Elizabeth Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Bronte and wrote at about the same time. The book was origonally published in parts in one of Dickons journals or magazines. After Charlotte Bronte read the first excerpt, she wasn't too keen on the story and thought it was just a discussion on religion. I don't remember what Bronte thought of the whole book, but the story received quite a bit of recognition when it came out.The storyline is more intense than Pride and Prejudice, but not as dark and twisted as Jane Eyre. However, the read itself is lighter and faster than a Jane Austen book.The best parts of the book for me were when the characters' reflections and thoughts were described in great detail (maybe a little overdone at times, though). I easily found myself sympathizing, laughing, and sighing with the characters.It's not as well written (in a literary sense) as Jane Eyre or Frankenstein, but it is a good story and has solid, relatable characters.Ailsa
I can't quite put my finger on why I love this book quite as much as I do. And even for someone who does re-read books as much as I do, to get through 3 copies of one book is quite a feat. For me, the most remarkable achievement of Gaskell is that she is able to combine so many elements of various 19th century novelistic traditions and yet not have the novel collapse into incomprehensibility.The broad scope of the novel, coupled with insightful depth and comment means that each reading of the book can offer something new. Read it as a straight forward (or not) love story, a fictional romantic biography. Then discover the class politics that run through the novel. Or perhaps the debate (as the title suggests) between the rapidly industrialising north and the more gentrified south. Or the sexual and gender politics that create a constant thematic pulse throughout the book... Or any other matter you choose to seek out from religion to the nature of authority and so on and so forth. There is so much to be gained from the many directions in which this book can pull you: I personally have often come away from the book wanting to follow up on points raised, to examine the history behind the work. Or, if in a romantic mood, I will find snippets of prose or dialogue floating around my head.I imagine for the majority of readers their primary concern is the love/hate relationship between Margaret and Thornton. Their story is successful because they are believable: they are imperfect, act willfully and foolishly, but ultimately they are good people. Margaret, especially, is an engaging heroine: her independance and strength of character in the face of (remorseless) adversity make her compelling, and gives the reader a real desire to see her gain her "happy" ending. Criticisms I have heard against the book have numbered the following:-It is dry-Its "over-emotional" prose kills any actual emotion (i.e: it is poorly written)-It is unbelievable-Gaskell mimics other author's stylesBut I believe most criticisms can be easily refuted. Obviously, to enjoy this book you need to familiarise and accept the conventions of the 19th century novel (i.e: long, expository, sentimental, sensational) and soak up the atmosphere and melodrama as part of the essential charm of the novel. After all, that's how the escapism occurs! North and South is no more dry (and in my personal opinion a lot less dry) than Dickens, far less emotional than the heated Villette, and certainly as believable as anything written by Austen, Shelley or the Brontes. Indeed, Gaskell is more firmly tied to realism via her evocation of working class Manchester. And in terms of Gaskell owing much in style to, say Dickens, that is no great suprise: Gaskell was similarly writing in serialised format, and Dickens edited much of North and South. But owing a stylistic debt to another artist is not an indicator of lack of artistic merit: otherwise we would have to discount the majority of Shakespeare's work.Essentially then, this is a book that continues to keep giving and at the very least will provide a very pleasant few hours of escapism into another (marvellously pictured) world.Rachel
The verdict is in: I read Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 novel North and South and loved it. Loved, loved, loved it!Not only that, it is even better than the movie, that gorgeous dramatic masterpiece. It will go down as one of my favorite books of all time. I loved Gaskell's exploration of human nature, our inherent distrust of the "other" and yet, our innate goodness. I love how she profiled the little idiosyncrasies in human nature (much in Austen fashion). And, as should be a true marker of good literature, the story is incredibly relevant today. I couldn't help but see a mirror of the economic hardships of our time and the heated push and pull between "classes" that often results in hardship for everyone (think GM and Chrysler, unions and bankruptcy). The love story at