"And I think, if this should be the end of it all, and if all I've been born for is just to work my heart and life away, and to sicken i' this dree place, wi' them mill noises in my ears for ever, until I could scream out for them to stop, and let me have a little piece of quiet- and wi' the fluff filling my lungs... I could go mad..."
In this passage, Gaskell layers image upon image in order to build to an emotional climax, a technique we discussed in class called additive style. This technique allows the language to build momentum and intensity as it moves forward. In this way, Gaskell achieves great power in presenting the full force of suffering in Bessy (the character speaking in this passage) and in evoking feelings of sympathy within both Margaret Hale and the reader. This is comparable to the sentiment Dickens brings out in his interpolated tales.
The tragedy found in the interpolated tales is a marked contrast to the body of The Pickwick Papers which is comical. The following excerpt is similar to the passage above. It relates the speech of a hysterically frightened, dying man in "The Stroller's Tale":
"Don't let her come near me," said the man, with a shudder, as she stooped over him. "Drive her away; I can't bear her near me." He stared wildly at her, with a look of deadly apprehension, and then whispered in my ear, "I beat her, Jem; I beat her yesterday, and many times before. I have starved her and the boy too; and now I am weak and helpless, Jem, she'll murder me for it; I know she will. If you'd seen her cry, as I have, you'd know it too. Keep her off." (108)
The next line is, "'He relaxed his grasp, and sank back exhausted on the pillow" (108), very similar to the last line to the passage above from North and South, "She fell back completely worn out with her passion" (145). Both of these paragraphs are designed with accelerated speech rhythms so that the reader and the character feel the same rush throughout the speech and fall back to take a breath with the characters by the end. This relationship achieved between reader and character is the effect of pathos which Dickens and Gaskell exemplify so strongly in their writing.
Dickens and Gaskell were trying to portray the seriously poor working-class conditions to a potentially unsympathetic audience. Bessy is Gaskell's dying character who is but nineteen years old. A former factory worker, she breathed too many cotton fibers into her lungs, nearly went deaf from the noise of machinery, wore herself down with long days and the little food she had on the table, and got consumption. In "The Stroller's Tale," an alcoholic actor loses job after job, can't make a living and so leaves his family, only to come back drunk, insane, and dying. Here Dickens shows the evil side of liquor when the poor and starving are driven to drink and describes a world antithetical to the upper middle- class world of his novel.
The urban, working- class conditions of Victorian England were hideous. Standards of sanitation were very low and often not met, overcrowding and low salaries led to starvation and high illness and mortality rates. M.W. Flynn remarks, "safeguarding a normal span of human life could not be afforded on any income under, say, 30s a week," which was more than twice as much as most labourers earned (Landow, "Wages and the Quality of Life"). "The average age of Ôlabourers, mechanics, and servants, etc.' at times of death was only fifteen" (Laurelyn Douglas, "Health and Hygiene"). It is lucky that Bessy and Dickens's actor lived as long as they did, rare indeed that the actor lived long enough to have a son who himself survived infancy. In some cities at this time, up to thirty families would use the same water pump. "In Soho's St. Anne's parish, for example, the feces of an infant stricken with cholera washed down into the water reserve from which the local pump drew, and almost all those using the pump were infected" (Douglas).
Last modified 1996