Living in the Book: North and South


I can’t stop reading the Brontës, and in a study of those ladies, undisciplined as it is, Gaskell seems to be required reading as well.  Like Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, North and South deals with the social implications of economic decline for manufacturers and laborers during the first half of the 19th century, and as in Brontë’s Villette, Gaskell’s heroine Margaret Hale suffers paralyzing affliction, but maintains grace, authority, and fortitude despite all.  Which is to say, oh my god, this book is so sad.  But while I’ve been known to mock heroines for their foibles and failures in judgment, Margaret Hale is above critique.  Looooove this book.  And John Thornton.  John Thornton is the Heathcliff of the working class, a Mr. Darcy with Dickensian grittiness.  It’s a beautiful, fantastic novel.  And here are my contemporary pairings for some of the beautiful, fantastic descriptions.

Camilla Dress from Anthropogie, $138

[Edith] lay curled up on the sofa in the back drawing-room in Harley Street, looking very lovely in her white muslin and blue ribbons.  If Titania had ever been dressed in white muslin and blue ribbons, and had fallen asleep on a crimson damask sofa in a back drawing-room, Edith might be taken for her.

Caresse Jersey Wrap Dress by Malene Birger, $99

No one thought about it; but Margaret’s tall, finely made figure, in the black silk dress which she was wearing as mourning for some distant relative of her father’s, set off the long beautiful folds of the gorgeous shawls that would have smothered Edith.

Poppytalk Dress by Scarfu, $54

[Edith] found out that the water in the urn was cold, and ordered up the great kitchen tea-kettle; the only consequence of which was that when she met it at the door, and tried to carry it in, it was too heavy for her, and she came in pouting, with a black mark on her muslin gown, and a little round white hand indented by the handle, which she took to show Captain Lennox, just like a hurt child, and, of course, the remedy was the same in both cases.

One Shoulder Gray Drape Dress, by Overlap on Etsy, $86

Her mother had been detained at home by a multitude of half-reasons, none of which anybody fully understood, except Mr. Hale, who was perfectly aware that all his arguments in favour of a grey satin gown, which was midway between oldness and newness, had proved unavailing; and that as he had not the money to equip his wife afresh, from top to toe, she would not show herself at her only sister’s only child’s wedding.

Silk Cowl Back Drape Dress from Top Shop, $135

Perhaps it was not quite a logical deduction from all these premises, but it was still Mrs. Shaw’s characteristic conclusion, as she thought over her sister’s lot:  “Married for love, what can dearest Maria have to wish for in this world?” Mrs. Hale, if she spoke the truth, might have answered with a ready-made list, “a silver-grey glacé silk, a white chip bonnet, oh! dozens of things for the wedding, and hundreds of things for the house.”

Short and Sweet Half Apron, by Wonderland Avenue on Etsy, $23.50

Mrs. Hale took off her black silk apron, and smoothed her face.  She looked a very pretty lady-like woman, as she greeted Mr. Lennox with the cordiality due to one who is almost a relation.

Rose Necklaces, by The Chartreuse Room on Etsy, $18 each

Mr. Hale had preceded them into the house, while Margaret was lingering to pluck some roses, with which to adorn her morning gown for dinner.

Blue and Black Lattice Pattern Vintage Silk Dress, from Dark Bloom Vintage on Etsy, $80

Her dress was very plain:  a close straw bonnet of the best material and shape, trimmed with white ribbon; a dark silk gown, without any trimming or flounce; a large Indian shawl, which hung about her in long heavy folds, and which she wore as an empress wears her drapery.

Vintage Table Cloth, by Moozle Home on Etsy, $80

She was mending a large long table-cloth of the finest texture, holding it up against the light occasionally to discover thin places, which required her delicate care.

Floral Strappy Smock Dress, from Topshop, $100

It appeared to Mr. Thornton that all these graceful cares were habitual to the family; and especially of a piece with Margaret.  She stood by the tea-table in a light-coloured muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink about it.

