An example of a typical cotton mill in Manchester during the industrialization period. PHOTO CREDIT: E.L. Hoskyn. This photo is in the public domain.
“Nearer the town, the air had a faint taste and smell of smoke; perhaps, after all, more a loss of the fragrance of grass and herbage than any positive taste or smell. Quick they were whirled over long, straight, hopeless streets of regularly-built houses, all small and of brick. Here and there among her chickens, puffing out black “unparliamentary” smoke, and sufficiently accounting for the cloud which Margaret had taken to foretell rain. As they drove through the larger and wider streets, from the station to the hotel, they had to stop constantly; great loaded lorries blocked up the not over-wide thoroughfares. . . . Every van, every wagon and truck, bore cotton, either in the raw shape in bags, or the woven shape in bales of calico.”1
After her clergyman father has a crisis of conscience in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Margaret Hale and her family are forced to move from their idyllic home of Helstone in the south of England to the industrialized dreary city of Milton in the north (a fictional city modeled after Manchester). Confronted by the town’s desperate reliance on cotton mills to provide food and employment, and the often barbaric actions of its owners, Margaret finds herself surrounded by poverty and confusing social norms. At first, she continues to pine after her peaceful home and criticize the harsh reality of Milton. However, through her own personal loss and acquaintance with a cotton mill owner, Margaret comes to an understanding of the importance of industrialization in providing for the both the lower and higher classes.
Manchester is a city in northwest England and was once considered the center of cotton manufacturing during the industrial revolution. North and South at first depicts this period in time as depressing and unnecessarily cruel. However, by the end of the novel the industrial changes brought to England during this time period are viewed as necessary to the economy of the city and its citizens.
1Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. New Edition ed. New York: Norton, W. W., 2004. Print. Norton Critical Editions Ser.
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