the heart of the book is but a metaphor for the broader themes Gaskell explores. And, N&S is refreshingly redemptive, as is the case with much Victorian literature. I won't spoil the ending, but the writing is immensely gripping and satisfying. I can't wrap this up without mentioning John Thornton and my love for him that is slightly bordering on obsession. Thornton in the book? Even more intelligent and passionate than the movie version. Believe it! I love how Gaskell layered his personality and, alongside Margaret, we get to discover the heart behind the broody exterior. I hate always to bring up the Austen comparisons (only because I know every self-respecting, red-blooded woman has read her) but John Thornton is like Mr. Darcy unchecked. Mr. Darcy with raw emotion. Move over, indeed.Not to leave the book's heroine out in the cold, Margaret Hale is refreshingly modern! She's strong and outspoken and unafraid. I love that she is portrayed as incredibly moral and able to engage when her opinions are challenged.And while we're on the topic: Why in Victorian British literature has no one heard of Gaskell, yet everyone's read the Bronte sisters (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights) and Charles Dickens. You've probably even heard about George Eliot (pen name for Marian Evans) and most definitely Robert Louis Stevenson. And William Thackeray (Vanity Fair, anyone?). And Lewis Carroll. But Gaskell has somehow fallen off the map for the general public, and it is my mission to galavanize you intelligent book readers out there to go and read her books. At the very least, watch the BBC Masterpiece Theatre adaptations.Kirstine
So many things to talk about, I don’t know where to begin. I’ll begin with Margaret Hale, arguably one of my favorite heroines of all time. She not only deals with the loss of family, fortune and status, she also has to leave behind the life she loved in the South and adapt to the new and harsh conditions of the North. She never loses her dignity or her compassion, and she stays ever true to herself. “I wish I could tell you how lonely I am. How cold and harsh it is here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I think God has forsaken this place. I believe I have seen hell and it's white, it's snow-white.”When entering Milton she embodies the softness of the south, and is very naïve and ignorant of the ways of life in the city. She is, at first glance, the opposite of Mr. Thornton who possesses all the steel, cold resolution and unforgiving ways of the north, and they immediately clash. However, on further inspection they appear quite similar. They are both hardworking and humble, they are loyal to friends and family, although both very capable of rational thought, Margaret is more passionate and open, where Thornton is closed off and logical. I’ve read that Elizabeth Gaskell wanted to name this novel after Margaret, and I understand perfectly why. She is after all the center of the novel. She bridges the gaps that others avoid, between femininity and masculinity, the modern and the traditional, the lower class and the upper class. She is a catalyst and a negotiator. She is in so many ways the most complex character of them all, forced by circumstance to take on situations and roles that aren’t ‘for women’, and that she herself is unsure she can accomplish, but finding she is more than capable of taking them on. “Margaret had always dreaded lest her courage should fail her in any emergency, and she should be proved to be, what she dreaded lest she was--a coward. But now, in this real great time of reasonable fear and nearness of terror, she forgot herself, and felt only an intense sympathy--intense to painfulness--in the interests of the moment.” She is young enough not to be stubborn in her beliefs, yet gifted with an introspective mind and enough self-awareness that she is unafraid to fight for the beliefs she deems worthy, often causing her to clash with Mr. Thornton (and earning his reluctant admiration). She is not immediately accepting of the north, but adapts faster and better than both her parents. She’s initially full of scorn for Mr. Thornton and his methods and beliefs, but eventually, as she gains friends and learns to appreciate the north, she comes to understand him. Mr. Thornton, on the other hand, is almost immediately taken with Ms. Hale and spends practically the entire novel madly in love with her,“If Mr. Thornton was a fool in the morning, as he assured himself at least twenty times he was, he did not grow much wiser in that afternoon. All that he gained in return for his sixpenny omnibus ride, was a more vivid conviction that there never was, never could be, any one like Margaret; that she did not love him and never would; but that she — no! nor the whole world — should never hinder him from loving her.” This is something I’ve noticed in Jane Austen novels as well, the men tend to notice faster than the women that