White and Gold Porcelain Teacups and Saucers, from Seaside Vintage on Etsy, $15

She looked as if she was not attending the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness.

Gold Leaf Bangle Bracelet, by Frosted Willow on Etsy, $14.50

She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist.  Mr. Thornton watched the re-placing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father.

Whether You Lilac It or Not Dress, from ModCloth, $100

“[Manufactories] are very curious places,” said Mrs. Hale, “but there is so much noise and dirt always.  I remember once going in a lilac silk to see candles made, and my gown was utterly ruined.”

Silk Crepe de Chine Printed Dress by Tucker, $330

“I never knew why folk in the Bible cared for soft raiment afore.  But it must be nice to go dresses as yo’ do.  It’s different fro’ common.  Most fine folk tire my eyes out wi’ their colours; but some how yours rest me.  Where did ye get this frock?”

Lucine Dress by Eskell, $206

At last Mrs. Thornton came in, rustling in handsome black silk, as was her wont; her muslins and laces rivalling, not excelling, the pure whiteness of the muslins and netting of the room.

Petites Cream Tiered Dress from Miss Selfridge, £38

“If you like, mamma. But if the worst comes to the worst, I’ve a very nice pink gauze which aunt Shaw gave me, only two or three months before Edith was married.  That can’t have gone yellow.”

Jewel Dress, from Karen Millen, $350

“No! but it may have faded.”

“Well! then I’ve a green silk.  I feel more as if it was the embarrassment of riches.”

Dear Creatures Atrium Striped Seersucker Dress, from Ruche, $116

“But them ladies is so grand!” said Bessy, with an anxious look at Margaret’s print gown, which her Milton eyes appraised at sevenpence a yard.

Drifting By Dress from Anthropologie, $168

“Thank you, Bessy, for thinking so kindly about my looking nice among all the smart people.  But I’ve plenty of grand gowns,–a week ago, I should have said they were far too grand for anything I should ever want again.  But as I am to dine at Mr. Thornton’s, and perhaps to meet the mayor, I shall put on my very best gown, you may be sure […] White silk,” said Margaret.  “A gown I had for a cousin’s wedding a year ago.”

Cameo Hairpin Set, from Originals by Lynnette on Etsy, $22

Margaret’s black hair was too thick to be plaited; it needed rather to be twisted round and round, and have its fine silkiness compressed into massive coils, that encircled her head like a crown, and then were gathered into a large spiral knot behind.  She kept it’s weight together by two large coral pins, like small arrows for length.

Moorea Sponge Coral Bead and Brass Hoop Necklace, by Nesting Nomad on Etsy, $22

Her white silk sleeves were looped up with strings of the same material, and on her neck, just below the base of her curved and milk-white throat, there lay heavy coral beads.

Cream Broderie Dress, from Dorothy Perkins, £25

And as he looked with this intention, he was struck anew with her great beauty.  He had never seen her in such dress before; and yet now it appeared as if such elegance of attire was so befitting her noble figure and lofty serenity of countenance, that she out to go always thus apparelled.

Stretch Flannel del Pelato Shift Dress, from J. Crew, $178

He was startled by the sense of the presence of some one else in the room.  He turned round.  She had come in so gently, that he had never heard her; the street noises had been more distinct to his attentive ear than her slow movements, in her soft muslin gown.

Green Rose Cameo Hair Combs, by Prudence Mae Patterns on Etsy, $9.50

Then, feebly leaning on her arms for an instant to steady herself, Margaret gathered herself up, and rose.  Her comb had fallen out of her hair; and with an intuitive desire to efface the traces of weakness, and bring herself into order again, she sought for it, although from time to time, in the course of the search, she had to sit down and recover strength.

Multi Georgette Belted Dress, from Dorothy Perkins, $60

“Oh, Dixon! not those horrid blue flowers to that dead gold-coloured gown.  What taste! Wait a minute, and I will bring you some pomegranate blossoms.”           “It’s not a dead gold-colour, ma’am. It’s a straw-colour. And blue always goes with straw-colour.”


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