The Female Visitor And The Marriage Of Classes In Elizabeth Gaskell's North And South?

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Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South, sets the values of Southern England against those of the North in order to examine the principles of Victorian life through its public and private spheres. Gaskell’s characters inhabit a world that is complicated by social change, and through Margaret Hale, the novel’s protagonist, Gaskell is able to compare these spheres and consider the ways in which they become connected. In her article, “The Female Visitor and the Marriage of Classes in Gaskell’s North and South” Dorice Williams Elliott identifies Margaret’s role in the novel as that of a mediator who bridges the public and private spheres. She believes Margaret’s participation in the “social conversations, industrial debates and ideologies of …show more content…
As a young woman in an urban environment Margaret’s walking out alone would have been considered inappropriate, and her attempts to find “a nonpareil of a girl . . . [bring to mind] Mrs Shaw’s ideas of propriety” (Gaskell 81). Margaret makes many mistakes while finding her balance within what she perceives as appropriate. She considers the locals to be “boisterous . . . [and] impertinent . . . they amused her even while they irritated her” (82) and the sharp contrast between the working class and Margaret’s “quiet safety of home” (82) highlights the social differences she will have to learn to overcome in her role of mediator. Margaret’s unsupervised visits to the Higginses take her out of the private sphere and allow her to become a part of the social sphere, through them she recognises the incongruity of her benevolent actions. Unlike Helstone where her visits were welcome, here they prove to be “both inappropriate and ineffective” (Elliott 32). Margaret finds it hard to understand the Higginses words and gestures because of their different dialect, attitudes and values. When she first meets Bessy and her father, she is initially surprised at their lack of understanding that “it would have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had made, that she intended to come and call” (Gaskell 84-5). As a social mediator, Margaret has to learn to understand “and communicate in both directions” (Elliott 41), in order to connect the public and private spheres and Higgins’s insight helps her find some brightness in all that has happened as she recognises that, through their meeting “she has found a human interest” (85). Her willingness to learn enables her to succeed as a mediator, and Margaret acknowledges this when she tells her mother, “if I

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