Mini-Lesson Monday, Lesson #210 (Part 1): Intermediate and Advanced English Vocabulary (through Gaskell’s ‘North and South’)

As an intermediate or advanced level student of English, it can be hard to learn new vocabulary without understanding how to use them correctly in a sentence.

For that reason, students are often encouraged to read more and more, but that in itself can become an overwhelming experience without the right kind of support from a teacher ready to explain how the vocabulary works in that context! 😯

So for today’s Lesson I am going to share two passages from Chapter 2 of one of my top favourite novels (in my top 3 favourites): Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1854). 📚

This is a perfect text to look at in a longer Lesson like today’s, because it has a wide range of intermediate level (CEFR Level B1-B2) and some advanced level (CEFR C1-C2) words that are used by native English speakers, but are often missed or not discovered by language students.

I have highlighted the words in the text below, and provide a short list of definitions or explanations following them. In total, we will cover about a hundred of these words and expressions – so be ready to learn something new (even I learned one new word among these today)!


Margaret Hale is a 19-year-old woman who has been living with her rich aunt and cousin in London for most of her life. Her parents, being poorer and not having the opportunity to educate her properly, had sent her to live with her relations in town, hoping that this would improve Margaret’s future life.

When the story begins for us the readers, Margaret is preparing to leave her aunt in London after her cousin’s wedding; she is excited to be returning home to live with her parents in the countryside and looks forward to going for long walks, reading, talking with her family, and visiting the poor people in the village.

However, when she arrives she quickly realises that neither of her parents are very happy. Her father is nearly always worried (she doesn’t know what about) and finds comfort in going to his study room to read philosophical books. Meanwhile Margaret’s mother is always worrying about her health and complaining that they don’t live in as good circumstances as Margaret’s rich aunt in London.

Margaret is a lively, hopeful and cheerful girl, so she sets about trying to please her parents and enjoy her time at home – reading, studying, visiting the poor, and helping in the home. But this lifestyle will not last long …



It was the latter part of July when Margaret returned home. The forest trees were all one dark, full, dusky green; the fern below them caught all the slanting sunbeams; the weather was sultry and broodingly still. Margaret used to tramp along by her father’s side, crushing down the fern with a cruel glee, as she felt it yield under her light foot, and send up the fragrance peculiar to it—out on the broad commons into the warm scented light, seeing multitudes of wild, free, living creatures, revelling in the sunshine, and the herbs and flowers it called forth. This life—at least these walks—realised all Margaret’s anticipations. She took a pride in her forest. Its people were her people. She made hearty friends with them; learned and delighted in using their peculiar words; took up her freedom amongst them; nursed their babies; talked or read with slow distinctness to their old people; carried dainty messes to their sick; resolved before long to teach at the school where her father went regularly every day as to an appointed task, but she was continually tempted off to go and see some individual friend—man, woman, or child—in some cottage in the green shade of the forest. Her out-of-doors life was perfect. Her in-doors life had its drawbacks. With the healthy shame of a child, she blamed herself for her keenness of sight in perceiving that all was not as it should be there. Her mother—her mother always so kind and tender towards her—seemed now and then so much discontented with their situation …

This marring of the peace of home, by long hours of discontent, was what Margaret was unprepared for. She knew, and had rather revelled in the idea, that she should have to give up many luxuries, which had only been troubles and trammels to her freedom in Harley Street. Her keen enjoyment of every sensuous pleasure was balanced finely, if not overbalanced, by her conscious pride in being able to do without them all, if need were. But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it. There had been slight complaints and passing regrets on her mother’s part, over some trifle connected with Helstone, and her father’s position there, when Margaret had been spending her holidays at home before; but in the general happiness of the recollection of those times, she had forgotten the small details which were not so pleasant.



dusky < dusk: the darker stage of the evening changing into night

slanting: sloping; looking like it is leaning or sloping from side to another side, from top to bottom

sultry: uncomfortably warm and humid

broodingly < brooding: thinking very deeply about something, so as to look either sad, angry, or worried, etc.

tramp: (verb): to walk heavily; stamp

fern: a type of woodland plant without flowers, with feathery leaves

glee: great delight

yield: to submit; to give way to

fragrance: pleasant smell; aroma

commons (also as ‘common’): land that belongs to a whole community and is not privately owned

scented: having a scent or trace of a nice smell

multitudes: huge numbers of people; great crowds

revelling: enjoying oneself in a lively, energetic, sometimes noisy way

it called forth: it encouraged (as if calling it to come forward)

realised all Margaret’s anticipations: all Margaret’s anticipations (hopes) became real (through something happening)

hearty: with the whole heart; energetically; soulfully

amongst: among

nursed: took care of

dainty: delicately pretty and small; neat and tidy in a cute way

messes < mess: (in this context) a meal; a dish of food; food set on a table at a time

resolved < to resolve: to decide with a strong will; make a resolution

appointed < to appoint: to choose and arrange

task: a specific piece of work that must be done

tempted < to tempt: to encourage someone in a deceitful way to do something that isn’t right or (ultimately) good

shade: a light, pleasant shadow, usually under trees

drawback: a disadvantage; problem

keenness: sharpness of insight or perception

perceiving < to perceive: to notice and come to understand deeply

all was not as it should be: not everything was the way it was supposed to be

tender: soft-hearted, sweetly vulnerable

discontented: not contented; not satisfied or happy

marring < to mar: to ruin by blending with something else; spoil the quality of something

trammel: restrictions to a person’s freedom of action

Harley Street: the fashionable part of London where Margaret used to live with her aunt and cousin

keen: sharp and insightful

sensuous: relating to or using the senses

finely: in a very skilled, excellent, and often tiny or refined manner – e.g., ‘the apple was finely cut’ – the apple was neatly cut into tiny small pieces

conscious: aware, especially as having a knowledge of something; knowing

being able to do without them all, if need were: being able to manage on [her] own without having the support of these luxuries, if she ever needed to give them up

quarter: (in this context) part of; usually a quarter or ¼ of something

horizon: the limit of the land as far as we can see; the line where the land and sky seem to meet

slight: small and slender, lightly built; inconsiderable

complaint: something complained about – seen as unacceptable or unsatisfactory; also, a minor illness or health condition

passing: going past in a quick way; fleeting

regret: a strong sense of being sorry for something that is past (but not connected with guilt) – e.g., ‘I regret not having visited the museum there while I had the chance.’

trifle: a small or inconsiderable matter

recollection: memory, especially something actively remembered – e.g., ‘Do you remember the time we used to sing that song?’ ‘I seem to recollect it, now that you mention it.’

Join me in Part 2 of this Lesson where we will read more about how Margaret fared (managed, did) in her country home.

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)