In the novel North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, is unique because the opening of it, contrasts greatly with the rest of the novel. One of the reasons for this could be that since the book was originally printed in cereal, the author had to make the beginning pact with information in a short period of time in order to keep the readers interested. Something else that proves the book was written in cereal form is that each chapter is titled.
The very first chapter of this book happens to be called “Haste to the Wedding”; this is an effective title because it attracts the reader to read further, because weddings are always considered to be something interesting.
The novel opens with the characters Margaret and Edith in the drawing room in Harley Street. This means that there is money involved with the girls. Since Harley Street was a very fashionable and expensive place to live n London, this proves that at least one of the two characters comes from a family with money and class.
They had grown up together from childhood, and all along Edith has been remarked upon by everyone, except Margaret, for her prettiness; but Margaret had never thought about it until the last few weeks.
The quote above demonstrates Gaskell’s writing style of giving the reader a lot of information in a short amount of time. Here, the reader learns that Margaret and Edith have grown up together, Edith is the pretty one and there is an implication by the author that Margaret doesn’t consider herself as pretty and lives in Edith’s shadow.
They had been talking about wedding dresses, and wedding ceremonies; and Captain Lennox, and what he had told her about her future life at Corfu, where his regiment was stationed; and the difficulty of keeping a piano in good tune (a difficulty which Edith seemed to consider as one of the most formidable that could befall her in her married life).
Once again, it is important to consider how much information is given to the reader. Edith is the girl who is getting married and that she will be moving from her home in Harley Street. Another thing that is relevant is the author’s voice and tone here. In a way, there is an element of mockery in the quote targeted towards Edith, making her sound not very bright; which is one of the early signs of Gaskell’s themes in the book: people of poverty versus the people of wealth. She often subtly has an undertone of sarcasm when describing the upper classes and their behaviours, making them sound almost ridiculous.
The main character Margaret, contrasts greatly with the characters in this chapter. She is not only different in her personality and ideals, but also with her social class.
Margaret had been on the point of telling her cousin of some of the plans and visions which she entertained as to her future life in the country parsonage, where her father and mother lived, and where her bright holidays has always been passed, through for the last ten years her aunt Shaw’s house had been considered home.
In this is quote is that the reader is now aware that Margaret comes from a lower social standing and has come to live with her aunt in London and now must go back to her old home since Edith is getting married. What is interesting is how Margaret thinks of her home. She is not ashamed of it at all; in fact, she is looking forward to going back, which is strange for someone who has been raised in with people from the upper class. One would almost think that she would resent going back to the parsonage after living in a fashionable part of London.
Another prominent theme in the novel is whether to marry of love of for money. This theme is introduced early on in the book during Edith’s wedding.
Mrs. Shaw said that her only child should marry for love- and signed emphatically, as if love had not been her motive for marrying the General. Mrs. Shaw enjoyed the romance of the present engagement rather more than her daughter.
Once again, the author’s voice and what she is implying is dominant in this quotation. The reader learns that Mrs. Shaw had married for money, instead of love and one has to notice how she addresses her husband. Instead of addressing him as ‘husband’, she addresses him as ‘the General’. In a way, this gives the feeling of him being like an object. It can be argued that the message that Gaskell is trying to send out to the reader is if one marries for money, it’s almost like treating the other person as an object; using them to get something in return. Another thing to notice with the quotation is the sarcasm and irony. Mrs. Shaw assumes that Edith is marrying for love, but in fact that both of them are too spoiled and self centered to really grasp the meaning and feeling of what true love is.
Elizabeth Gaskell is known in the world of Literature, for opposing the treatment of the lower classes in England during the Industrialization Era. Although in the first chapter, there are little references to what is going to take place later on in the novel with Margaret going to the North and the huge culture difference, Gaskell often drops subtle hints and clues of how oblivious the upper class is of the hardships of the lower class’ lives. This is effective, because this provides a reader with such a great contrasts between both worlds that it makes the underlining message of the book that more powerful. Early on in the first chapter, there is a scene where Mrs. Shaw is telling the other ladies at the wedding breakfast about the shawls that Edith will inherit from India.
