on 14 January 2010
My first foray into the books of Elizabeth Gaskell and certainly not my last as I am already part way through " Wives & Daughters." Set in the mid 1800s it relates the story of the Hale family, father, mother and our heroine, daughter, Margaret Hale. It opens with Margaret being reunited with her parents after living with relatives in London for the previous ten years, being companion to her rich and spoiled cousin, Edith. Edith is now to be married and the Hale family is to be whole once more in the country where the father is a curate in the tiny village of Helstone. Father has a crisis of conscience, gives up his living and moves the Hales to the northern mill town of Milton. Although not by any means a rich family the Hales (apart really from Mr. Hale) almost immediately suffer a culture shock in this, a dirty, smoky, foggy but vibrant mill town. The resultant story is one of disasters, tragedies and the beginning of a will they-won't they get together when we are introduced to what I will call the hero of the story, John Thornton a successful mill owner. Ms Gaskell paints a very exact and intuitive picture of the poverty and hard working "folk" of the North and compares it very dramatically with the goings on in the affluent and snobby South. (Is there much difference today I ask myself?) We are introduced to some wonderful Northern characters together with much Northern dialect, which is a joy to read. The tale is heartwarming and at times very sad as the Hale family and their Northern acquaintances seem to veer from one disaster to another. We are even entertained with a bit of "trouble in t' mill!! For a novel written about days gone by I found much of it a real page turner which I have not found in other books of the same ilk. My only regret and this is not a criticism is that the "ending" did not last another couple of pages....I am ever a romantic at heart!!
on 31 March 2007
I have to admit that I saw the BBC mini-series before reading the book, I know, shame on me for not reading more, but the thing is that I decided to read it to check how good was the adaptation and found in the first place a good book to read, nice characters, some great literary moments and interesting use of dialogue, slang, northern accent that makes it an amazing novel, and secondly, the adaptation in this case has been great, fantastic, probably due to the fact that Gaskell creates characters, dotes on them, offering us a complete view into their core, sometimes we get too much information but, I am not complaining. Thornton is one of those characters that will go with you for the rest of your life.
Hope you like it too.
on 20 October 2010
First published as a magazine serial of twenty-two installments in Household Words edited by her mentor Charles Dickens, NORTH AND SOUTH was later expanded by Mrs. Gaskell into the format we know today and publish in book format in 1855. The story explores some of Gaskell's favorite topics: social division and class struggles, religious faith and doubt, and the changing landscape of mid-Victorian England from an agricultural nation to industrial giant. Interlaced in these conflicts are genuine characters as passionate in their social convictions as they are in their quest for understanding and love.
Opening with the wedding of her vivacious cousin Edith Shaw to Captain Lennox, our nineteen year-old heroine Miss Margaret Hale is at an important juncture in her life. Raised in London by her wealthy Aunt Shaw, her duties as companion to her cousin are now over and she returns to her family as an educated and sophisticated young lady. Her parents live in Helstone, an idyllic rural Hampshire village where her father is the local Church of England minister and her mother a former county belle. Higher born than her husband she married for love against her family's wishes. They lead a comfortable, but frugal life until her father's decision to leave the church on principal; uprooting his family to the only opportunity available to them. His former Oxford tutor Mr. Bell has connections in Milton-Northern, an industrial city of cotton mills and coal smoke in the north of England, a far cry from the comforts, sunny climes and verdant countryside of the south in Hampshire. On the same day of Margaret's fathers shocking announcement, Henry Lennox a young lawyer and brother of Edith's husband visits the Hales in Helstone with the objective of proposing marriage to Margaret. Because she feels no affection other than friendship for him, his offer is rejected.
The Hale's are aided in their search for a new home in Milton by Mr. Bell's tenant John Thornton, a young successful mill owner who has worked his way up from working class to respectable tradesman after the tragic death of his father when he was fifteen. The ladies find Milton smoky and stifling, especially Mrs. Hale and her personal maid Dixon who are always ready to complain about the dirty air, the unsophisticated town and its lowly people. Because of their reduced circumstances and the lack of help in a mill town that can offer higher wages to young girls, Margaret fills in as maid with the household duties. Margaret is happy to help, but her mother is horrified that her daughter, a lady, must work as a menial. To support his family Mr. Hale has found work as a tutor. One of his best students is John Thornton who is eager to improve himself and catch up on his education. Mr. Hale invites him to tea much to the bemusement of Margaret and Mrs. Hale who are arrogant and cold to him, believing him below their notice. Margaret is outspoken, voicing her opinions to him of Milton, their odd northern customs, and critical of Mr. Thornton's comments about the differences in the south. Margaret thinks he is coarse and harsh with his workers. He thinks she is beautiful and intriguing, but proud and full of airs for someone new, poor and uninformed.
