Mary Barton, north and south, and Shirley: women and faith in industrial England
West, Helen Knapp
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In Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë’s industrial novels, Mary Barton, North and South and Shirley, the female protagonists display increased agency as they move between the public and private sectors. The authors incorporate a critique of Christian institutions into their industrial texts, insisting that the church must not ignore the plight of women and the industrial poor. Inspired by her belief in Jem’s innocence, Mary Barton moves from the domestic realm and into a public courtroom. North and South focuses on the development of female influence. Shirley points to the possibility of a new, elevated place for women within a spiritual context. Reflecting the crises of the times in which they were written, these novels illustrate that the experience of crises instigates change, and that the crises facing industrial England called for transformation in terms of politics, religion and sexual roles.