North and South

by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1854-5

Classic recommended by Kindra, a librarian at the Old Town Library. At first, I thought it would be hard to read because of the old-style language, but after only a couple of pages, it was imminently readable and I couldn’t put it down! The story centers on 19 year-old Margaret Hale, daughter of a parson who resigns his parsonage and moves the family (he, his wife, and Margaret) from the idyllic Helstone to the smoky northern industrial town of Milton. There they meet Mr. Thornton, a manufacturer, and there are clashes and tension between Margaret and Mr. Thornton. The tension builds and builds as Margaret grows and matures and finally, after almost two years of drama, they come together at the end. Great book!

Here are some quotes from the book:

Margaret went home, wondering at her new friends, and smiling at the man’s insight into what had been passing in her mind. From that day Milton became a brighter place to her. It was not the long, bleak sunny days of spring, nor yet was it that time was reconciling her to the town of her habitation. It was that in it she had found a human interest.

when she visits Nicholas Higgins and his daughter, Bessy, page 74 in the chapter ‘Home Sickness’

That afternoon she walked swiftly to the Higgins’s house. Mary was looking out for her, with a half-distrustful face. Margaret smiled into her eyes to re-assure her. They passed quickly through the house-place, upstairs, and into the quiet presence of the dead. Then Margaret was glad that she had come. The face, often so weary with pain, so restless with troublous thoughts, had now the faint soft smile of eternal rest upon it. The slow tears gathered into Margaret’s eyes, but a deep calm entered into her soul. And that was death! It looked more peaceful than life. All beautiful scriptures came into her mind. ‘They rest from their labours.’ ‘The weary are at rest.’ ‘He giveth His beloved sleep.’

when Bessy dies and Margaret visits her, page 218 from the chapter, ‘Comfort in Sorrow’

When her father had driven off on his way to the railroad, Margaret felt how great and long had been the pressure on her time and her spirits. It was astonishing, almost stunning, to feel herself so much at liberty; no one depending on her for cheering care, if not for positive happiness; no invalid to plan and think for; she might be idle, and silent, and forgetful,–and what seemed worth more than all the other privileges–she might be unhappy if she liked. For months past, all her own personal cares and troubles had had to be stuffed away into a dark cupboard; but now she had leisure to take them out, and mourn over them, and study their nature, and seek the true method of subduing them into the elements of peace. All these weeks she had been conscious of their existence in a dull kind of way, though they were hidden out of sight. Now, once for all she would consider them, and appoint to each of them its right work in her life. So she sat almost motionless for hours in the drawing-room, going over the bitterness of every remembrance with an unwincing resolution. Only once she cried aloud, at the stinging thought of the faithlessness which gave birth to that abasing falsehood.

when Margaret’s father goes to Oxford to visit a friend, leaving Margaret alone, finally-page 344-5, ‘The Journey’s End’

…Margaret saw glimpses in him of a slight contempt for his brother and sister-in-law, and for their mode of life, which he seemed to consider as frivolous and purposeless. He once or twice spoke to his brother, in Margaret’s presence, in a pretty sharp tone of enquiry, as to whether he meant entirely to relinquish his profession; and on Captain Lennox’s reply, that he had quite enough to live upon, she had seen Mr. Lennox’s curl of the lip as he said, ‘And is that all you live for?’

from page 406, ‘Something Wanting’

‘Oh! it will get cooler every day. Yes! Think of it! I am only afraid I have thought and wished too much–in that absorbing wilful way which is sure to be disappointed–or else gratified, to the letter, while in the spirit it gives no pleasure.’

from page 409, ‘Ne’er to be Found Again,’ in which Margaret expresses her desire to visit her brother in Spain

This is from a paragraph in which Margaret is coming to terms with how she should be, after struggling so long with wanting to vindicate herself in Mr. Thornton’s eyes, because of the lie she told an inspector in order to protect her brother:

…And now she had learnt that not only to will, but also to pray, was a necessary condition in the truly heroic. Trusting to herself, she had fallen. It was a just consequence of her sin, that all excuses for it, all temptation to it, should remain for ever unknown to the person in whose opinion it had sunk her lowest. She stood face to face at last with her sin. She knew it for what it was; Mr. Bell’s kindly sophistry that nearly all men were guilty of equivocal actions, and that the motive ennobled the evil, had never had much real weight with her. Her own first thought of how, if she had known all, she might have fearlessly told the truth, seemed low and poor. Nay, even now, her anxiety to have her character for truth partially excused in Mr. Thornton’s eyes, as Mr. Bell had promised to do, was a very small and petty consideration, now that she was afresh taught by death what life should be. If all the world spoke, acted, or kept silence with intent to deceive,–if dearest interests were at stake, and dearest lives in peril,–if no one should ever know of her truth or her falsehood to measure out their honour or contempt for her by, straight alone where she stood, in the presence of God, she prayed that she might have strength to speak and act the truth for evermore.

from page 412 in ‘Ne’er to be Found Again’

She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the waves as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly shore,–or she looked out upon the more distant heave, and sparkle against the sky, and heard, without being conscious of hearing, the eternal psalm, which went up continually. She was soothed without knowing how or why…

from page 414, ‘Breathing Tranquility’

Here’s the ending, when Margaret Hale and John Thornton finally come together in understanding and love:

‘Look here! Lift up your head. I have something to show you!’ She slowly faced him, glowing with beautiful shame.

‘Do you know these roses?’ he said, drawing out his pocket-book, in which were treasured up some dead flowers.

‘No!’ she replied, with innocent curiosity. ‘Did I give them to you?’

‘No! Vanity; you did not. You may have worn sister roses very probably.’

She looked at them, wondering for a minute, then she smiled a little as she said–

‘They are from Helstone, are they not? I know the deep indentations round the leaves. Oh! have you been there? When were you there?’

‘I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine. I went there on my return from Havre.’

‘You must give them to me,’ she said, trying to take them out of his had with gentle violence.

‘Very well. Only you must pay me for them!’

‘How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?’ she whispered, after some time of delicious silence.

‘Let me speak to her.’

‘Oh, no! I owe to her,–but what will she say?’

‘I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, “That man!”‘

‘Hush!’ said Margaret, ‘or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”‘


the beautiful ending of North and South, page 436 of the chapter, ‘Pack Clouds Away’