When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, 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 the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.
Find the book on Goodreads.
Confession time. When it comes to classics I tiptoe my way through the first couple of chapters, my features screwed up as though faced with a plate of offal. I can’t help it. I have had a couple of good experiences with classics in the past, but they are few and far between. I often find it difficult to wade through lengthy and awkward sentences that dully describe the same things. I’m generalising, and I apologise, but this has often been my experience. This is my rather long winded way of telling you that I’ve put off attempting North & South, even though I have seen the BBC miniseries, and loved it, over and over for years.
Well, I got through more than just the first few chapters and relaxed my features. I was enjoying myself. Margaret managed to be a strong heroine while remaining believable for the time period. Apparently this is something I really approve of in literature, and she reminded me of my forever favourite, Scarlet O’Hara, more than once. I loved that she was strong and proud for her family, but what I also appreciated about Margaret was that she showed emotion, every emotion, whether it was becoming to her or not. She could be happy, derisive, angry, sad, pious… she was a real person.
And Mr Thornton. Before I go on, I have to say that this is definitely a book that I was reading for the characters. I appreciate the social commentary but it’s not really what I look for in a book. So in Mr Thornton I found many of the same values Margaret held for herself, and yet, as the blurb testifies, the two of them have a rather tempestuous relationship. They’re both strong and proud and honest, and can’t fathom that the other would care for them. There are whole sections of the book where you just want the two of them to put aside their pride and tell each other how they feel but that was never going to happen, was it? And making the reader wait until, literally, three pages before the end of the book for that reconciliation!?
Higgins has always been a favourite of mine in the miniseries and I loved him again in the book. I liked how dreary Milton was portrayed, and yet there was also a certain optimism surrounding it, despite the strike and other economical difficulties. The way in which the book switched perspectives was something else that I loved. I thought it was great that Gaskell could move so smoothly and swiftly between viewpoints, without the need for big headings and chapter divisions. It gave you all the information you needed from a scene and I think that more books need to employ this technique. Anyway. I liked this book. It was great, and not at all hard work. If you like classics and haven’t read it, do it now. If you don’t like classics, but enjoy old timey love hate romances, read it anyway.