North and South Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 38 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of North and South.
This section contains 1,235 words
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North and South Summary & Study Guide Description

North and South Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is a social novel set in early Victorian times. It tells the story of Margaret Hale and her move from the South of England to the Industrial North. Margaret struggles to adapt to the harder lifestyle of the North, but after a series of tragedies, she finds she is a far stronger and braver person than she ever thought.

The novel begins in London, where Margaret lives with her aunt and cousin Edith. Edith is getting married to Colonel Lennox, which means Margaret has to move back to her parents' home in Helstone. Once back in the countryside she reverts to her old habits of walking and drawing. It is while she is preparing to go outside and draw that her servant announces the arrival of her old friend Henry Lennox. Mr. Lennox tells Margaret he wants to marry her. She declines the offer and soon after Mr. Lennox leaves. In the evening, Mr. Hale calls Margaret into his study. Margaret thinks he wants to talk about Mr. Lennox, but it is something even more important. He tells Margaret they are moving to Milton in the industrial North.

They move to Milton almost immediately and with the help of the local mill owner, John Thornton, they find a suitable house. It does not possess the luxury of their vicarage in Helstone, but suits all their needs with enough room to house their servant Dixon. Margaret and Mr. Hale settle in nicely. Margaret enjoys going out for walks and the attention she receives from both men and women. Mr. Hale loves his work as a private tutor and particularly gets on well with his student John Thornton. One evening Mr. Hale invites Mr. Thornton for dinner. Mr. Thornton and Margaret argue about the differences between the north and south of England. Mr. Thornton says the north is a much tougher life and to prove it tells the story of his rise from poverty.

Margaret makes friends with an ill girl called Bessy Higgins. They are having a serious conversation about religion when Bessy's father Nicholas interrupts. He tells Margaret not to preach to his daughter. Back at the Hale's house, Mrs. Hale tells Margaret that Mrs. Thornton is coming for dinner with her daughter Fanny. Mrs. Thornton is a very proud, northern lady and has already taken a dislike to the southern Hales. However, for her son's sake, she maintains a certain level of politeness. When she leaves the house, she tells Fanny not to form a friendship with Margaret. A few days later Margaret has to see Mrs. Thornton again because her mother needs a doctor. Mrs. Thornton pontificates about the north, ending her harangue by stating the workers are about to go on strike. Later that evening Mr. Hale gives Mr. Thornton a lesson. When they finish, Margaret and Mr. Thornton argue about the strike. Margaret tells Mr. Thornton he has no humanity.

Doctor Donaldson visits Mrs. Hale and diagnoses her with a deadly illness. Margaret decides not to tell her father, as he is likely to blame himself. Margaret visits Bessy and they talk of the impending strike. Bessy says that people down south do not suffer like people up north, but Margaret refutes the statement and tells Bessy about her mother's illness. Back at the Hale's house, Mr. Hale tells Margaret the Thornton's have invited them to a society dinner. The Hale's are the first to arrive. As the evening progresses, the men and women split up to converse about their different interests. Margaret finds the women's conversation boring and begins to listen to the men. Her presence encourages many admiring comments.

When Margaret and Mr. Hale arrive back home, Dixon exclaims Mrs. Hale has been so ill she thought her dead. Upon Dr. Donaldson's advice, Margaret goes to visit Mrs. Thornton to inquire about a water bed. Margaret's arrival coincides with a strikers' protest. Margaret advises Mr. Thornton go out and speak to them. He does as she suggests, but the crowd act violently towards him, prompting Margaret to run out and help. She shields Mr. Thornton with her body and a stone strikes the side of her head. The next day Mr. Thornton goes to thank her. He presumes Margaret protected him because she loves him, but she acts hurt at such a suggestion, claiming she would have done the same thing for anyone. When Mr. Thornton leaves, Margaret goes to see her mother. Mrs. Hale states the need to see her estranged son, Frederick, and asks Margaret to write him a letter.

Frederick visits from Spain. He has to be very careful because the government wants to put him on trial as a traitor. Everyone is delighted to see him. His mother is especially satisfied, and she passes away during the night. The next day Dixon tells Margaret she met a man from Southampton, who she thinks is trying to capture Frederick. The family decides Frederick has to leave immediately. At the train station, a man approaches Margaret and Frederick. He tries to grab Frederick, but Frederick trips him and jumps onto an approaching train. The next day an inspector comes to visit. He says a man died from a fall yesterday at the train station and a witness saw Margaret there with a companion. Margaret denies everything. Later on, the inspector meets Mr. Thornton and tells him about the case. Mr. Thornton saw Margaret at the station and knows she is lying. He does not say anything to the inspector, but the fact she was with another man sparks his jealously. Mr. Thornton is a magistrate, and he goes back to the law court to close the investigation.

Nicholas tells Mr. Hale and Margaret he is out of work. He is just cursing his friend Boucher for his role in the strike when six men appear with Boucher's dead body. Boucher has committed suicide and the men ask Margaret to break the news to his wife. Later on, Nicholas visits the Hales to tell them of his guilt. He says he needs a job so he can support Mrs. Boucher and her children. Mr. Hale suggests he goes to see Mr. Thornton. The next day Nicholas waits five hours, only for Mr. Thornton to say cannot provide a union man with a job. Nicholas tells Margaret about his bad luck. She is criticizing Mr. Thornton when he appears in the doorway and offers Nicholas a job.

Mr. Hale visits his friend Mr. Bell in Oxford and Mr. Hale dies in his sleep. Mr. Bell travels to Milton to deliver the sad news to Margaret. He meets Mr. Thornton on the train and tells him everything. Mr. Thornton is particularly upset when he hears Margaret is likely to have to leave Milton for the South. When Margaret hears the news, she cries for days. Mr. Bell stays until her Aunt Shaw comes to take her back to London. Margaret cannot settle in London and she misses both Milton and Helstone.

Mr. Bell passes away and leaves Margaret all his money and property. Meanwhile, in Milton John Thornton is struggling with his business. He decides things are so bad that he has to give it up and takes a train to London to see his lawyer. Margaret is now Mr. Thornton's landlady, and he goes to see her to end their tenancy agreement. Upon seeing each other they realize they are in love.

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