Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Look at me, I's readin' my classics again! Ms. Gaskell is on tour for the Classics Circuit, which gives me a very good excuse. For other stops on the Gaskell tour, check the Classics Circuit blog.

North and Southare as different as night and day, or at least that is what Margaret Hale feels when her family is unexpectedly uprooted from the beautiful, warm south of England to a northern manufacturing town, Milton. Her first impressions are to scorn their dirty, cold way of life, but she soon learns more about the town and the people, in particular Mr. Thornton, a mill owner whose ambitions and strength of character have made his fortunes. Can she overcome those initial reactions to understand and even love the North?

North and South

Things I Liked:
Oh, I am such a sucker for the love stories! I guess I'm a romantic at heart, because the love story in here was just beautiful. But, it is so much more than that. I love the writing, especially the way Gaskell expresses things so beautifully like feelings and emotions of all kinds of different people. They feel like individuals with very different personalities and reactions. I love how Margaret changes slowly, she doesn't just instantly think the North is awesome and love the people. The characters she meets and interacts with slowly change her opinions. I just gotta admit that I haven't read much of anything written today that can quite capture life the way Gaskell and Austen and Dickens could. I loved this quote, because it struck a chord with me:
"There are days wi' you, as wi' other folk, I suppose, when yo' get up and go through th' hours, just longing for a bit of a change - a bit of a fillip, as it were. I know I ha' gone and bought a four-pounder out o' another baker's shop to common on such days, just because I sickened at the thought of going on for ever wi' the same sight in my eyes, and the same sound in my ears, and the same taste i' my mouth, and the same thought (or no thought, for that matter) in my head, day after day, for ever." p.136
I also loved this little phrase that kind of sums up much of what Gaskell tried to portray:
"Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm." 233
Things I Didn't Like:
Sometimes the dialect for Darkshire people was difficult to follow. I had to read it more carefully and slowly than other parts. I was also really annoyed by Margaret's parents being so indecisive and also not very concerned with her feelings - she pretty much takes care of everything and they often forget about her. This quote shows a bit of what I got mad about:
"It was astonishing, almost stunning, to feel herself so much at liberty; no one depending on her for cheering care, if not for positive happiness; no invalid to plan and think for; she might be idle, and silent, and forgetful, - and what seemed worth more than all the other privileges - she might be unhappy if she liked. For months past, all her own personal cares and troubles had had to be stuffed away into a dark cupboard." p.344
It definitely felt like a Dickens novel, describing the way poor people lived, like Oliver Twist
And the story felt a bit like Pride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen

s-factor: !@
several scattered throughout

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
some minor incidents

Overall rating: *****

For those of you who have seen that excellent BBC version of North & South do you think Mr. Thornton rivals the BBC Colin Firth portrayal of Mr. Darcy?

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  1. My mom actually bought me this book a little while ago. I enjoyed your review, I'll have to curl up and give it a try!

  2. oooo! I remember Angie, over at Angieville doing a review about the movie of North and South BBC version but she hadn't read the book yet. I'm so glad you like it! I'm going to head out and find this movie, I've wanted to ever since I saw Angie's review and now yours just sealed the deal :)

  3. North & South is one of my favourite books. As far as the miniseries goes, Mr. Thornton DEFINITELY rivals Colin Firth's portrayal of Darcy. There are some scenes in N&S that totally trumps P&P. :)

  4. We'll be reading this for book club in a month... I can't wait even though it will be a re-read for me. And the movie will for sure have a place in our discussion. Mr. Thornton is wonderful and yes, he rivals Mr. Darcey for sure. :)

  5. No way. No one truly compares to Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. Not at all.

    I actually enjoyed the book far more than the miniseries. I enjoyed the dialect (although it was easier to follow on the movie, when I could see the setting better) but I mostly loved how realistic the characters were, with flaws and yet good points too. They were trying hard!

    I felt for Margaret, but I felt it was very realistic. Parents in that situation probably WOULDN'T take her into consideration.

    Thanks for joining the Circuit!

  6. >I love how Margaret changes slowly, she doesn't just instantly think the North is awesome and love the people.

    I agree--I think one of Gaskell's strengths is her realistic portrayals of flawed, very human people, and I also thought Gaskell did a great job of having Margaret gradually come to appreciate the northerners for who they really were.

    The eye dialect is challenging. I found listening to the movie helped me read it more easily.

    Enjoyed your review of one of my all-time favorite novels.

  7. Kath, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    KIWI, definitely you will want to watch it. I really do love Mr. Thornton.

    Court, just remembering makes me want to watch it - especially the end :)

    Suey, I'd love to read this for book club, but most of my book club members read too slowly to finish something this long.

    Rebecca, Mr. Darcy was my first love, that's for sure. I agree with you about the realistic portrayal of her parents. It just made me angry!

    Jane, definitely watching the movie helps in understanding. I think it took me longer than usual to read because I had to be so thorough with the dialects. I'm going to have to read more Gaskell for the flawed characters. She does them very well in this book!

  8. Sounds interesting. I've never read any Gaskell but a few of her novels are on my to-read list.

  9. Margaret and Thornton were meant to stand for different frams of mind and cultures (the South and the North) but they came to be very realistic representation of two complex human beings, admirable from several points of you and impossible not to love. Their love story is so involving ...

  10. Bookshelf Monstrosity, you should definitely pick up something by her.

    Maria, I felt just the same way - they became so real that we had to love them!

  11. North and South absolutely rivals Pride and Prejudice. I love Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton. I like Colin Firth all right, but as Mr. Darcy, meh, it was just alright for me. North and South wins by a landslide.

    I agree with you on Margaret's parents though. They were kind of weak characters weren't they?

  12. Amy, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say Mr. Darcy was just "meh" - them's fightin' words :) I agree that Armitage is fabulous!

  13. *laughing out loud!* I've had fun reading down this column at all the thoughts people have had. But I must agree with you Melissa, that I'd much rather Mr Thornton that Colin Firth/Darcy. Personally, I'd prefer the Matthew McFadyen Mr Darcy in the new movie "Pride & Prejudice" over Colin Firth. Mr Thornton has a lot more on his plate though, than simply falling for a girl of lower class, as Mr Darcy did. After all; Darcy didn't have an occupation to earn a living, unlike Thornton.


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