Wednesday, June 26, 2013

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

“North and South is a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell; feisty and passionate, set across the social divides in the changing world of Victorian industrial society. Margaret Hale is a southerner from a country vicarage newly settled in the industrial northern town of Milton. In the shock of her move, she misjudges charismatic cotton mill-owner John Thornton, whose strength of purpose and passion are a match for her own pride and wilfulness. When the workers of Milton call a strike, Margaret takes their side, and the two are brought into deeper conflict. As events spiral out of control, Margaret - to her surprise - begins to fall in love with Thornton...”

Why have I not come across Elizabeth Gaskell's work before?! I have been missing out. I came across North and South through a recommendation from my good friend to watch the mini-series. So, eventually I did watch the mini-series and I absolutely loved it! I was intrigued by the characters and the story and I really wanted to read the novel. So, in a few short days I began reading the novel and I really, really loved it.

The novel did seem quite daunting, being one of the longer classics I have read so far, but the story was full of detail and it kept flowing and I didn't get bored. As another good friend of mine so eloquently stated, Gaskell captures the happy medium between description and dialogue (Jane Austen being more inclined towards dialogue and Charles Dickens being full of description). Her descriptions of the places in which ‘North and South’ is set are wonderful. As are her characters and the depths to her characters. The story was full of many little side plots as well as the main plot of the growing relationship between the hero and the heroine, Margaret Hale and John Thornton.

However controversial this may be, I believe the way to sum up North and South in one sentence would be... Pride and Prejudice meets the industrial revolution. That is how I would sum it up. There are quite a few similarities (which to me suggest Gaskell may have been influenced by Austen’s work, but I will discuss this further later) but then there are so many differences as well to make this a great story in its own right. Summing it up like that makes it sound a little simple, which it most definitely is not. Although at the heart there is the love story, similar in development to Darcy and Lizzy, between Thornton and Margaret, there are so many other things going on which make this an interesting and exciting novel. There is always something going on and you will not be bored; there are so many layers to this wonderful story.

My favourite character was, surprise surprise, John Thornton. And no this is not purely because he is the hero, and a very strong and handsome hero and that. Thornton is a character with so many levels and layers to his person that he is a wonderful character to read and get to know. One of the most interesting aspects for me to the whole novel was, well what the whole novel is on really, the differences in life between the North and the South, especially the difference in opinion between Margaret from the South and Thornton from the North in the ways regarding the relationship between master and worker. I always found myself agreeing with Thornton in what he was saying, even though I am from the South and Margaret’s country, as what he said seemed to make complete sense to me. There were also opposite opinions expressed from Thornton, a master, and Higgins, a worker. I found myself agreeing with Higgins when he was speaking but then agreeing with Thornton when he would express his views. I mainly found myself agreeing with Thornton more as his arguments, to me, seem founded on very sound logic. This is why I think I liked the character of John Thornton so much (it no doubt helped imagining Richard Armitage as Thornton whilst reading the novel, as Armitage made a very nice John Thornton :P)

Returning to my earlier idea about how North and South is a little influenced (in some aspects) by Pride and Prejudice.  A few points in particular make me think this; (SPOILER) the equivalent of the first proposal is very like Darcy’s first proposal in Pride and Prejudice. The misunderstanding of each other as well as the complete ignorance on Margaret’s part of Thornton’s feelings is just like Lizzy of Darcy’s feelings and the misunderstandings they share.  I could just see Margaret breaking out into 'from the first moment I met you...'!  :P Also, I think Mrs Thornton is very much like Lady Catherine; she doesn’t like Margaret and at one stage there is a confrontation between the two of them, which is like the one between Lizzy and Lady Catherine. And then, of course, the development of Thornton and Margaret's relationship is very similar, and pride and prejudice comes into North and South a lot as well; Thornton being proud of Milton and Margaret being prejudice against masters!

Although I have just compared Mrs Thornton to Lady Catherine, Mrs Thornton does show a softer side; her relationship with her son.  The scenes between the two were very sweet and it was nice to occasional see what we going on inside Thornton’s head (especially in regards to Margaret).  The admiration and love Mrs Thornton has for her son is clear and it was nice to this side to the otherwise hard, cold character.

Another relationship I enjoyed seeing in the story was that of Thornton and Mr Hale.  The friendship they shared through his tutoring of John was a great addition to the story.  Thornton’s general friendship to the Hale family was very touching, especially given the friction between him and Margaret. 

