This essay offers a significant reconceptualization of Jane Austen’s influence on political novelists of the mid-nineteenth century by examining Elizabeth Gaskell’s extensive use of Pride and Prejudice (1813) in her novel North and South (1855). At a moment when the political dimensions of Austen’s fictions were fading to obscurity, Gaskell drew on Austen’s portrayal of domestic relationships to underscore their relevance to “public” problems. On this view, the Austenian courtship plot does not contain political anxieties so much as animate them, with the logic of complementary coupling providing a formal and thematic model for the dialectical engagements necessary for navigating social conflict. At the same time, Gaskell uses Austenian motifs to dramatize the “marriageability” of different generic frameworks during a time of regional fragmentation while also envisioning Austen as a parental figure whose legacy called for continuing negotiation.

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