. Free download.
Margaret Hale is taken from the southern village of Helstone by her nonconformist minister father to live in a fictional northern town named Milton. The stark differences between the North and the South are explored through Margaret’s abrupt change in circumstance, and her sympathetic reaction to the plight of the mill workers of Milton.
She comes into conflict with a local mill owner, a Mr. John Thornton, over the right of the workers to strike and demand better wages, people whom she has befriended and come to love.
Gaskell reminds me of a cross between Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Her novel possesses the biting social commentary on industry and the poor of Dickens with the social commentary on the role of women and romance of Austen. The failed proposal of Mr. Thornton was quite reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s failed proposal, and I particularly liked its presentation in the BBC miniseries even though it wasn’t entirely true to the novel.
“You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.” (pg. 326-327)
I’ve heard and seen others call Gaskell’s novel the industrial revolution version of Pride and Prejudice where a woman of lesser means meets a severe, rich man; she hates him; he loves her; she rejects him then learns to appreciate him and finally falls in love with him. However, the romance between the two main characters does not entirely dominate the novel, and I found Gaskell’s presentation of industrialization and unionization in northern England to be rather fascinating. The decision to strike and, later, riot and its effect on both the manufacturer and the workers was really interesting and certainly not something I would expect to find in Austen’s novel.