Follow TV Tropes


Literature / North and South

Go To

An 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.

After Richard Hale, a minister, leaves the Church of England, the Hale family moves from the genteel South of England to the industrial North. The story deals with clashes between the cultures of North and South, the workers and their masters, and between protagonist Margaret Hale and the wealthy local factory owner John Thornton.

The book has twice been adapted for television, most recently in 2004, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Although it was poorly publicised, it was a surprise smash hit with BBC viewers, who ended up crashing the BBC website with massive amounts of rave comments.

Not to be confused with the John Jakes trilogy of novels and miniseries of the same name (which starred Patrick Swayze), set in and around the era of the American Civil War. Or the Strategy/Action video game.


North and South contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: More like Adaptational Jerkassery, really, in case of Henry Lennox, who is much nicer in the book than he is in the adaptation.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: The proposal scene definitely fits this.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension
  • Big Damn Kiss: In the adaptation. One of the most famous in period drama. Margaret practically faints. So does the audience.
  • Big Secret: Margaret is seen at a train station at night with a man. She cannot explain that he was her brother, as he is wanted for treason and was not supposed to be in the country.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Fanny Thornton, John's sister.
  • Break the Haughty: Both John Thornton and Margaret go through this.
  • Canon Foreigner: Ann Latimer.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Most of the cotton mill owners are this. When talking about installing a fan to extract cotton dust, most mill owners mention that it is costly and they don't want to bother, despite the fact that it can reduce chances of lung disease in the workers.
  • The Ditz:
    • Fanny Thornton. The 2004 adaptation gave her a rather chav accent to hammer the point through.
    • Edith as well, overlapping with It's All About Me.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Despite their reduced circumstances, the Higgins refuse handouts from Margaret.
  • Driven to Suicide: John Thornton's father and Boucher.
  • The Dung Ages: In the 2004 adaptation, Milton is grey and dirty.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time the viewer and Margaret meet Thornton in the 2004 adaptation, he's violently chasing down, beating up and firing an employee for smoking on the mill floor. Not the best first impression. It isn't until later that we learn he did so because he knows all too well what one little spark can do in a building full of cotton.
  • Everyone Can See It: The town clearly sees the affection Thornton and Margaret have for each other, especially after Margaret bodily protects Thornton from the riot. Subverted in that Margaret later insists that she meant nothing romantic by the gesture, and merely felt guilty about forcing him out to face the mob.
  • Fish out of Water: Margaret starts out as this in Milton.
  • Funetik Aksent: The workers (most notably the Higginses) have it in the book.
  • Handshake Refusal: Margaret doesn't know that in the North, it's normal for a man to shake a lady's hand; therefore, John gets this trope from her.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: John Thornton, especially after he Took a Level in Kindness. He installed the cotton dust extractor fan in his mill, and later even set up a canteen for his mill workers.
  • Honor Before Reason: One of the major themes is this contrasted with the results of being principled. Mr Hale's "matter of conscience" costs him his job, Higgins' faith in the union is destroyed when the workers break the strike and Boucher commits suicide, and Thornton almost loses his mill and the livelihood of hundreds of workers due to not engaging in speculation.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: In the adaptation, Margaret to John in a moment so sexually charged the air almost crackles.
  • Ill Girl: Bessy Higgins suffers a lung disease from working in the mills.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Part of what attracts Thornton to Margaret is how she stands up to him and speaks her mind. Almost word-for-word in the adaptation.
    Margaret: You think that because you are rich... and my father is in reduced circumstances that you could have me for your possession? I shouldn't expect any less from someone in trade!
    John: I don't want to possess you! I wish to marry you because I love you!
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Bessy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Margaret's family all believe that nobody would ever want to wear cotton shirts.
  • Last Minute Hookup
  • Mama Bear: Mrs Thornton. Woe betide anyone who insults her son.
