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north south elizabeth gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is more a novel of sentiment than socio-political analysis....


Novels are not lectures, diatribes or "statements to the house." To compare them with such addresses would not be comparing "like with like." Yet, they can be far more powerful as a means of speaking out about the truth of the lives of everyday people. To do this they are highly observant, descriptive and must appeal to readers' curiosity by  involving a "human interest" element. This can be a far more powerful publicity strategy and can influence public opinion greatly. Often, the human interest storylines can be dismissed as sentimentality. However, in North and South, Gaskell displays her true credentials as a believer in equality and daughter of a Unitarian. A strong belief in education and equality is evident. Other novels by highly regarded authors such as Dickens come into the same category. In fact, Dickens was so touched by Gaskell's work that he asked her to contribute to influential publications. A novelist of purely populist sentimental fame would not have been asked. The city of Manchester had many other influential  reformers of society and a sentimental novelist would not be counted among them had her work not had true political impact. Sadly, she toned this down in her later life, possibly due to fearing the same crticism of "coarseness" that she herself supported against the work of Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights when she wrote the author's biography.

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