This page on The Word Count Times is host to my final project, an essay:
“Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855):
the Village Narrative as a Backdrop”
Yes, there are four sections in the essay…it’s trying very hard to be top-notch.
The first three sections argue that in North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell uses the “village narrative” as a backdrop to show how social and class realities changed during her time, the height of the Industrial Revolution. My essay attempts to prove that the text is aware of the village narrative within it- it is NOT trying to replicate it or pretending to be an accurate part of the genre (which opposes Franco Moretti- he’s coming-up). The village narrative is used in the novel.
But anyway! You’re probably thinking about “village narratives” and what the significance of their genre is…
While reading Franco Moretti’s description of so-called “village narratives” and their circular narrative mapping in his work: Graphs, Maps, and Trees (2005), I was inspired to experiment with mapping a village narrative myself.
So, what is a village narrative?
A “village narrative” is a story (novel, series, etc.) that dates back to, roughly, the 1820s. These stories took place in the English countryside right before the Industrial Revolution really took hold of the entire country (and before other forces disintegrated them). They are stories where the narrator lives in a quaint village and spends most of their time walking through forests and meadows, and happily, in circles. Or rather, in a circle.
Towards the 1850s, these narratives, at least according to Moretti, had exhausted themselves. Not only because they became exaggerated and inaccurate in terms of the reality of the changing time, but because outside forces, i.e. the Industrial Revolution, caused them to become exaggerated and inaccurate in terms of reality of the changing time (Moretti, 57).
Now you may be wondering, how do you map a narrative?
Well, Moretti certainly figured it out. You do it by following the narrative space and social geography- the movement of the narrator and the landscape described in the story and the space in which members of the villages community reside, from the market to cottages. Then you ask questions as you closely read the narrator’s movements: where does the narrator walk to? After walking, do they go straight home? Do they go far from home? If so, do they extend outside of the parish? Who do they interact with and where?
If the narrative IS in fact a “village narrative”, than the “narrative is not linear…it is circular,” (Moretti, 37). The narrator creates petals, all of which attach at a center, which is typically the village’s church (Moretti, 39). In North and South, as I discovered, this occurred! The heroine, Margaret Hale, created such petals- it was as if she was made to make them by Gaskell (which, as I argue in my essay, I think she was).
Here is a screenshot of the circular pattern I found wrapping around Helstone, the home of the village narrative in North and South:
The green icons represent the inner circle- where Margaret lives, her father’s parish (which is the CENTER of Helstone- very significant in my essay), and the green, which separates the inner circle from the outer ones.
The middle circle, represented by the blue icons, is the space of the village itself: the homes of the village’s workers, the market, and the school. These are places that Margaret would (though it is not strictly mentioned in the text), only walk to on errand, or on the pretense of helping a villager.
Now the outside circle, with the black icons, is very important. It represents the degree of which Margaret’s leisurely walks (which is her favorite thing to do), extend.
Lastly, the black lines represent Margaret’s paths. While the rose symbols indicate gardens, which stand as decorative in the text (almost as decorative as Margaret’s leisurely walks).
Now, this was a creative process, so there were failures and few success (the biggest success being that there IS a system of circles in North and South, meaning that the village narrative IS there).
However- plot twist!! There are not only circles in the text. Any time spent outside of Helstone creates a triangle. This time spent outside of the literal village narrative, Helstone, takes place in Milton, the industrial town that Margaret and her family move to. London is also thrown into the mix too.
And here it, the triangle, is:
One could say that the purple icons create a fourth circle, as I did before I inserted the black lines, AKA “routes and trails.”
The triangle is a sight that can’t be unseen. It reveals potential for a new type of narrative, one that is not exclusively tied to the village narrative. The village narrative constitutes as one of the triangle’s three points, which means that the village narrative in North and South is only a third of the narrative- that is has been specifically designed.
But that is an adventure for another day…when I am ready to write another ten-plus page paper.
For now, if you want, you can play with my map. Be sure to click on the icons for descriptions and quotes from the book. Quick tip: do NOT scroll down on the map, only because scrolling plays with the “zooming in and out” feature, which messes-up the aesthetic I’ve worked so hard to perfect.
(1) John Constable was a Romantic landscape painter. I decided to include this specific painting, because of its imagery- an imagery much like that depicted in a village narrative. From cow, to church, to leisurely walking couple.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Print. Originally published in “Household Words” between 1854-1855 and then in two volumes in 1855.
Moretti, Franco. “Maps” Graphs, Maps, and Trees. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2005. 35-63. Print.