North and South

North and South


Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 48 Summary & Analysis

Margaret continues to wearily endure the Lennoxes’ superficial dinner-parties. She continues to hope for news that Mr. Bell has gone to Milton and spoken to Mr. Thornton, and that the trip to Spain might yet happen. Finally, she receives a letter announcing Bell’s impending visit to London, mentioning his intention to see a doctor there. However, the visit is deferred, and Margaret soon receives a letter from his servant explaining that Bell has suffered an apoplectic fit and isn’t expected to survive the night.
Just when Margaret has hope of a diversion from the tedium of London life, her last living link with her former life (besides Dixon) is suddenly taken from her.
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Edith weeps bitterly at coming into indirect contact with someone who might soon be dead. She finally remembers Margaret and finds her cousin packing for the train to Oxford. Aunt Shaw becomes hysterical at the suddenness of it all, and Margaret misses the train. Because Margaret insists—“she was surprised herself at the firmness with which she asserted something of her right to independence of action”—she catches the following train, chaperoned by Captain Lennox.
The contrast between the Shaws and Margaret couldn’t be greater—the Shaws react in stereotypically feminine ways to the proximity to death, while—as she has done so many times before—Margaret immediately acts. She is hampered by her relatives’ Southern upper-class mindset about the propriety of women traveling independently.
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret is thankful to have made the journey to Oxford, though she learns on arrival that Mr. Bell had died in the night. On the way home, she weeps over her “fatal year,” for “no sooner was she fully aware of one loss than another came—not to supersede her grief for the one before, but to re-open wounds and feelings scarcely healed.”
Margaret’s reflections on the trauma of successive deaths have a striking realism—grief doesn’t function in a linear, predictable way, especially when one grief is quickly compounded by another.
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
That night, as Margaret sits in her childhood nursery, she remembers her childhood promise “to live as brave and noble a life as any heroine she ever read or heard of in romance…it had seemed to her then that she had only to will, and such a life would be accomplished.” She now understands that prayer is necessary in addition to will.
Though Margaret has many times exercised her strong will in admirable ways, she has faced her weaknesses as well, and discovered that heroism isn’t something that can be achieved through a simple act of will. Life is not a romantic story.
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
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