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.Myriam
I loved this novel.I loved the pace, the beautiful writing that was intricate and elegant, the way we were allowed insight into many characters without it ever feeling like too much. I loved the characters, flawed and relatable. I loved the conversations about class, workers, strikes and other matters related to business in a country that was rapidly changing. I loved how the novel contained just enough detail.A highly readable and enjoyable classic.You can watch my complete review here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC-8x...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.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.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.Apatt
For some reason I confused this novel with the John Jakes book of the same title and I wondered why a young female Victorian author would have written a book about American Civil War. Any way, when I started writing this review I sat for minutes staring at the blinking curser wondering how I should begin. The first paragraph is often the hardest as there is no momentum to speak of. So I thought I would cheat a bit and have a look around other GR reviews for inspiration (or something to rip off). Interestingly practically all of them mention the BBC's 2004 TV adaptation. The BBC's mini-series is very popular and highly rated (see IMDB), it basiaccly brought North and South back in vogue. The only snag is I have not seen it so the novel just made a transition from my reading bucket list to my DVD one. OK, that is enough shoehorning of the BBC thing, I got my first paragraph.North and South is a social / romance hybrid novel, if Dickens had collaborated with Austen they may have come up with North and South, especially if Thomas Hardy e-mailed them some suggestions resulting in a number of deaths to put our protagonist through the wringer. The book starts off inauspiciously with some old ladies discussing desirable marriages. This Austenesq scenario almost sent me packing there and then but as I was only a couple of pages in I thought perhaps I should give Ms. Gaskell more of a chance. It is well that I did because North and South soon become much more meaningful and heartfelt.Our heroine Margaret Hale has much more to do in this story than looking for a suitable husband. She has to move with her parents from a picturesque agricultural town to a busy smoky industrial one. This requires considerable attitude adjustment. To make matters worse her nearest and dearest start dropping dead like flies. The only bright spots seem to be her meeting stuffy but interesting industrialist Mr. John Thornton and making some working class pals. Her eventful life in Milton includes inadvertently getting involved in a violent factory workers strike and almost getting stoned to death for her troubles, not to mention unintentionally causing stiff upper lipped Mr. Thornton to fall violently in love with her. What makes this book special is the characterization. The characters are very vivid, complex and believable. Starting with the protagonist Margaret Hale who is of the “still water runs deep” archetype; hardly an original characterization but she is so well developed that you cannot help but become emotionally involved in her plight. Then we have Mr. Thornton who seems to be a graduate of the Darcy School of Haughtiness. His mother is wonderful, a tough as nails lady with a heart of gold who I cannot help but visualize as looking and sounding Kathy Bates. There are too many characters to mention and every one of them come alive through Gaskell’s narrative. Equally important is the plot, the social aspect of the story. The trade off between profitability and the welfare of the workers. The communication failure and misunderstanding between employers and employees. Both sides are often at war because they assume the worst of the other and act on those assumptions without attempting negotiations. Such problems still exist today though they were much more severe in the 19th century.I suspect 90% of the trouble and heartaches in Victorian fiction would never occur if people, workers and lovers alike, would only speak their minds, make it their top priority to clear up misunderstandings. The only problem with that is that we would end up with nothing left to read. North and South is beautifully written and overflowing with pathos, be sure to have a box of Kleenex within arm’s reach should you attempt it. There are minor flaws in the plot contrivances such as several characters suddenly dropping dead in fairly rapid succession just to serve the plot, not from any contagion either. The romantic wrap up at the end is also a little too rushed given the very gradual buildup throughout the book.Still, I love books that push “the feels” button and this book does that beautifully. Read it and weep my friends.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.)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.Margaret
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.Carrie
