Places: North and South

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1854-1855

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Harley Street

*Harley North and SouthStreet. London street on which Margaret Hale has spent nine years living in a town house as a companion to her cousin Edith, who is about to be married as the novel opens. The house is to be shut up as Edith, her husband, and her mother, go abroad, and Margaret is to return home to the country parsonage where her parents live. The novel reveals little about the house at 96 Harley Street, other than a series of public and private rooms and, at the top of the house, a nursery, where Margaret spent much of her early life. The life of the house has been formal, with children eating apart from their parents.

Helstone vicarage

Helstone vicarage. Home of Margaret’s parents in New Forest, Hampshire, that Margaret regards as her true home, despite having been away from it for many years. There she is happy to live an outdoor life, visiting local people and walking in the forest. Her mother, however, is discontented; she regards Helstone as one of England’s most out-of-the-way places and would rather live at 96 Harley Street. She dislikes the trees and lack of nearby society and yearns for everything her daughter has happily given up.

The interior of the vicarage house is not seen from Margaret’s point of view. It has a drawing room, a dining room, a library, and other rooms not seen. Readers see the drawing room from the point of view of Henry Lennox, a visitor, who sees that the family is not well off, noting the room’s old carpets and faded chintzes. Readers later see the vicarage from the point of view of the next incumbent and his wife, who are renovating and expanding the house to accommodate a growing family. Elizabeth Gaskell does, however, offer several lyrical descriptions of the vicarage’s garden, which supports fruit trees and flowers.

Milton-Northern

Milton-Northern. Fictional town to which the Hales travel when the Reverend Mr. Hale feels obliged to resign his living because of his religious doubts. Hale has been able to establish himself as a tutor through the good offices of an Oxford friend, Mr. Bell, who owns property in Milton-Northern but remains in Oxford. Milton is a growing industrial town and property is rising in value, making it difficult for the family to rent the kind of house to which they aspire. They are obliged to settle in a suburb, Crampton, subject to dampness and fog. The emphasis of Gaskell’s description of Milton is of straight lines, small houses built of brick rather than stone, and with great factories dominating the landscape.

Canute Street

Canute Street. Street in Milton’s Crampton district on which the Hales live in a cramped house. It is initially decorated in what they consider to be a vulgar style, but this is altered before they move in, thanks to the intervention of John Thornton, owner of a local mill and one of Mr. Hale’s pupils. Impressed by Margaret’s demeanor, Thornton endeavors to have the house altered to suit her.

Higgins house

Higgins house. Home of the working class Higgins family, who become Margaret’s friends, at 9 Frances Street. It is a small house off a squalid street. The house is ill kept, as Bessie Higgins cannot work and her sister, Mary, while good-natured, is rough and clumsy and not adept at housework.

Thornton’s house

Thornton’s house. Home of John Thornton on Milton’s Marlborough Street, When Margaret Hale and her father call on Thornton, they learn first that his house is adjacent to the mill, unlike other mill owners, who prefer to live in the country, away from the noise and dirt of their own factories. In the drawing rooms of the houses, they find that the furniture is covered, as though it has not been used for a long time, though this is as much to keep everything clean of the dirt from the yard. The dining room is also described as “grim.” This contrasts with a later visit when the Hales dine with the Thorntons at an elaborate party, when the covers are taken off and the chandelier is lighted. Gaskell particularly notes a lack of books in the public rooms.

BibliographyCraik, W. A. Elizabeth Gaskell and the English Provincial Novel. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. A major rehabilitation of Mrs. Gaskell as an important novelist, this study sets her five long fictions within the provincial novel tradition. Demonstrates how she expanded the possibilities and universality of the tradition.Duthie, Enid. The Themes of Elizabeth Gaskell. New York: Macmillan, 1980. Despite contrasting settings and plots, there is, according to this book, a unity of thematic material in all of Mrs. Gaskell’s fiction. Draws upon Mrs. Gaskell’s letters to reconstruct her imaginative world and the themes central to it.Gerin, Winifred. Elizabeth Gaskell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. The first biography to make use of the publication in 1966 of Mrs. Gaskell’s letters. Although there have been a number of more recent biographies, this is still one of the best, particularly from the point of view of relating fictional material to its background.Stoneman, Patsy. Elizabeth Gaskell. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1987. This feminist reading claims that previous accounts of Mrs. Gaskell have seriously misread her, and that the interaction of class and gender must be made central. A condensed but provocative reading of North and South is included.Uglow, Jenny. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories. Winchester, Mass.: Faber & Faber, 1993. The chapter on North and South expounds the novel fully. A full listing of Mrs. Gaskell’s works and an index.
Categories: Places