“North and South” is one of the books I knew nothing about before reading it. However, I received it from a very dear friend of mine who is as passionate about books as I am, so I had high expectations from Gaskell’s novel. 

In a nutshell

Think of the story like an onion 🙂 At the core there is the “it’s complicated” love story between Southern Margaret and Northern manufacturer John Thornton, but it has many other layers. Surrounding Margaret and John we have family life, then urban life versus rural life, nature of the human beings, and the Industrial Revolution.

north south gaskell readers high tea review
Image from NearSt

Overall impression

This classic book reminded me of “Little Women” and Jane Austen’s novels. Needless to say – I enjoyed a lot reading it. Even though it’s a character-driven story, the plot is rich enough to keep the action-people engaged 🙂 It is easy to read, the language is very pleasant and the short chapters give the feeling that you quickly advance through the story. The story has many touching moments, and even though it is not a happy book per-se, the overall feeling is of hopefulness. 

About the North and the South

The name of the book illustrates what the book is about: North and South (the first half of the story is mostly versus, while the second half is mostly and). The story is based on this opposition – not only geographical, but also cultural. North is represented by Milton, an industrial and polluted city; South is represented by Helstone, a quiet agricultural town.

north and south poster readers high tea


The contrast between North and South is even more evident as a family from the rural South is abruptly “transported” to the industrial North and faces first-hand what industrialization means and how it affects local people and environment – people get sick and die, strikes and violences are happening.

Margaret, the heroine

The main character of the story is young Margaret (∽20 years old), and the whole story is presented through her eyes. Courageous and sensible, Margaret is faced with delicate situations that quicken her coming of age. Interestingly, Gaskell wanted to call the novel “Margaret Hale” (and I totally understand why), but Charles Dickens advised her that a better and more illustrative name is “North and South”.


To conclude, I recommend reading “North and South” if you’re into classics and/or if you want to read a beautiful story that highlights the impact of the Industrial Revolution. By the end of the story you will be fond of Margaret for sure!

Further reading

 Nicole from Bookish Stuff wrote a very interesting post about why “North and South” still matters today – I recommend to check it out if you want to find out more about the themes of the story.

‘Till next time … happy reading!


Illustration from Ra-Overload | cover image from RedBubble.com

3 thoughts on “About division and coming together: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (book review)

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