North Versus South: One Nation Divided by a Common Meal (Tea)

On May 21st, JASNA-NJ will discuss Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South (1854), as a complement to our annual focus on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (1813). Unlike Austen’s comedy of manners, Gaskell’s “State of England” novel takes its name from a regional divide, rather than a clash of values. Even today, the divides between the northern and southern regions of England and the differences thereof are a subject of debate. Gaskell’s North, as personified by the fictional Milton (a stand-in for the very real 19th century industrial hub of Manchester), is a cold, dirty, polluted world where human life is measured in economic rather than moral value in the eyes of its heroine, the Southerner Margaret Hale. Gradually, through her personal (romantic and otherwise) relationships, Margaret comes to soften in her views. But she still longs for most of the book for the agriculturally-focused, less crowded, and, in her view, more personal and human world of the South.

Tea to the left of me, coffee to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with scones…

The North-South divide in the UK has grown even more complex since Gaskell’s era, but on a lighter note, it can be seen some of the regional differences in vocabulary. When I lived in the UK in the 1990s, I remember being taken aback when some of my friends referred to their evening meal as “tea.” They were clearly not speaking of a afternoon repast of Earl Grey and cake. Still more confusingly, only SOME of them did this, not all.

Gradually, operating in the pre-Google era as I was, it dawned on me that my friends who’d grown up in the north of England were referring to their evening dinner as “tea.” Now, YouGov from the UK has a handy map so visitors won’t make the same mistake I did. The article on this linguistic difference here is a fun read.

Alas, poor Margaret Hale’s confusion about the ways of the North aren’t nearly as easily alleviated!

Your tea if you’re from the north of the UK, perhaps!

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