Rachel's blog

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

04 The women in the novel

Filed under: Sin categoría — Raquel Sanchez Sogorb at 11:46 pm on miércoles, mayo 22, 2013

As maintained by A. Blackwood, “in Margaret Hale, Gaskell gives strength to the “weaker sex” rarely before seen in texts of her time whilst appealing to all readers with the emphasis of a number of households mainly within Milton itself. The text presents itself as well as a novel as it ever did in its popular serialization in Dicken’s publication Household Words.”

It is assumed by everyone that the roles of men and women are clearly delineated and everything public including work lies within the domain of the man while everything domestic within that of the woman, as the classics cultures. The expression of feelings  and resolving conflicts with words is considered reserved for women, and aggression and resolving conflicts as war is masculine. The mistress of the ideal home is the guardian of morality and religion, while the public sphere is considered dangerously amoral so that in the works of authors such as Dickens, disasters happen when the characters do not conform to current standards; in North & South, this notion is questioned.

In Gaskell’s heroine, Margaret Hale, this separation is blurred and she is forced by circumstances to take on a masculine role. For example: she organizes the family’s departure from Helstone, and in Milton, assumes the most part of responsibility; when Boucher dies, Mr. Hale is horrified and it is Margaret who has to announce Boucher’s wife of the tragic event. And also, she has to cite her brother Frederick, who is crushed with a grief at the death of their mother; later, to protect her brother, Margaret lies to the police, denying she was not at the train station when Frederick left. At the end, Margaret inherits a fortune by her father’s friend and she has to manage it all alone.

“The character of Margaret Hale is the finest piece of delineation of a pure-hearted and proud young English girl that I know,” wrote Thomas Seccombe in his introduction to Cousin Phillis, another of Gaskell’s books. “Margaret, with her lustrous eyes and regular curves of serene beauty, is a more or less unconscious portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell herself.”

The women in this century did not show their feelings, like Margaret, she is hurting inside but she doesn’t show it, she keeps her feelings inside and gives off an air of confidence and strength that is a balm to those suffering with her; so Mrs. Thornton thinks if for pride and haughtiness. Mrs. Thornton is described as strong and massive, firm, severe, dignified woman. She is extremely protective of her son, their fortune and their lifestyle, she is still in fixed thinking and represents old-fashioned values, in front of Margaret who is the figure of the new and independent woman. Part of the reason that Mrs. Thornton dislikes Margaret is that both have similar characters: strong, proud and devoted.

However, Margaret has the youth and vitality that are necessary to be a powerful force in the changing age. The Margaret’s engagement to Mr. Thornton symbolically creates a merger between the old and the new and a united concern in the welfare of the man the two women love.

North and South is frequently praised for its “realism in depicting the strike in Milton which was based on the actual labor conflict in Preston in 1858-54”, the number of women in this strike was the double than the men, so it is highly unlikely that Gaskell was ignorant of the gender composition of the work force. The only woman factory worker who appears in the novel is Bessy Higgins, and she has been forced to leave work because of her disease.

According to Wanda Neff, the unpropitious appearance of the factory girl and the strangeness of her labor to the middle-class reader made her unpopular as the heroine of a novel. But Gaskell’s silence about women’s work in the mills, her use of the generic “men” to describe factory workers, and her celebration of cooperative domestic labor indicate how problematic she, like other members of the Victorian middle class, found the whole issue of women’s work outside the home.

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