Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
On the Shelves: Fiction> Classics
North and South depicts a young woman discovering herself, in a nuanced portrayal of what divides people, and what brings them together.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton. (Goodreads 2014)
“ I believe I have seen hell and it’s white, it’s snow-white “
One of my friend’s described this book as being “Pride and Prejudice but with actual topical and meaningful social debates going on in the background”. I basically agree with her. I almost consider North and South to be like a Pride and Prejudice 2.0! I do not mean this as an insult, just incase anyone thinks that way. But it can’t be denied that Austen’s worlds are a bit “upper class rich white woman problems” where the biggest dilemma shown is which handsome bachelor they will marry to secure their future livelihood. North and South gives the readers a bit more to chew on and think over. Maybe I am a little bit biast, coming from the North of England and a town where the miners and cotton industries were based and very heavily affected by the likes of the Miner’s strikes in the 70s. Despite this, however, I did give North and South four stars, and Pride and Prejudice five. This was because while I enjoyed Gaskell’s writing, I did feel like there was a fair amount that could actually have been cut from the novel and it would not have affected a lot of the book. I felt the pacing was quite slow in areas and if I hadn’t been so invested in Margaret and Thornton, I may have struggled to want to continue. So that is the explanation for the not-5-star rating.
One thing I have noticed with period dramas like this, Gaskell, Austen, Bronte, is that in the tv shows and film adaptations, often the only side of the male heroes you see is them glaring at the girls or giving them snide remarks- but in the books they are clearly in love by the second chapter! Such a bizarre change to their portrayal! I personally saw the BBC mini series before reading North and South, the only work by Gaskell I have read so far. All I can say is if you love John Thornton, read the book because there is so much more depth and character development of him in the book than there is in the drama (sorry Richard Armitage, I love you), and you also see a gentler side to him in the book. I won’t say much more about that because it may be considered spoilers- but yes, warm fuzzies by Thornton.
The more serious social background issues I mentioned earlier, which appear in this novel, deal with not only the cultural classes of England, not just between the “Southern Softies” and the “Harsh Northerners”. Thornton is the owner of a cotton mill in the North of England (I suspect Manchester, maybe?) and he is struggling to keep all his workers employed and fed due to his bosses outsourcing work in various ways). You saw the perspectives of every class in this employment debate, from those living in poverty or working in the factories trying to feed a family of six on a very tiny wage for the back breaking work, to the fat cats at the top of the chain who would only benefit from the outsourcing. It just added a little more gravitas to the tale which added to the story of the growing romance between Thornton and Margaret, as they grew to understand each other’s opinions from their opposite sides.
“But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be “