“North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Is there a perfect place in the world?

That is the main question, in my opinion, Elizabeth Gaskell puts in front of the readers in her novel “North and South”.

There are so many layers to this book that I won’t even attempt to describe them all in a short review. The book resonated with me on different levels. I’ve lost all the people who knew me as a child. I know how it feels to feel uncertain about your loved ones who are far away, and you don’t know if you ever see them again. I had to adapt to completely changed circumstances, though without moving anywhere.

Margaret Hale is eighteen, and she has to accept too many changes within too short a period of time. First, she is removed from London where she’s spent ten years living the life of a high society girl under her aunt’s care. And then, without having time enough to get used to a place where she grew up – the pastoral fields of rural English South – she is whisked away to the grim kingdom of factory chimneys of the North.

I’ve spent a few years in England, travelling frequently between Dorset, London, and Lancashire, so I had vivid pictures of local differences in front of my eyes all the time I was reading. So many things have changed over the last two centuries, but, at the same time, some stayed the same.

The depiction of the growing dissatisfaction and unrest of factory workers is brilliant in the book. As well as the explanation of the opposite point of view. I find it the most fascinating when a writer is able to keep a multi-dimensional view on things.

“Masters” and “hands”. The thought that in that department nothing has truly changed was domineering in my mind. People work shorter hours; they get paid better salaries and live in more comfort. But there still exists that undeniable gap between those who pay and those who get paid. Mr Thornton says that the world order will never change. Isn’t it true? And don’t such predictions turn a book into a masterpiece?

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