Wednesday, 13 June 2012
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Now, I should first like to note that, at the start of my copy there was a preface mentioning that N&S originally came out as entries in a newspaper and so Elizabeth did not feel she had included everything she could and some vital parts to the story had to be omitted, this was corrected in some parts when she was to have the book published but at other parts it does feel that some of it has been rushed *cough* the ending *cough*.
The story follows Margaret Hale as she moves back to live with her parents in her beloved old parish home in Helstone only to be faced with leaving it as her father, the vicar, has a crisis of conscience (not faith, he doesn't lose his faith only finds that his views on it differ from the church's - or something like that, not completely explained).
With their income cut down, and unable to live in the cottage as it is for the parish priest, the Hale's must find a place that is affordable and all signs point to that place being up in the North of England (as opposed to the South where they currently reside). By contacting an old friend Mr Hale finds them a good deal on a house but apart from that it appears that responsibility for everything else falls on Margaret and this seems to remain one of the underlying themes throughout the book.
The differences between the manufacturing North and the agrarian South are made clearly evident through Margaret's eyes, at first as she favours her home the south, and is obviously looking at it through fond memories and rose tinted spectacles. This comes in direct contrast with our male lead character, Mr Thornton, who is a Milton man born and bred and is the epitome of the what Gaskell believes the north stands for; someone who has worked his way from destitution to a place of prominence in the eyes of the other mill owners, who is sought for advice and known for being honest and open. The south is represented in a softer, kinder way that relies a lot on words and less on action, where it would seem the (supposedly) warmer climate and more laid back way of life has become a part of the people themselves.
What follows is a story of understanding, love, tragedy, friendship and one or two things that made me get a bit teary as well as Gaskell's more political views on class barriers, how women are perceived and expected to act as well as the relationship between an employer and his employees. These are usually the lines Austen refuses to step over and barely hints at with her well-veiled hints at her political standings covered in lines of poetic descriptions and fun, light hearted debates.
I found this book to be just as enjoyable, if not moreso, than the BBC adaptation - and I love the adaptation (seriously, it's not all about Armitage, I swear!). Gaskell delivers a work that reminds you of Austen but goes deeper into the personalities and psyches of the main character. Where Austen gives you a strong-willed heroine Gaskell adds on the deeper thoughts this woman has. At some points I truly felt sorry for Margaret, at others I wanted to slap her before then acknowledging that maybe she had a point. Mr Thornton is not just there to be the male lead who has the ladies at his feet but has a brain and business sense that would make even your modern day man proud.
Managing to grasp the changing moods of the time, Gaskell really doesn't sugar coat too much for the poor readers delicate senses at the time, although nowadays we'd barely bat an eye at some of the descriptions of the slums, but then we have history lessons and resources to draw on to already have an idea of how bad it really was.
A brilliant read that will stay with me for a long while. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys fiction from this time period and if you happen to get your hands on the BBC adaptation after reading this I suggest chucking out th other half when watching it!