Did Gaskell rush the ending of North & South?


When a story keeps lovers apart until the final few pages, it can be hard for readers to feel satisfied. Many of us wanted to see more--much more. But was the story complete up to those last few written words?

I wrote about Gaskell's ending at West of Milton exactly three years ago. (Lori's blog has some wonderful discussions. Check them out!) This week I'll be camping in northern California, so I'm cheating by posting an old piece. I hope it will be new to many of you!


Rushed or Merely Abrupt?

Have you ever read comments about North and South that refer to Gaskell’s rushed ending? The subject of the story’s rapid conclusion regularly appears in reviews of the book and in other discussions.

I’ve been noting these kinds of comments for some time and have been mulling over what it is that people are really trying to say about Elizabeth Gaskell’s work when they mention her ending. Too often, I believe, the assumption is that Dickens’ editorial deadlines adversely affected Gaskell’s ability to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion.

There is truth in the matter of her being initially rushed, however, I think a distinction ought to be made between whether the plot or character development of Gaskell’s story was permanently damaged or if the story is developed well but ends somewhat abruptly. The difference, I believe, is in the reader’s interpretation of the story itself.

There’s no real debate as to whether or not her ending is abrupt. It sure is. We spend all that time and anguish waiting for our lovers to come together. And when they finally kiss, that’s it – story’s over. No long discussions over past regrets, no letting us see how Hannah reacts, not even a mention of Fred, who caused more trouble than we could have ever first conceived. Many of Georgette Heyer’s famed Regency romance novels end exactly in this same manner, leaving the reader to divine how everything will work out once the lovers are clearly set upon a short path to matrimony.

Of course we are left wanting more. There’s so much more that could be told! But I’m satisfied that the story leading to this moment is complete. In fact, one could even argue that Gaskell dwelled on Margaret’s time in London and Helstone – apart from Thornton – a little too long. What elements of the story do some readers suppose are rushed? Does Margaret need more time to convince herself that the Milton manufacturer has a heart? I don’t see her keeping track of Thornton’s progress in the realm of master-worker relations or wishing he were kinder and more compassionate. She knows he has a heart and has full faith in his character. Does Gaskell need to bring out more how much Thornton has changed? The conversation during the London dinner party elaborates upon how much Thornton’s ideals have evolved since he began working with Higgins.

I think it’s possible that those who label Gaskell’s novel as rushed may be overlooking some pertinent and lesser-known facts concerning the final edition of North and South. Everyone seems to know that Gaskell was rushed to finish her work, however not everyone seems to know the details involved.


Leave your comments at either site. Lori and I both love to talk about North and South!