I have already touched upon the relationship between Margaret and John and I don’t want to give too much away but I assure you, you will not be disappointed.  There are some wonderful conversations between the two of them when their difference of opinion really comes to light. 

So, those are my thoughts on this wonderful novel. I believe that if you are a lover of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, historical novels or romance novels then read this book. If you want an idea of the story beforehand you can’t go wrong with the BBC mini-series which is pretty accurate, but then do not shy away from reading the novel which is worth reading. If you go for the novel first, I recommend watching the mini-series afterwards, as it is so worth watching!

Your affectionate friend, 
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  1. hey, I tried posting my reply four times and I afraid I just cannot sum what I wrote before the same.

    I agree with everything accept the P&P references. They are two novels written in two different time periods, affected by different issues. There are similarities with the characters, I agree but to me the buck stops there.

    I had such a beautiful explaining myself better but I just cannot type it again. haha.

    1. Sorry for the trouble you had! I don't like the word verification process but it does stop the spam!

      I knew that would be controversial! I understand why people think it isn't at all. I don't mean to diminish and slight north and south as a classic novel in it's own right, which it is! Thanks for commenting though, and fair enough about your opinion and views :)

      ~Mrs D

  2. I was looking forward to this post!:) I think my favorite character in North and South is Margaret Hale. I like how she is both kind and compassionate, as well as being a strong and mature character. I like that even when she doesn't quite agree with her father's decision to move and cannot connect very well with her mother, she is still very respectful and kind to both of them. Daniela Denby-Ashe portrayed her almost perfectly. As to Thornton, I have never been too keen on him. I think he's too broody for my tastes. :) The other character that really stood out to me was Margaret's father. I love his kind, almost pitiful attempts to do what he thinks is right.

    And yes, I certainly think there are some comparisons between N&S and P&P. I know some people don't, but I always have since I first read the book. The battling between pride and prejudice is of course one great example. There were other more iffy ones I noticed - for example, Margaret's brother getting her into trouble just as Lydia got Lizzy into trouble, both Lizzy and Margaret having a friend outside of their family, and maybe Mr. Thornton having a younger sister just like Mr. Darcy? (That last one is sort-of doubtful - I like Georgiana, while I never could like Fanny very much. :)

    The BBC adaptation of North and South *is* pretty good. Most of the actors were excellent, the scenes were realistic, and the theme music was beautiful. Now you should watch Wives and Daughters. The actors weren't as good and the production quality wasn't as high, but I actually liked the story a little better (it was very sweet).

    I enjoyed reading this post! Sorry for the long comment!

    1. I do also like Margaret Hale a lot. She is a very strong and independent woman. What she has to deal with and all at 19/20 is astonishing! She is a very strong character and she has a really good heart; I can see why her and Thornton seemed to clash a lot!

      What do you make of her fathers decision? I understand, I think, why Margaret doesn't completely understand. Daniela was Margaret Hale.

      Too broody? haha. I think he was portrayed as more broody in the series than in the book. If he is too broody, what about Darcy?
      Thornton's visits and care for Mrs Hale was sweet.

      Her father was very sweet but a little irritating at times. How he wouldn't tell his wife about moving and then how oblivious he was to his wife's illness... but underneath he was very sweet.

      Pride and prejudice, as I said, yes is definitely similar. Similar in that it is there but different issues, of course, surrounding the reasons for the pride and prejudice.
      Some interesting other points; the trouble I am not so in agreement as Margaret liked her brother and it wasn't really his fault, whereas it was with Lydia. That also remind though, of how Thornton 'saves the day' regarding the station mix up as does Darcy regarding Lydia. (Georgiana and Fanny are complete opposites haha! but it is true!)

      I think they must have a good budget for it. The scenes/filming locations, costumes etc were wonderful. I love the music as well :)
      I am looking forward to Wives and Daughters. I will watch the 1999 series to get an idea of the story before reading it. Shame the novel was unfinished! At least the series has an ending, or so I am told ;)

      Do not apologise! I am very grateful when people comment as it pleases me to know people are reading my posts :) Thanks again,
      ~Mrs D

  3. I was never quite sure what to make about Mr. Hale's decision to move, as Gaskell never went into depth about his reasons why. He did move as a matter of his conscience - sort-of. I mean, he didn't *have* to move, even if he felt his role as a clergyman for a certain religion was wrong. I understand it would have been uncomfortable had Mr. Hale stayed, but he might should have considered his wife and daughter's feelings, as well as his own. Oh well - it is only a fictional story.:) That did kind of irritate me about him, though, how he was so blind to his wife's illness and sometimes even a little inconsiderate (in the case of him moving without consulting his wife).

