Thursday, 10 November 2011

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South
When her father leaves the Church, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. In "North and South", Gaskell skillfully fused individual feeling with social concern and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

After having watched and re-watched (and re-watched and re-watched and...) the BBC adaptation of North and South, it was only right that I should read the novel. Mind you, it was something I meant to do since the first time I saw it, oh so many years ago. And after a North and South marathon with a friend (until the wee hours of the morning), the book reading was my next step.

So, it was with a solid knowledge of the story and clear favourites among the characters (Oh, Mr. Thornton...) that I started. One of the things that I first noticed was the language and the portrayal of Margaret, the main character of this book. I quite liked Margaret in the series, but on my first acquaintance with her in book form I found her a bit petty and snobbish. I knew she would change, but it did shock me. But petty and snobbish as she was, and much due to the amazing writing of Elizabeth Gaskell, I didn't see her as a thing of the past, she was not simply a character of a book, and outdated at that. In a few pages Margaret was a real person, and wouldn't be at all out of place in our days. And the same could be said about the writing. Not old fashioned at all, and together with the characterization of Margaret, I could forget this was set in the 19th century.

Enter Mr. Thornton, who in the series is beautifully portrayed by Richard Armitage and I thought couldn't get any better. Well, I was wrong. For, something that is less common in the books that are written nowadays, in North and South we can see both actions and feelings (and thoughts) of all the characters, not just the central one. John Thornton, who to Margaret is a stiff, unfeeling master of the North (and in trade *shock, gasp*), when shown to us in the company of his family and friends proves to be an intelligent, honest and fair man, even if he is set in his ways. Really, the man has his faults, like everyone else, but all in all, he a fine man.

Amidst the struggle of a factoring town, of poor conditions to workers, whom Margaret befriends and helps, and the heavy hand (and sometimes sneaky) of the masters, of talks of strikes and a lot of death (seriously, Mrs. Gaskell, was there need for so many?) there is a love story between these two. Not without its bumps (it couldn't be that simple, now, could it?), but it was fun to follow it, even if at times it broke my heart (poor, poor, Mr. Thornton).

But back to the struggles of the poor. Even if in the case of the Higgins, Margaret's working friends, I prefer their TV counterparts (especially Bessie, who isn't so fervours in her religion on screen), I liked that part of the story. It was a look into the past, of the hardships of those who had to work in conditions that would undoubtedly kill them, and how the priorities of life were different from those of Margaret, for instance.

There are, of course, a couple things on this book that I wish that would be different. First, towards the end, when Margaret leaves Milton, much of what happens there stops being told, and I kept wishing to know how those left behind fared. And second, the ending. Oh, it is a very good ending, that made me laugh. But could I please have another chapter? Just a tiny little one? Please? Because I want more!

Summarizing (or not really): a very good book, a classic no doubt. I loved the writing (so much that I could only follow this book with another one of Mrs. Gaskell), and the story. Read this book, and watch the series. Both totally worth it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Other Reviews: A Few More Pages | Cuidado com o Dálmata | Estante de Livros |

This Book on: LibraryThing | GoodReads | BookDepository UK | Book Depository US | Amazon UK| Amazon US| | Wook | Project Gutenberg | Librivox

The Series on: Amazon UK| Amazon US|


  1. I can tell you what happened next: they locked themselves in the room and did it. Business transactions, that is. xD

  2. Nothing at all. I was just being perfectly clear. *cough* I think I'm getting sick *cough*