Hale treated all of his fellow-creatures alike — it never entered his head to make any difference because of their rank. He placed a chair for Nicholas, stood up till he, at Mr. Hale's request, took a seat; and called him, invariably," Mr. Higgins," instead of the curt "Nicholas" or "Higgins," to which the "drunken infidel weaver" had been accustomed. But as he would have himself expressed it: and he was infidel so far as he had never yet found any form of faith to which he could attach himself, heart and soul. Margaret was a little surprised, and very much pleased, when she found her father and Higgins in earnest conversation each speaking with gentle politeness to each other, however their opinions might clash. Nicholas--clean, tidied (if only at the pump-trough), and quiet spoken--was a new creature to her, who had only seen him in the rough independence of his own hearthstone. (E. Gaskell, North and South, 1854) Decorative Initial T

he moral equality of the economic classes, a topic stressed in North and South, did not find the same emphasis in Jane Eyre. Unlike North and South, which was meant to affect a broad audience, Jane Eyre was an intensely personal novel which never addressed the topic of economic classism seriously. If anything, Jane Eyre contained elements that would seem to contradict North and South. Evidence of the disparity between the concepts of class and privilege between Jane Eyre and North and South can be found by examining the writing styles of Gaskell and Bronte, and the role of class values in Victorian England.

In North and South, Margaret continuously criticized the British class system of classism. She remarks, for example: "It won't be division enough on that awful day, that some of us have been beggars here, and some of us have been rich, — we shall not be judged by that poor accident, but by our faithful following of Christ." Throughout the book, Margaret must come to terms with the effects of the class system. Her relationship with Higgins and Bessy teach her that people are people no matter where they may come from or the social status they have. In addition, Thornton's development in the novel stems from his realization that all men are special in all regards. As Margaret demonstrated, "Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm." In Jane Eyre, a discussion of classism doesn't appear as clearly. Jane accepts that everyone should know what their class in society should be. She draws distinctions between the servants, herself, and members of the upper class. Even though Jane had reason to dislike the Ingrams and their party, she maintained a subservient attitude when in their presence.

The settings of North and South and Jane Eyre affected their view of class. Although Milton and Millcote both represent northern manufacturing towns, Gaskell portrays a more accurate view of society than does Bronte. Of the working classes she comments, "They came rushing along, with bold, fearless faces, and loud laughs and jests, particularly aimed at all those who appeared to be above them in rank or station. The tones of their unrestrained voices and their carelessness of all the common rules of street politeness, frightened Margaret." Jane never really entered a town setting, as Margaret did, so she did not witness the effects of class distinctions as Margaret could.

In Victorian England, a great stratification existed between the upper and lower classes. The upper classes claimed that the lower classes "cannot be associated in any regular way with industrial or family life," and that their "ultimate standard of life is almost savage, both in its simplicity and in its excesses." (Reader, Victorian England, 117-119, 1973) A lack of adequate nutrition, medicinal care, and sanitary resources also contributed to the stigma attached to poor people. The disease and malnutrition that ran rampant among the poor caused 'stunted physiques" and pale countenances that caused not only economic division between the classes, but also physical division as well.

Content last modified 1993