Gender Roles In Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North And South'

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Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South (1855) has always been considered as one of, if not the best, of her literary works. It is structured upon the decay of the public spheres of civil society and its substitution with a more heterogeneous public forum of the entire nation’s voices (Bodenheimer 2008). Shirley was Charlotte Bronte’s second published novel after Jane Eyre in 1849. Shirley is described as cheerful, lively, kind and full of ideas on how to use her money (Bronte, 1849); all the traits that aren’t expected of a woman at those times. This novel, therefore, focuses on English middle-class women, specifically single women, who become subject to victimisation in the contemporary society. Both stories illustrate a great deal in how the traditional gender roles were subverted and especially towards the role of the female gender in the society during the industrial revolution period leading us to pose the question “To what extent are gender roles subverted in “North and South” and “Shirley?” In this case, by discussing subversion, I imply ‘undermine’, or ‘bring-down’ since its one of the common themes illustrated in the two novels.
The word ‘subverted’ is suited for the topic of discussion as it clearly shows the meaning of what goes on in the two novels; that is, the female gender has been undermined, and they also overcome the stereotype (they subvert the stereotype). In North and South, Margaret comes out to subvert that notion, and bring about the idea of being

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