they’re in love and both Elizabeth Bennet and Margaret Hale have the pleasure of being outraged at and heatedly turning down a marriage proposal. I wonder if it is a conscious thing, to give these men a softer disposition towards love. If maybe it was the 1800s way of making them vulnerable and putting them in a rare position of powerlessness. Or is it a way of asserting a given woman’s independence? Is this rejection of marriage – and financial stability and status – the best way to let your readers understand that she is free? Perhaps. Maybe it’s both. It’s an interesting thought, at least. Someone might try to sell you this book by calling it a romance novel, and you might be disappointed. It is, before everything, a novel about a young woman coming to terms with her own independence. Set during the industrial revolution it addresses the immense social changes that come with it. Financial success is more and more a product of hard work, but is correspondingly something you might quickly lose all over again. It is a novel of great changes and opposing ideals constantly conflicting. Anyone who doesn’t adapt won't thrive. This is yet another thing Thornton and Margaret have in common, they both adapt to their circumstances. Margaret adapts to her new life in the north, and Thornton adapts to the rapid industrial progress by cooperating with his workers, instead of merely commanding them. I know many of you will be reading this because of the romance, and I can’t blame you. As with Elizabeth Bennet, Margaret’s love for Thornton doesn't blossom until she has reached a complete understanding of him. Here it could end, but Gaskell takes another more progressive step, and it isn't until they meet as equals that her love is finally professed and his repeated. Beautiful. (It might be that the miniseries brought you here, but if it isn’t then I can only recommend you watch it. It is a truly excellent adaptation.)D.G.
Like some of my fellow reviewers, I've seen the BBC production and loved it but kinda hated Miss Hale - probably because I thought she was a snobbish, cold, b.... who in my humble opinion wasn't fit to even lick Mr. Thornton's boots - so I decided to read the book in hopes of redeeming her. Not that I got to like her but reading the book made me understand her better.I'm partial to passionate, brooding heroes so of course, I was quite taken with Mr. Thornton - both Armitage's and the book's. I relished the opportunity of getting into Mr. Thornton's thoughts and seeing what he really thought.One thing from the book that I don't think the BBC production really captured was Margaret's feelings for Mr. Thornton and how at the end, they were more on an even playing field. That is, she was as in loved (obsessed with him) as he had been with her. The BBC's Miss Hale remained a cold, somewhat condescending woman who doesn't seem to care for him very much. I really didn't get why she accepted him at the end.There is some similarity to Pride & Prejudice but this book is a lot darker and I could even say more 'relatable' (if that's a word) to modern sensibilities, with its comment on class strife and a very strong heroine (she has her good points, you know) who cares for others less fortunate than herself and despite her youth, deals with very painful circumstances with a lot of courage and aplomb.FlibBityFLooB
As usual, it is my fault for not reading an annotated version of the novel, but instead electing to read the novel straight from the Gutenberg Project’s website. This is especially naughty of me because I actually have a paperback version of the book sitting on my shelf at home. Tsk tsk tsk! For those of you who haven't read this novel, I highly recommend the BBC production of North & South from around 2004-2005. It is one of my favorites, and it is the reason that I chose to read this novel :)The basic premise of the story? An exhibition of social class differences between factory owners and workers, as well as Northerners and Southerners in Victorian England. The story is excellent in that it shows how we are not all that different from one another and love can prevail all.Quirky language/passages that stood out to me in the novel:What is a mushroom rival? It makes me think of one of those goombas from Nintendo’s Super Mario: “[i:]f Margaret had not been very proud she might have almost felt jealous of the mushroom rival.” Shoppy people. Margaret says she does not like them. Do they work in shoppes? Apparently, they have a lot of pretense. Margaret also has a prejudice against butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Hehehe . I figure shoppy people are tradesmen, but I could be wrong… “I don't like shoppy people.” Very strange – when Miss Hale suffers her wound to the head during the mill mob, Mrs. Thorton bathes Hale’s head with eau de Cologne. I don’t know what kind of medicinal treatment that would support --- making her wound smell better? Perhaps there’s alcohol in the cologne to cleanse a wound? Not sure.My favorite passages:Dixon, the one servant of the Hale family, had some very interesting insight into her love for the mother/children in the Hale family, or more specifically, her lack of love for Mr. Hale: “'Bless her!' said Dixon. 