Anti-Irish Prejudice In North And South By Elizabeth Gaskell

1960 Words 8 Pages
"[T]here was a unifying theme that ran through most of the judgments made about Ireland and the Irish in Victorian England, and that theme had a distinctly ethnic and racial character. Stated simply, this consensus amounted to an assumption or a conviction that the 'native Irish ' were alien in race and inferior in culture to the Anglo-Saxons" (Curtis 5). In North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, this Victorian undercurrent of anti-Irish sentiment is felt throughout the novel. The novel 's view of the Irish spans from sympathy and pity to possession and superiority. Not only is the upper-class view of the Irish present, but the working class also voices its rather different perspective of Irish immigrants. Lastly, the vein of anti-Catholicism, …show more content…
Multiple times during the novel, the Irish workers’ inability to complete the job they were hired to do is commented on. The ineptitude of the Irish workers is first criticized by the narrator. “[T]he incompetence of the Irish hands, who had to be trained to their work, at a time requiring unusual activity, was a daily annoyance” (Gaskell 311). Later, the narrator again brings up their inability to work, commenting that part of the reason that Mr. Thornton’s business is failing is, “the utter want of skill on the part of the Irish hands whom he imported; much of their work was damaged and unfit to be sent forth …” (Gaskell 409). The other commentator on Irish ineptitude is Mr. Higgins. When he was discussing the strike with the Hales, the narrator summarizes his speech as, "They [the strikers] were consequently surprised and indignant at the poor Irish, who had allowed themselves to be imported and brought over to take their places" (Gaskell 225). Higgins and narrator are picturing the Irish as powerless children used as pawns, instead of sentient beings that are desperate to escape a famine-ravaged country. Viewing the Irish as incompetent beings was a common occurrence in the nineteenth century. In fact, the stereotype of Irish incompetence that influenced Gaskell’s novel was so embedded in Victorian beliefs that they blamed the outbreak of the famine on Irish ineptitude. “[T]he intractable and improvident Irish are held implicitly responsible for their own wretchedness, owing to their reliance on a potato-based agricultural system” (Tromp, Bachman, Kaufman 154). According to the Englishmen, the famine had been the own fault of the Irish for overproducing potatoes. Agriculture in England was, of course, widely different from the potato-based model in Ireland. A prejudice against the Irish staple was present in Britain, where

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