Narrated by Clare WilleWhen North and South is mentioned these days, it is most likely in reference to the BBC miniseries based on the book, rather than the book itself. That’s not a bad thing, because the miniseries is superbly done. It takes a complicated story of love and life in industrial England in the mid-19th century, and makes it accessible to the modern viewer. But no matter how well done the TV adaptation is, the book is a gem worth pursuing for a patient reader, or better yet, a patient listener.Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing can be described as somewhat melodramatic, sentimental, and at times wordy, as was common for early Victorian writers. But the dated mode of writing doesn’t have to detract from the beauty of the writing or the enjoyment of the book. In fact, the style helps to immerse the reader in the time and place. North and South was, after all, written as a contemporary novel, and so shows authentic details, such as the language, dialects, and descriptions of daily life. The audiobook is read by Clare Wille, whose ability to manage not only the language of Gaskell, but also the many characters and dialects, is nothing short of amazing. Wille not only has to distinguish the male and female voice of the many characters, but she must voice the different manners of speaking between the social classes in the northern industrial town, as well as the differences in dialect between the characters from the south of England and those of the north. She does all this with skill and realism.The story is both simple and complicated. When Margaret Hale’s father, a vicar in the Church of England, decides he can no longer serve the church due to differences of faith, he moves his wife and daughter, Margaret, from the slow moving life of rural southern England to the industrial north, there to hopefully find employment as a tutor. Margaret, being raised on edge of gentility, finds the close association with manufacturers and “shop keepers” to be repugnant. She also finds the town of Milton to be dirty, noisy, and rough. There she meets both the successful manufacturers, such as Mr. Thornton who comes to be tutored by Mr. Hale, and the millworkers, such as Higgins and his two daughters, Bessie and Mary. Gaskell was heavily influenced by Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when writing the romance within North and South. The story of Margaret Hale and John Thornton parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy on many levels. There is arrogance, ignorance, misunderstanding, and finally respect and understanding. Like Austen’s book, North and South shows the complicated lattice of social interactions and how class restrictions influence relationships and limit choices. Unlike Austen, however, Gaskell’s tale takes on the social problems of the day. The industrialization of England is elevating the middle class and straining the class structure of English society. Along with the changing social structure, Gaskell also explores the plight of the millworkers and struggles of the mill owners to stay competitive in a volatile market.Gaskell’s romantic notions go farther than getting the main couple together in the end. She also sets about getting another “couple” together-- the mill owner, Thornton and the union supporter, Higgins. As complicated as the misunderstandings are between Margaret and Thornton, they are nothing compared to the wall of prejudice and mistrust between the mill owners and their workers. Gaskell ideal was to see the two sides finally acknowledge their interdependence and work together to better the lives of the workers and the profits of the owners.It should be noted that religious faith plays a large part in the book. Several characters struggle with faith and belief is openly discussed in several conversations. Even so, this is in no way an “inspirational romance.” Gaskell instead explores the different approaches to faith at that time, using the experiences of each character’s life to illuminate their struggles. The part religion plays in the book is very much in keeping with its importance in the culture of the time, and is there for debate rather than for proselytizing. Clare Wille’s narration of Gaskell’s enduring story of love and struggles in industrial England is a rare treat. If you’ve enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and have a little patience with a writing style that is out of fashion, you will be rewarded with an awe-inspiring listening experience. Gaskell’s beautiful language and emotional story-telling coupled with Wille’s perfect narration is truly not to be missed.Reviewed for audiogals.net.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.Chrissie
2 starsAll of my reviews are extremely personal. They only reflect my personal reaction to the given book. I explain what exactly I like or dislike in the hope that others will thus be able to determine how they will react to the book. My reviews are not a judgment of the book or the author! Gaskell is a Victorian writer. This is evident in her prose style and in the life style of the people she puts into her novels. To like her books it helps to not be frustrated with Victorian manners. I react violently against such mannerisms. He had had exaggerated ideas of the change which his altered opinions might make in his friends’ reception of him, but although some of them might have felt shocked or grieved or indignant at his falling off in the abstract, as soon as they saw the face of the man who they had once loved, they forgot his opinions in himself or only remembered them enough to give an additional tender gravity to their manner. (chapter 41)Gaskell knows how to play with words. Her writing is indeed often eloquent. As you see here, it is however not straight-forward. You must wade through the words. True to the prose and manner of Victorian times, all criticism must be properly cushioned. Or try this:….and first found the passionate relief of tears on her aunt’s shoulder. All thoughts of quiet, habitual love, of tenderness for yeas of relationship to the dead, all that inexplicable likeness in look, tone and gesture that seemed to belong to one family, and which reminded Margaret so forcibly at this moment of her mother, came