Saturday, July 9, 2011

"North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Published: 1855
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5
Review Goodreads

Last year I watched an excellent adaptation by BBC, on the recommendation of my daughter.  Since then, I bought the Works of Elizabeth Gaskell on my Nook for a whopping $4.  I started to read this novel and found the highlighting and note-taking feature so cumbersome, I had to buy the paperback.  Now I can dog-ear, write in the margins and underline to my heart's content.   I have come to the conclusion that an e-reader is not necessarily my cup of tea unless I have a sudden urge to download and read a Debbie Macomber book in one night.

Gaskell was a wife and mother before becoming an author.  Her first book, Mary Barton (1848) made her an instant celebrity.  North and South was first published in the familiar installment mode in Dicken's Household Words between September 1854 and January 1855.  She became a lifelong friend of Charlotte Bronte and wrote a biography at the request of C.B's father.   Apparently North and South is of a similar theme to Bronte's book, Shirley (1849).

I loved the book: the prose, characters, setting, description and dialogue.  To me, it was Pride and Prejudice meets North and South.

Margaret Hale is our heroine and lives in an idyllic town in the south of England called Helstone.  Her father, a clergyman decides to leave the Church of England and take up a position as a tutor in Milton (northern England) much to the chagrin of his wife.  The family is uprooted and the difference in surroundings and lifestyle are like night and day.  Milton is a manufacturing town and one of Mr. Hale's pupils is a factory owner, John Thornton.

Through an omniscient narrator that goes inside the minds of both main characters, Margaret and John, we see the differences between these two parts of England - almost as if they were different countries.  The North vs South themes in the book:  apprentice vs. student, pragmatic vs. philosopher, man vs. gentleman, manufacturing vs. agriculture.  The other themes have to do with the manufacturing industry itself:  Master vs. hand, management vs. labor, owner vs. union.

Both Margaret and John have pride in their way of doing things and are prejudiced against the other, hence the similarity to Austen's book which was published over 40 years earlier, in 1813. In fact, chapter 11 is titled "First Impression" which was the original title of P&P.

The basic romance plot line of Margaret Hale and John Thornton remind me of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Austen's P&P and interestingly enough, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.

  • Boy and girl notice one another (Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth at the dance, Mr. Thornton and Margaret at her Milton home, Rhett and Scarlett at the Wilkes' barbecue).
  • Boy is attracted to the girl first and professes his love.
  • Girl rejects boy.
  • Boy saves girl.
  • Girl sees the positive attributes in boy.
  • Some misunderstandings which drive me as the reader, crazy.
  • Girl ends up loving boy. 

I look forward to reading other novels by both Gaskell and Bronte.
  • Mary Barton (1848)
  • Shirley by C.Bronte (1849)
  • Cranford (1853)
  • Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857)
  • Wives and Daughters (1866)
It is a bit surprising how much I am enjoying 19th century British literature. 

1 comment:

  1. I liked North and South and Wives and Daughters (even though Gaskell died before finishing W& is so nearly complete that the disappointment isn't too great, the BBC adaptation is very good, I think). Cranford was a little slow and disconnected for me, although I know many people have loved it. I have Ruth and Mary Barton on my shelf; hope to get to them someday soon.