'She's as sweet as a nut. There are three people I love: it's missus, Master Frederick, and her. Just them three. That's all. The rest be hanged, for I don't know what they're in the world for. Master was born, I suppose, for to marry missus. If I thought he loved her properly, I might get to love him in time.” Sexy Mr. Thorton finally assumes ownership of the revolting workers at the Mill: “But without waiting for her answer, he went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. 'Now kill me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You may beat me to death--you will nevermove me from what I have determined upon--not you!'” This is also the first time that Thorton realizes he is in love with Miss Hale. Yay!!!! :) “'Oh, my Margaret--my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead--cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret--Margaret!' Inarticulately as he spoke, kneeling by her, and rather moaning than saying the words, he started up, ashamed of himself, as his mother came in. She saw nothing, but her son a little paler, a little sterner than usual. Motherly insults to Margaret: “'Why, Margaret, you must not be hurt, but he was much prettier than you were. I remember, when I first saw you in Dixon's arms, I said, "Dear, what an ugly little thing!" And she said, "It's not every child that's like Master Fred, bless him!"” And finally, I loved the oxymoron in the ending when Margaret is being shown the rose by Mr. Thorton: “'You must give them to me,' she said, trying to take them out of his hand with gentle violence.”Jessica
Oh, how to describe! What a marvelous book! I often read "the classics" with a bit of the ol' "it's a slog, but rewarding in the end" attitude. But that was hardly the case here! Gaskell's prose is effortless, without any of the endless philosophizing or descriptions that tend to drag out other Victorian novelists. She elegantly compares the fast-paced northern industrial region with the bucolic ease of the south in this novel about a young woman trying to reconcile her love for both. Lovely, lovely book!Zeina
You could call this the industrial revolution version of Pride and Prejudice: woman of lesser means meets stern, rich man; she hates him; he loves her; she rejects him then learns to appreciate him and finally falls in love with him. However, the roles are a little more complex.John Thornton is a wealthy cotton manufacturer in Milton, but he's worked hard to get to the top. He's a nouveau riche with worn hands. Margaret is an ex-parson's daughter, fresh from the idyllic south, transplanted to dirty, rough, all-work-no-play Milton, where she has trouble adapting.What makes this novel stand on its own is that Elizabeth Gaskell doesn't shy away from describing the harsh work and life conditions. The poverty is in your face, and Margaret sees it firsthand (she befriends one of the factory workers). The characters have inner conflicts to deal with, and in a way their struggles (and the eventual coming together of Margaret and John) echo the north/south relationship.The ending is rushed, mainly because this novel was written as a serial and Charles Dickens, Gaskell's mentor so to speak, hurried her. Damn you, Dickens!It's still a beautiful ending. If you're interested, BBC made an adaptation two years ago. Some things are changed, but it was good enough to make me want to read the book, which is, of course, much better.David
An easy test of whether you'll like this book is whether you like Gaskell's contemporaries: George Eliot and Charles Dickens are the most obvious, though the plot borrows a bit of Jane Eyre and a bit of Pride and Prejudice. Gaskell writes closer to Eliot's style, but with a bit of Dickens's social consciousness. In the end, North and South ends up a romance, but the romantic obstacle course navigated by the romantic leads is not the most compelling element.North and South features as the protagonist 19-year-old Margaret Hale, whose father, upon having a crisis of conscience, quits his job as a country parson in idyllic southern England and moves his wife and daughter north to the industrial cotton-mill town of Milton. To say Margaret and her mother don't like their new home is an understatement — they hate it, and Margaret is certainly not enamored of the wealthy industrialist Mr. Thornton, who, undaunted by either her mannerly disdain or his mother's cold mercenary disapproval, is struck with love at first sight. (I felt this was one of the weakest parts of the book, as it's never explained just what made this prissy southern girl so irresistible to him.) He then spends the rest of the novel being in love with her despite resigning