'North and South' and the Sea: Geography, Labour, and ‘Condition of England’ Fiction



'North and South', Elizabeth Gaskell, the sea, condition of England, mutiny


This article explores the literary geographies through which Elizabeth Gaskell negotiates ethical and social questions in North and South (1854-55). Specifically, it examines the novel’s (dis)connecting of maritime and urban spaces, characters, concerns, and languages, as well as how gendered and class identities are forged within these spheres. The industrial-dispute plot of North and South is mirrored, in complex ways, by the sub-plot concerning Frederick Hale’s mutiny on the Orion. Heroic figures succeed by applying the lessons of seafaring craft which the novel’s naval personnel seem unable to compute, or to bring to bear upon the plot. The protagonist Margaret Hale’s absorption of these heroic traits also is complicated by the novel’s conception of the gendered limitations of a female protagonist. By focusing on the novel’s ambivalent explorations of seafaring and its relevance to life on dry land, this article reveals the occlusion of maritime work from the narrative economies that formulated the Victorian ‘condition of England’. It presents a complex case study of how the Victorian realist novel assigns weight and importance to certain terrestrial contexts of labour over maritime ones.


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