North and South

An Eye for an Eye: Gazing and Courtship in Gaskell’s North and South

Although Margaret Hale and John Thornton do not fall in love ‘at first sight,’ sight, or gazing, plays an important role in the asymmetrical power relations implicit in the courtship of the protagonists in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” introduced the now-familiar concept of the gaze. Taking the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan as the basis for her theory, Mulvey argues that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (39). The voyeuristic gaze, traditionally wielded by a male, has the ability to reduce a woman – that is, fetishize or objectify her – in a way that renders her passive. Mulvey explicates Freud’s concept of scopophilia, or pleasure in looking, and asserts that in “their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact” (40). While Mulvey’s theory is based in film studies, Nalini Paul suggests that “the phenomenon of gazing in literature strikes relevant parallels with gazing in film theory” (1). Thus, the application of this theory to North and South sheds light on the...

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