The decision by Margaret Hale's father to resign his living resembles those which appear in Froude's Nemesis of Faith, Mary Arnold Ward's Robert Ellsmere, and many other Victorian novels and autobiographies. In North and South this spiritual decision, which many modern readers might find difficult honoring, generates the novel by forcing Margaret and the Hale household to abandon their apparently idyllic existence and encounter different classes, economic attitudes, and living conditions. The late-twentieth-century reader must ask does such a plot device contribute to the novel's commitment to realism. On what grounds can we answer such a question?
In the following passage Mr. Hale informs his daughter of his decision.
"I must no longer be a minister in the Church of England. . . . I can meet the consequences of my painful, miserable doubts; but it is an effort beyond me to speak of what has caused me so much suffering."
"Doubts, pap! Doubts as to religion?" asked Margaret, more shocked than ever.
"No! not doubts as to religion; not the slightest injury to that. . . . You could not understand it all, if I told you — my anxiety, for years past, to know whether I had any right to hold my living — my efforts to quench my smouldering doubts by the authority of the Church. Oh! Margaret, how I love the holy Church from which I am to be shut out!" He could not go on for a moment or two. Margaret could not tell what to say; it seemed to her as terribly mysterious as if her father were about to turn Mohammedan. . . . The one staid foundation of her home, of her idea of her beloved father, seemed reeling and rocking. . . .
"Margaret, dear!" said he, drawing her closer, "think of the early martyrs; think of the thousands who have suffered."
"But, father," said she, suddenly lifting her flushed, tear-wet face, "the early martyrs sufferede for the truth, while you — oh! dear, dear papa!"
"I suffer for conscience' sake, my child . . . I must do what my conscience bids. . . Your poor mother's fond wish, gratified at last in the mocking way in which over-fond wishes are too often fulfilled — Sodom apples as they are — has brought on this crisis, for which I ought to be, and hope I am thankful. It is not a month since the bishop offered me another living; if I had accepted it, I should have had to make a fresh declaration of conformity to the Liturgy at my institution. . . . [Chapter 4]
The hard reality was that, her father had so admitted tempting doubts into his mind as to become a schismatic — an outcast. [Chapter 5]
Created c.1994; last modified 25 March 2000