    Mr. Darcy isn't broody! (Well, maybe he is - just a very little bit. :) And yes, I do have to admit that Mr. Thornton was rather kind to Mr. and Mrs. Hale. That makes me like him more.

    The series to Wives and Daughters does have an ending, but it was never my favorite. I'll be interested to see how you like it.

    1. It isn't clear in the novel no. A matter of conscience... I mean as a clergyman fair enough but he really didn't think it through very well. Although the illness his wife had (also unnamed in the book though probably something that we know today to be cancer) was worsened by the move to the unclean air of the north.
      Haha you are right! It is really bad I start talking about these stories as though they are real and not fictional! :S

      He is a little broody... :P

      I love the ending of both the North and South book and series! Which do you prefer?

      ~Mrs D

    2. I quite liked the end of the North and South book. I thought it was sweet and quite fitting. I was a little more dubious about the ending of the miniseries. I know, I know - almost everybody else *loves* that ending, but there was a little too much kissing in there for me.:)

      And by the way, would you recommend Sense and Sensibility 2008? I heard about the infamous opening scene and wonder if the rest would be worth watching. It irritates me a little with filmmakers add sensual parts to Jane Austen films when Austen's novels are so clean.

      I'm commenting far too much, but it's summer - period drama season!! :)

    3. I liked the ending of both, as I said. I did like the ending in the book. It was nice to have it just between them and the 'delicious silence' doesn't take three guesses to work out what it implies :P The ending of the miniseries was really sweet, for me anyway. I think it was tastefully done, IMO.

      I would SOOO recommend that series! It is my favourite sense and sensibility. It seems to get a lot of stick for that first scene but I don't have a problem with it even though I don't like Austen becoming sensual. My reasoning why I don't mind it... 1. It lasts like... 3 minutes (it is the scene before the title credits) 2. It isn't that bad, in my opinion. Compared to some scenes which have been added to adaptations (namely, 1999 Mansfield Park)as well as to other stories linking to Austen, nothing really happens. (Little kissing of her neck, clothes on etc.) Well, that is my opinion. If you don't want to see it, it isn't integral to the story as it is only showing you a brief background for the Willoughby and Eliza story, then start from the credits and move it forward a few minutes. :) I think that that one short scene is not worth not watching the entire series for. There are no other scenes like it in the whole thing (only rated PG (whereas the Mansfield Park I mentioned earlier is rated 15)) and I think the series is really good, I much prefer it to the 1996 Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet/Hugh Grant/ Alan Rickman film. So, basically, yeah I think you should!

      That is my opinion and I can't completely say what the first scene will be like for you as we are all different when it comes to this. But I like Austen's being faithful and yes this first scene was probably unnecessary I don't think it detracted from the rest of the series or is a very bad scene (and it is short). And, you can always skip it :) I think the series is a faithful adaptation of the story :)

      Let me know what you think of it if you do watch it. I love that series and want to go and watch it now!

      Don't apologise for commenting, I really like it when people comment. Please keep commenting! :D

      ~ Mrs D

    4. You've pretty much convinced me to watch S&S 2008 (though I will fast-forward the one scene, as I'm quite conservative about movies I watch.:)). Generally, though, I am fine with PG-rated movies (I'm just particularly sensitive to sensual scenes.) The problem is to find's not on Youtube, the place where I normally watch period dramas, or in my library. Oh well. Maybe one day it will come on Youtube.

      But I did like the 1995 S&S - I thought it captured the spirit of S&S quite well, even if most of the actors were a little old and they skipped out a few parts and characters.

    5. I am glad as it is worth it. Yeah, just skip to the title credits :)

      Oh no! I hope you find it and can see it soon! It is really good.

      I didn't like Hugh Grant's portrayal of Ferrars at all and the ages did annoy me a lot as they were SO out and it just wasn't my favourite... love all the actors in 08!

  4. Just wanted to let you know that I followed your blog (I created a google account for myself yesterday). My google account is under the name 'Eliza' (no more pseydonyms :).

  5. I see you're quite a BBC TV shows enthusiast. After watching North and South I camplained the same way you did "Why have I not come across Elizabeth Gaskell's work before?!"

    It is quite inteesting, exciting and inspiring novel in very deed! thanks for sharing your thoughts. Great post!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed my post! Thanks for commenting :)
      I am a BBC show enthusiast :)

      I am looking forward to Wives and Daughters :)


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