himself to not having a chance with her, and Margaret spends the rest of the novel denying that she feels anything but disdain for him, while constantly worrying about what he thinks of her.This thread winds it way through much more compelling and illustrative social dramas: workers' strikes and grinding poverty, the bustling but harrowing rise of English industry that made many people rich and many more people soot-covered beggars. Here, Gaskell stays more refined and less comical than Dickens; her poor are not grotesque caricatures, but hard and not always sympathetic people.Margaret is a well-educated country girl, and her mother is a typical upper-class housewife. The Hales aren't used to these northerners who speak bluntly, tell you exactly what they think of you, ask personal questions, and talk openly about money.Mostly we see Milton and its northern ways through Margaret's eyes, and Gaskell invokes some of the social issues of the time, as when a poor family Margaret befriends gets caught up in a millworkers' strike. At first, Mr. Thornton seems like your basic hard-hearted capitalist oppressing his workers, but Gaskell slowly draws out more nuanced arguments: Thornton is a hard, proud, mercenary man, but he's upright and honorable and he's earned his fortune the hard way. And the millworkers, while legitimately oppressed, are not exactly angels and they believe some really stupid things. The tone swings back and forth between pro-capitalist parochialism and a more humanitarian saga; Gaskell writes about economics and class warfare more convincingly than most of her peers. She doesn't have Dickens's sharp edge, but she isn't writing social satire.Honestly, I could have done without the obligatory Jane Eyre-ish happy ending altogether. And Margaret Hale, while she certainly has a voice and a personality, was a little too simpering at times (though not as bad as Fanny Price). I thought the social issues and the secondary characters were more interesting than the Lovestruck Capitalist and the almost-perfect protagonist. This was a fine novel - I'm only dinging it a star because Gaskell's writing didn't quite stand out enough to distinguish it from all the other books I've been comparing it to.Sherwood Smith
Reread yesterday. Gaskell is at her best with the tiny details of life that make the characters and the setting come to life: Margaret sitting on the worn carpet before the fire, the candles unlit until her parents appear. The observation about how two people, left alone in an enormous room, will speak in low voices as if "unwilling to awaken the unused echoes."Gaskell's side characters are delightfully rounded, even if her hero and heroine are a tad too uprightly conventional: Mrs. Thornton's conflicted character shows signs of the beautiful characterizations to come in Wives and Daughters. Ditto Fanny Thornton and Edith, Mr. Bell and Mr. Higgins.On the downside she is still using standard Victorian tropes--lingering sentimental deathbeds, wise suffering children (Bessie is very hard to take), sudden deaths as plot conveniences. It can be said that sudden death was a part of life at that time, but there are a lot of them here, and Mr. Bell's convenient appearance at the end (rather than when he should have come, before the Hales had to go to Milton in the first place) and his equally convenient death diminishes the dramatic impact even as it gives the requisite happy ending. Then there is the unconvincing Frederick/Leonards bit of violence, as if Gaskell shrank from convincing detail, whereas a scene I think was meant to be funny about boiling a cat to death is shocking and horrid--reminding us of very different attitudes of the time.One more observation, something I've noticed in Gaskell and Elliott and several other Victorian writers, how they go on and on about women's throats. Is this supposed to be covert sexiness? The arched and swan-like columned throats are peculiar but persistent through literature of this period. I should do a read to see if male writers use it as ubiquitously as female writers do.Zeek
First- I watched the BBC miniseries for Gaskell’s North and South long before I read the novel and I have to say... I’m so glad I did! What an awesome thing to have the perfect cast that was BBC North and South running around in my head as I read this! Second- Richard Armitage portrayed Thornton perfectly- not a perfect match to the book- but perfectly how I would relate best to him. It was fun though, getting in his head a bit more- I actually believe all the feelings seen in the book were inside RA’s portrayal- he just expressed it through his eyes and silence. I’m serious- he spoke volumes when he said nothing at all- and Holy COW did it make the story all the richer.But we’re talking about the book- so here goes.Written in the 1850’s as a social novel on industrial class vs common worker- let’s face it, Gaskell is no D H Lawerance. And THANK GOD- (man I hated Lady Chatterly’s Lover). Unlike his work, I found North and South engaging AND it made a point- albeit better formed in the tv series. Sure it's no high brow novel, but I sometimes get tired of those stories that think itself rather important. So important it doesnt mind leaving behind the reader to make it's overblown point.Set in Milton, a fictional town in the North of England, North and South opens with our heroine, Margaret Hale, living in the peaceful south of England, but soon forced to leave her home for the dirty, smoky Milton. It’s harsh in the industiral North and utterly foreign to the life she once lived- even down to how a northerner welcomes a lady vs a southern way. Because she’s no shinking violet, despite her upbringing, she quickly finds herself in the middle of a clash between employers and workers- with her having “friends” on both sides. On the one hand, her first real friends are the lower class Higgons’ whom welcome her despite their differences. On the other hand- the Thorntons, led by Mr. Thornton, not titled, but a captain of the Cotton trade. He helps Margaret’s father settle in even as Mr. Hale, an educated man who left the vicarage on some vague matter of conscious, tutors Mr. Thornton, whom obviously values education. Despite this, immediately Mr. Thornton and Margaret clash, for he’s instantly attracted to her and she’s startled by his forceful opinions and attitudes toward the workers who have now become her friends.Misunderstandings ensue between them ala Darcy and Lizzie Bennet, even down to a rejected proposal, but, in the end, they soften each other and find a balance- both between their feelings for each other and differences between workers and employers around the time of the first organized strikes.Seriously, I enjoyed this book. I think the author did a fantastic job of making the reader feel sympathetic to the working poor by couching a romance in the midst of the turmoil.If you’re a romance lover but not into reading the classics, do yourself a favor and rent the dvd. You’ll thank me for it.Anneliese Bennion
On Sunday evening I finished reading Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. It's the book they based the wonderful BBC movie on, in case you were wondering. It took me three weeks, maybe four to read this novel. I think that's the longest time I've spent with a book this year (not including when I've reread some of my favorites). A couple of years back I remember starting this book, but for some reason or another I didn't finish it. Just recently I came upon a website that posted pictures from the movie with captions either from the movie, different actors/directors and captions from the book. In going through these pictures and quotes, episode by episode, I felt a great need to try and read this book again.This time, I was much more thorough. I kept a yellow marker with me whenever I read it so that I could highlight my favorite parts - which mostly included anything romantic or anything that peaked my interest.I gave it 5 stars. It really was excellently written in beautiful style. I think it was as enjoyable and satisfying as any Jane Austen book. I just loved the language and images that she described. She originally wrote it for a magazine/newspaper that Charles Dickens edited. It was written like a serial. There are 52 chapters, each of which are never more than 10 pages long. I loved it because whenever I had time to sit down and read it, I could always finish a chapter.Now, into the story itself. It struck me how everyone around Margaret used her. She is portrayed as a strong, independent, beautiful woman. But for all that, her goodness was always taken advantage. First with her father. He tells her about his decision to leave the church. It was very hard for him to tell her and very hard for her to hear. However, he doesn't feel like he can tell his wife, so he asks/makes Margaret do it. Later on, Margaret is required to keep the secret of her mother's illness. Not only that, but she's also required to tend to her as well. Then, her brother, inadvertently uses her to cover up their involvement in the death of Leonards. Over and over, these things happen. Even her cousin uses her as a nurse maid for her children. I was frustrated for her. She should not have been put in those situations, especially if she was as strong and independent as she is described.It's interesting note the passing of time in this book. Margaret spent two years in Milton, in which both of her parents died and her good friend Bessy Higgins. Then she leaves and moves back to London. She is there for a year, in which Mr. Bell dies and in the end she accepts Mr. Thornton's proposal. When I watched the movie I was not aware of this movement of time.I loved reading the thoughts of both Margaret and Mr. Thornton. At first they were attracted to each other. Then Margaret is disillusioned with him and really doesn't give him any thought until the strike. Mr. Thornton on the other hand, is captivated from the beginning. However, like Mr. Darcy, he failed in courting her and thus his proposal was refused. It is after this refusal that Margaret starts thinking more about him. Then, when she lies about her brother, she cannot stand the fact that Mr. Thornton knew she was lying, but did not have the courage to dissuade him of this. Whenever she thinks about him she suppresses investigating all of her feelings. After the refusal Mr. Thornton tries to prove to the world that he is not pining over Margaret. He even tries to put himself in her company, to prove his self mastery to himself. While all of the time loving her more and more, even though hope of marriage has died. Then in the end when they meet up again as equals in each other's eyes - it's just magnificent. It was wonderful!As for the rest of the novel, it was quite enjoyable. I was interested in the workings of not only the commerce in Milton vs. London, but also in the societal differences as well. The characters were well written and each provided their own poignancy to the story. All in all it was a delightful read.Diane
I'll admit that until about a month ago, I had never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell. I stumbled on her work after watching the BBC's miniseries North & South, which I loved. (All of you Pride & Prejudice fans out there should check out North & South. It's wonderful.)Anyway, I read up on Gaskell and found that she's a hidden gem of 19th century British literature. Her books have romance, but also strong social themes. North & South focuses on the factories and industrial workers in northern England in the 1850s.Its heroine is Margaret Hale, the daughter of a poor clergyman. She manages to make friends among the mill workers and sympathizes when they strike for higher wages. Gaskell takes the opportunity to write the dialect of the workers, which is in sharp contrast to the educated Hales.Meanwhile, one of the factory owners, John Thornton, falls in love with Margaret, but she despises and misunderstands him. It takes about 400 pages (or four hours, in BBC time) for the pair to sort things out.And what a delightful 400 pages it is.Christopher H.
I just finished reading North and South. I had immediately preceded my read of Gaskell's North and South with a reading of Charlotte Bronte's Shirley; as they both tend to address the issues of life and love in the north of England and the interactions and differences between the gentry, the manufacturers, and the working class. Both novels involve quite serious romantic themes between gentlewomen and generally self-made Middle-class men struggling to forge prosperous businesses in the age of industrialization. Shirley is set somewhat earlier; near the end of the Napoleonic wars and the Luddite Riots; while North and South is probably set some 20 years later.In comparing the two novels, I believe that Ms. Gaskell has painted the more complete portrait of the class and social issues of life in an industrial town in northern England. I think it is fascinating that Gaskell chose to use the eyes of the young, well-educated, Miss Margaret Hale to illuminate, for the reader, the initial strangeness of the fabric and peoples of industrial Milton; a landscape as foreign to Miss Hale as it is to the reader. Margaret, her mother and father, and their house-keeper relocate from a quiet little rural village in southern England to the smoky and bustling northern town of Milton; a veritable beehive of factories, business and commerce, and extreme conditions endured by the workers and families that man the factories. As one reads the first quarter of the book it is almost as though the reader must shift their viewpoint from that of 'living' technicolor of the pastoral south to an almost noir-ish and starkly black and white of the industrial brick and mortar north. It is almost jarring and unsettling; but I quite imagine that it was a quite realistic portrait of the differences between these two disparate regions.Another important reason that I wanted to read North and South is that I have heard that this novel is also Austenesque; and not having read the novel until now, I simply took it as a truism. In my opinion, I think nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain my thinking.First, the overall tone of the novel is darker, by far, than anything Austen wrote, including Mansfield Park. North and South is realistically bleak and mainly addresses social conditions across all walks of life in northern England. Austen rarely delves into the social and cultural conditions associated with people running businesses or working for a living. Austen tends to focus on the inter-personal relationships between her characters; and, to my knowledge, does not spend many words on the backstory of any of the servants, laborers, or farmers that briefly appear in her novels. The Mrs and Miss Bates (Emma) and Fanny Price's family in Portsmouth (Mansfield Park) is about as lower class as Austen goes in her novels. In comparison, in North and South Ms. Gaskell brings us, front-and-center, into the gritty and very difficult lives of the Higgins family and the orphaned Boucher children. Elizabeth Gaskell spends a lot of time in the novel describing the horrific working and living conditions of the working class in Milton, and it is not a pretty sight. Austen never does this.Second, politics is another relatively taboo subject for Austen in her novels; but not so for Gaskell. Elizabeth Gaskell weighs in with a gusto in describing the politics of the time that lead to, in her opinion, many of these gross social injustices that she is writing about. She is concerned about working conditions in the factory (Bessy Higgins and the 'fluff' disease), the use of child labor, the role of unions, strikes, and strike-breaking, etc. The closest that Austen comes to addressing anything political are some very subtle and oblique references to the abomination of slavery (Sir Thomas Bertram's properties in Antigua in Mansfield Park), and the occasional, also oblique, references to the inability of women to obtain an education and employment and inheritance issues. Austen never dwells, in any detail, on these social injustices or inequities though; while Gaskell takes 'em on, one after the other.Finally, Gaskell's portrayal of the growing romance and relationship between Mr John Thornton and Margaret Hale is handled completely differently than any romantic entanglement described by Jane Austen. Gaskell's portrayal can be sentimental, maybe a little maudlin, sometimes raw, abrasive, and almost uncomfortable at times as Mr. Thornton and Margaret interact day-by-day in Milton and come to know each other. Austen's relationships, even those doomed with 'bad' men, are orchestrated more like a graceful and elegant pas-de-deux. Style, grace, manners, and gentility mean everything to Austen. While gentility and manners are also clearly important to Gaskell (and Margaret and John Thornton!), honesty and unrefined emotion are always apparent. Disgust and hurt are easily portrayed on Gaskell's character's faces, and sharp words can easily follow. In some respects, Gaskell's relationships of Margaret and Mr Lennox, and Margaret and Mr Thornton felt maybe more accurate and realistic; whilst Austen's feel more idealistic. One is not better than the other, they are just different approaches to describing the deep-felt emotions associated with courtship and establishing a romantic relationship between a woman and a man.In summation, the main observation I make in comparing North and South to the work of Austen is that Gaskell uses the relationship between Margaret and John Thornton to help guide the reader through an emotional and moral evaluation of the social and cultural issues that she is addressing in the novel. Austen, in contrast, uses her romantic relationships to address the natural and normal interpersonal communication issues of the people around her that she knew so much about. Austen's is a much more narrowly focused and personal novelistic point-of-view. Gaskell's point-of-view is much more Dickensian, broad and panoramic.In closing, I enjoyed reading North and South! It was wonderful companion to Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, and it was loads of fun to think through my own comparisons of Gaskell's romances to those of Jane Austen's. In my opinion, this novel is well worth reading and is an important brick in the wall of literary Victoriana.Dawn
I read this because I'd seen the BBC production, and wondered if Margaret Hale would be less silly in the book. North and South sounds like it should be about social and geographic divisions, but it's actually about finding balance amidst constant change. Although I found her character annoyingly reactive, the Miss Hale of the novel is decidedly less silly than she of the movie.I've read comparisons of Mr. Thornton to Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy, but I don't personally see much likeness--aside from a tendency to scowl. I actually preferred the BBC's Mr. Thornton, as he talked less and scowled more than Mr. Thornton in the book. Plus, he was played by Richard Armitage, which is never a bad thing.My favorite characters are Mrs. Thornton (Mr. Thornton's strict, severe mother), and Mr. Bell (Miss Hale's rich godfather). Mrs. Thornton has more sense and self-control than all the other characters in the book combined, and Mr. Bell is the only person with a sense of humor.Regardless of Miss Hale's silliness, I really enjoyed North and South. Miss Hale bounces back admirably from all the deaths and strife that the author inflicts on her. I would have appreciated more of Mr. Bell's levity, and a tad less angst from Mr. Thornton, but I was completely immersed in Miss Hale's world and find myself missing it now that I've finished the book.