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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