in to melt and soften her numbed heart into the overflow of warm tears. (chapter 42)Gaskell has a wonderful command over her words, but the wordiness and the stiffness in speech and manners annoy me. How do your react to these lines? The workers do speak more directly, more coarsely which counter-balances the politeness and stiffness of those of higher standing. I cannot copy such passages from the audio version I listened to, but I have to mention it. I not only preferred their speech but also the personalities of these characters. Margaret, the main character, was a “Miss Goody-Two-Shoes” for me……. Some characters you will like, others less so. Their portrayal is not two-dimensional.So what is the point of the book? What will it teach you? It is a book of historical fiction. The agrarian south and the cities of the north where factories are taking over the landscape and changing the lives of all the people living there are superbly depicted. This was England in the 1800s.This is what I liked most about the book. Unions and strikes and the ideas that drive the new industrialists versus the sentiments of the labor and the clergy are poignantly portrayed. Through Gaskell’s imaginary characters we live the lives of a vicar, a manufacturer, union leaders, lawyers and women - poor and wealthy, frivolous and serious, maids and damsels and stout righteous women. Through all of them we come to understand why their views are so different.This depiction of the different classes is not enough to keep the book afloat, so romance is thrown in. You must like a good romance story. I knew about 1/3 of the way into the novel who was going to end up with whom……and in the very last chapter I was of course proven right. I just thought…..finally! But maybe you adore novels of romance. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Juliet Stevenson. I think it is her that pushed me to continue listening. Excellent narration. I tried to widen my reading scope. I have failed, but I know now that Victoriana is not for me even when I am in the hands of a talented author and superb narrator. I want to thank Jeanette for recommending this book to me.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.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.Ana T.
After watching the BBC mini series based in this book and enjoying it so much I just knew I had to find a copy of the book! That's what I did a few weeks ago.The story begins by presenting to us the character of Margaret Hale, a middle class young lady who, by her father's decision has to move with the rest of the family from Helstone in the south to Milton (it's actually a fictional Manchester)in the north of England. Margaret's father was a clergyman but due to matters of conscience decides to leave the Church of England and devote himself to giving lessons to private students. In Milton they meet Mr Thornton who becames one of Margaret's father's students. He is a rich mill owner with a rational vision of the world and it's economical matters. He is strongly attracted to Margaret from the beginning but she is full of prejudice against someone who actually woorks for a living, which is totally against her idea of how a gentleman should behave. The fact that Margaret befriends a family of mill workers makes her more aware of their difficulties and makes her dislike Thornton even more. Gaskell makes us aware not only of society's rules and behaviours but also the differences between classes and the new problems brought by the inductrial revolution. The bad working conditions and low pay the workers are forced to endure but also the problems the mill owners face with the competition of new products from America.A strike and then a riot at the mill in which Margaret saves him from the workers leads Thornton to propose without success but after refusing him Margaret's feelings will change as she realises he is not the harsh master she imagined nor a cold man, he is a proud man battling adversity who still finds the time to show some kindness to her parents. Her own circumstances make her seem at fault in the eyes of society and Thornton is the one who helps her even believing the worst of her. At that point all seems lost for them as Thornton would never offer for her again and Margaret is bound by society's conventions not to show her feelings. After tragedy strucks she leaves Milton. However an unexpected turn of events will bring them together again…What attracted me most in the book is how well the characters are described and how we understand them well. Margaret's character suffers a big change since the beginning, indeed she is the character that grows the most. Faced with weak parents she is the one that seems to ran the house at times, it's in her that her parents confide their problems and count on to share bad or difficult news to one another. When we understand how alone and difficult her position was it's easier to understand and eventually forgive all those prejudices and the general lack of appreciation she shows for Thornton. Her only friend is a mill worker, Bessy Higgins, and we know her feelings more from her thoughts that from her confiding in other characters. With Thornton it's different, he remains steadfast and loyal to his love for Margaret and Gaskell does a wonderful job of explaining his feelings and his character. We know him not only through his thoughts but also from his moving dialogues with his mother about his feelings towards Margaret and his dialogues with Higgins regarding his business and it's problems.I have mentioned the mini series several times here on the blog but believe me when I say this, the book is even better!Grade: A+