  • May–December Romance: In the adaptation, Mr Bell, a contemporary of Margaret's father, harbours romantic feelings for Margaret. Rather strange when compared to the book, in which he treats her more like a daughter to him.
  • Merchant Prince: Thornton is also the magistrate of Milton.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Richard Armitage as Thornton. Swoon.
  • Nostalgia Filter: When she first lives in Milton, Margaret constantly dreams of going back to the beautiful and idyllic Helstone. Her later visits there reveal that it is not as perfect as she remembered. She has to remind herself not to do the same to Milton.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Poor Margaret. Her actions constantly get misinterpreted. First she tries to save Thornton from being torn apart by the mob after she forces him to confront them. This gets taken as her displaying her romantic intentions way too openly. Later when she tries to take her brother late at night to the train station to escape, several witnesses (Thornton included) mistake her as going out on a late night date.
  • Nouveau Riche: Henry Lennox sees Thornton as this. In Thornton's family, only Fanny explicitly displays the trope's characteristics.
  • Oblivious to Love: Margaret often doesn't know that her words and actions have been mistaken as romantic gestures by the men around her.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: An in-story example in the adaptation: John's accent gets more Northern when his control over himself slips (most noticeable in the rejection scene).
  • Oop North: Milton (Expy of Manchester).
  • Opposites Attract: Margaret and Thornton.
  • Parents as People: Margaret's father and mother. Margaret's father is strongly principled, but ultimately fails in his duty to provide for his family. Margaret's mother has become frail and unwell ever since her son's being charged with treason. Margaret has to pick up a lot of the slack to take care of the house.
  • Pet the Dog / Took a Level in Kindness: Thornton becomes a lot less indifferent to his workers' plight after seeing that they actually do have lots of starving children at home.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The mill workers go on strike. After negotiations goes unresolved for weeks, the hungry workers turn into this instead, to Higgins's horror.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The 2004 version changes a lot of little details about the story.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Thornton, despite being introduced to the audience beating up a mill worker, is actually an example of this. The mill worker had been lighting a smoke in the cotton dust filled mill, an action akin to juggling guns in a munitions factory. Later conversations revealed that he had also made an effort to install a cotton dust extractor in the mill to reduce lung disease in his employees.
  • Relative Error: John mistakes Margaret's brother for her lover.
  • Right Behind Me: When Margaret voices her disappointment in Thornton just as he's walking into the room behind her.
  • Romantic False Lead: Henry Lennox for Margaret and Ann Latimer for Thornton. Henry Lennox wanders into Romantic Runner-Up territory though, he has a bit more character, and is led up the garden path a little.
  • Self-Made Man: After his father lost the family fortune in speculation and subsequently committed suicide, Thornton had to start from scratch, working hard to repay the family debt and starting the mill.
  • Shipper on Deck: Edith's entire family hope Margaret marries Henry Lennox. Yet at the end of the book it's Henry who creates a Contrived Coincidence for her and John to be alone.
  • Slut-Shaming: Margaret's mother had hoped Mrs Thornton would have guided Margaret in life after she dies. Pity the first lecture Mrs Thornton gives is this instead.
  • Snow Means Death: Played with in the adaptation; Margaret's narration in a letter to Edith talks of "hell white as snow" over a shot of the factory filled with flying snow-like cotton (the very cotton that causes the Incurable Cough of Death).
  • Spirited Young Lady: Margaret.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Once she returns home to stay with family, Margaret becomes defensive of the North.
  • Title Drop: In Chapter 8, by Nicholas Higgins.
    "And yet, yo' see, North and South has both met and made kind o' friends in this big smoky place."
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Mr Thornton misinterprets Margaret's clandestine goodbye to her brother as this.
  • Wealthy Ever After: Margaret ends up with a huge inheritance from her father's close friend Mr Bell, which she in turn uses to help save Thornton's mill.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: The Hales. Thorntons get rather offended by the way they are treated as lower-class because they are in trade.
  • What Have I Done: The reason why Margaret rushes to save John from the mob is that she talked him into going out there in the first place.


Example of: