Wedding Extra: North and South by Mrs Gaskell

published 1855

[Margaret has been helping organize her cousin Edith’s wedding]

'Yes,' said Margaret, rather sadly, remembering the never-ending commotion about trifles that had been going on for more than a month past: 'I wonder if a marriage must always be preceded by what you call a whirlwind, or whether in some cases there might not rather be a calm and peaceful time just before it.'

'Cinderella's godmother ordering the trousseau, the wedding-breakfast, writing the notes of invitation, for instance,' said Mr. Lennox, laughing. 

'But are all these quite necessary troubles?' asked Margaret, looking up straight at him for an answer. A sense of indescribable weariness of all the arrangements for a pretty effect , in which Edith had been busied as supreme authority for the last six weeks, oppressed her just now; and she really wanted some one to help her to a few pleasant, quiet ideas connected with a marriage.

'Oh, of course,' he replied with a change to gravity in his tone. 'There are forms and ceremonies to be gone through, not so much to satisfy oneself, as to stop the world's mouth, without which stoppage there would be very little satisfaction in life. But how would you have a wedding arranged?'

'Oh, I have never thought much about it; only I should like it to be a very fine summer morning; and I should like to walk to church through the shade of trees; and not to have so many bridesmaids, and to have no wedding-breakfast. I dare say I am resolving against the very things that have given me the most trouble just now.'

'No, I don't think you are. The idea of stately simplicity accords well with your character.'

observations: This is one of the books mentioned in my Guardian weddings post this week. There will be further entries on North and South (explaining more of the plot), but it also presented a great opportunity to show a wedding dress of 1855, the year it was published, along with a guest's outfit.

Margaret is showing her superiority to her cousin, and that she is not too vain and worldly. Her mother, on the other hand, doesn’t even attend her niece’s wedding, because of the lack of a good enough dress to wear. Her rich sister doesn’t understand: 
'Married for love, what can dearest Maria have to wish for in this world?'

Mrs. Hale, if she spoke truth, might have answered with a ready-made list, 'a silver-grey glace silk, a white chip bonnet, oh! dozens of things for the wedding, and hundreds of things for the house.'
Margaret wears white for the wedding – 100 years later that would be bad form, white clothes on a wedding guest were much frowned on – but we don’t find out what Edith wears, and although (SPOILER!) Margaret will be married in the end, we do not see what she wears either. But we do hear a lot about vain Fanny Thornton, marrying a rich manufacturer and taking endless trouble over the wedding-clothes:
the maid held up one glossy material after another, to try the effect of the wedding-dresses by candlelight.
Margaret is invited to a fancy dinner party, so it is a good thing she has the old wedding guest outfit to wear – her young friend Bessy is quite concerned:
'But them ladies dress so grand!' said Bessy, with an anxious look at Margaret's print gown, which her Milton eyes appraised at sevenpence a yard.
But she is reassured by the news of the white silk. ‘That’ll do’ she says.

The picture is a fashion plate of 1855, from the NY Public Library.


  1. I exhausted the wedding-fashion portion of my brain yesterday, so will need to recover and I'll avoid this one. Sensory over-load.

    1. Fair enough, I can see it'd be over-exciting. I'll see if I can get back to hemming or plain bonnets next week.

  2. Moira - What an interesting look at weddings of that time. I like Margaret's attitude towards weddings, actually. Even today I'm always surprised at the amount of time, expense and so on that some people go to for a wedding. But then, I'm one of those 'less is more' sorts, I suppose.

    1. Yes, you always wonder who those people are who want the fancy, expensive weddings, don't you. Apart from valuing simplicity for its own sake, I can think of better things to do with the money...

  3. I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gaskell (I think its the Manchester connection). Thanks for featuring her book.

    1. She's such a great writer isn't she? And I agree, it's nice to have a 19th century writer dealing with Manchester and Lancashire - the southerners and the Yorkshire Brontes usually get the attention.

  4. That is a lovely print you used. Margaret and I are in accord. I will be interested to hear more about the book later.

    1. There are some great fashion pictures at the New York Public Library collection, Tracy, a real resource for me. Margaret in the book is quite serious, but she has some views that I think resonate with modern women.


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