Helen had set her heart upon an Indian shawl, but really, when I found what an extravagant price was asked, I was obliged to refuse her. She will be quite envious when she hears of Edith having Indian shawls. What kind are they? Delhi? with the lovely little borders?
This quotation fits in with the theme of how oblivious the upper classes where of people of the working class, especially out of the country. There is also an undertone of Gaskell, most probably objecting to the purchases of goods from outside of the country, because this would be of competition to the goods of the country which people were being slaved to produce as well.
What is very important to notice when reading “Haste to the Wedding” is Gaskell’s structure. Instead of starting right at the beginning by talking about each character, their pasts, physical description and personalities; she sets little cameos of each character while the book’s plot is also running. For example, when Margaret goes into the nursery to tell Newton to get the Indian shawls to show the ladies downstairs, she remises about the first night she was in the nursery. This is a very effective way to keep the reader interested, because it keeps the story flowing and provides the first chapter with a lot of action.
Then the little Margaret had hushed her sobs, and tried to lie quiet as if asleep, for fear of making her father unhappy by her grief, which she dared not express before her aunt, and which she rather thought it was wrong to feel at all after the long hoping, and planning, and convincing they had gone through at home…
The reader, here, is present with a lot of information of Margaret’s past. She was sent to live with her aunt in London when she was very young. This wasn’t because her parents didn’t want her as a child anymore, this was solely for the purposes of her getting the opportunity to become better educated and require the fine mannerisms of the upper class, which she would not learn with her life in the parsonage. This was often done in those days, because this would give the young girl an opportunity to marry someone of a higher class so that she wouldn’t have to live in he same poverty of her family, since that was the only goal in life for a woman in those days. This is also very relevant to the marriage theme of the novel.
The next character that the reader is introduced to is Mr. Henry Lennox and he is the only character in this chapter who actually appears in other chapters, besides just this one. He happens to be the brother of Edith’s fiancï¿½ (Captain Lennox), which now makes him part of the family.
He liked and disliked pretty nearly the same things that she did. Margaret’s face was lightened up into an honest, open brightness. By-and-by he came. She received him with a smile which had not a tinge of shyness or self-consciousness.
This is a great example of Margaret’s character. It is inevitable that the Lennox’s come from a very wealthy family and since Henry Lennox is the oldest, he inherits all the wealth of the family. Since, in those days, women’s main goal in life was to get married rich to raise their social status, one would automatically assume that Margaret would flirt with him. But, instead she sees him as a friend and an intellectual equal. She doesn’t take importance to his wealth, which contrasts her greatly to Mrs. Shaw and her cousin, Edith.
“But are all these quite necessary?” asked Margaret, looking up straight at him for an answer. A sense of incredible weariness of all the arrangements for a pretty effect…
A very important word in that quote is “effect”. This is another implication by the author that the couple (Captain Lennox and Edith), aren’t really in love. What is being argued here is that usually people who really love each other will not make such a huge fuss of their wedding, because if you are in love all that matters is the presence of your partner in the ceremony. Once, again, this provides the reader with a contrast between Margaret and the Shaws and is a reminder to the marriage theme.
By reading the first chapter of this novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, it is relevant that she was a woman that was ahead of her times. Her sympathy of the lower classes and her humour towards the upper classes was not very common in the everyday beliefs of the people of that era. Gaskell was also a strong believer that there shouldn’t be such a cultural ignorance towards each class, which is very much a theme in North and South and is hinted many times in the first chapter. Even though there is an extreme contrast between the first chapter and the rest of the book, the first chapter serves more of a basis of comparison. In order for Gaskell to get her point across of how we should sympathize and “put ourselves in other people’s shoes”, she would have had to also mention the lives of the rich in order to make the reader aware of the huge difference between the rich south and the impoverished industrialized north; hence the title North and South.
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