In her novel North and South (1854–55), the nineteenth-century British writer Elizabeth Gaskell suggests an innovative practice of conversational rhetoric involving diverse stakeholders. Through the story of Margaret Hale and her efforts to help mill workers and millowners negotiate their seemingly intractable conflicts in the fictional city of Milton, she sets forth a dialogic process in which both male and female interlocutors bring their reasoning and experience to the table, recognize the value of other interlocutors, and establish bonds of sympathy beyond their individual interests, thus breathing new life into the art of conversational rhetoric. Exploring this art of conversation—which both aligns with and diverges from the work of the eighteenth-century Scots theorists (such as Hugh Blair and George Campbell), Richard Whately, and Thomas De Quincey as well as the women’s conduct book tradition and the fiction of female writers of the era such as Almira Phelps, Louisa Tuthill, and Harriet Martineau—is the focus of this study. Both extending and complicating Enlightenment and Romantic rhetorical thinking, Gaskell’s contribution to the rhetorical tradition deserves recognition and further investigation.

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