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MHS Library | North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell


Why does Gaskell present this description of Margaret in part from Mr. Thornton's point of view instead of only using her omniscient narrator?

Mr. Thornton had thought that the house in Crampton was really just the thing; but now that he saw Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales, in spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the time of his looking it over.

Margaret could not help her looks; but the short curled upper lip, the round, massive upturned chin, the manner of carrying her chin, her movements, full of a soft feminine defiance, always gave strangers the impression of haughtiness. She was tired now, and would rather have remained silent. . . . but of course, she owed to herself to be a gentlewoman, and to speak courtesously from time to time to this stranger; not over-brushed, nor over-polished, it must be confessed, after his rough encounter with Milton streets and crowds. . . . She sat facing him and facing the light; her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve; her eyes with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden freedom. He almost said to himself thast he did not like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked on her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he told himself he was — a great rough fellow, with not a grace or refinement about him. Her quiet coldness of demeanous he interpreted as contemptuousness. [North and South, Chapter 7]

Details of female beauty reveal much about a particular culture's conceptions of beauty, gender, sexuality, and status. What details of Margaret's appearance does the narrator provide, how do they relate to literary realism, and with what other details are the physical description supplemented? Why?

What details that you might expect to encounter are missing?

And do you think a male and a female writer would have handled this combination of description and characterization in the same way?

Source: The Victorian Web