As Margaret begins to acclimate to her new home, she makes friends with Nicolas Higgins, one of the mill workers and his sickly daughter Bessy. They are skeptical of her intentions when she visits and very proud not to take charity. Through them she comes to understand the hard working conditions in the mills and sees the result of their unhealthy environment in Bessy, whose work from a young age has infected her lungs from inhaling the cotton fluff that floats through the factory. Mrs. Hale's health is also in steady decline and the doctor warns Margaret that there is not much more time before she is gone. Margaret keeps this news to herself and shoulders the burden as she has done to protect each of her parents from bad news. With his urging, John Thornton's mother begrudgingly makes a social call at the Hales with her daughter Fanny, privately offering her assistance with her mother to Margaret.
In turn, Margaret visits Mrs. Thornton at their home next to the mill and finds herself in the middle of a workers strike. Desperate to fill mill orders and keep his business solvent, Mr. Thornton has brought in cheaper Irish workers to break the strike and an angry mob has amassed outside the mill ready to riot and kill the blackleg workers in protest. Margaret admonishes Thornton to talk to the crowd and appease their anger.
Of course Gaskell has built up to this moment so beautifully that we are crestfallen by Margaret's reaction to his admission of love. It is the axis of the novel. She despises him and accuses him of ungentlemanly behavior, the worst insult to throw at a man trying to win the heart of a lady. He is hurt yet dignified in rejection. That is indeed an act of a gentleman that she does not recognize yet.
How these two strong minded and opposing personalities will come together, and we are never in doubt that they will, is one of the most moving and satisfying love stories that I have ever read. Often compared to Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Gaskell's NORTH AND SOUTH parallels many of the same misunderstanding and misconceptions that the two protagonists go through to reach mutual respect and love. This was the first Gaskell novel that I have read, and her style, while more effusive and descriptive than Austen's was a welcome surprise. Interlaced with this study of the diametric personalities are the differences in the lifestyles from agricultural southern England to the industrial north. Her characterizations were so detailed and real, that I cared deeply about the outcome of each of them. I recommend NORTH AND SOUTH highly. It will remain one of my cherished novels that I reread regularly. That is the greatest compliment an author can hope for. This wonderful audio book edition read by Clare Willie enhanced by enjoyment of this classic story considerably.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
on 3 February 2010
I can't believe it's taken me so long to finally read this! I fell in love with the story when I first saw the adaptation on TV, bought the book (and the DVD!) soon afterwards... and it has been sitting on my shelves for FIVE YEARS waiting for me to finally get my act together! Anyway, it was definitely not a short read, but so very worth it.
Basic storyline: Margaret Hale and her family move to the Northern industrial town of Milton from their sweet Southern village. The whole family is uprooted and struggles to settle into the smoky, noisy, dank atmosphere of their new home. Their earliest acquaintances there are the Thorntons - dignified Mrs Thornton, her silly daughter Fanny, and her handsome son John, wealthy master of the Marlborough Mills and a famous name in cotton. Despite Mr Thornton's best efforts, Margaret believes Milton society to be inferior to their status as gentlefolk, and so the scene is set for a 'Pride and Prejudice'-esque story of wounded egos, longing glances, misunderstandings and, finally, true love.
Despite the similarities between this novel and the Austen favourite, there are big differences. This book is much more complex, and much grittier, leaning further towards Dickens in some respects. The poverty of the Milton workers, in which Margaret takes a philanthropic interest, is a major focus of the novel. The misfortunes of the Higgins and Boucher families, and their constant struggles against injustice, illness and uncaring employers, are carefully explored and movingly rendered. At the same time the progressive ambitions and difficult decisions made by the masters are never overlooked, providing a balanced view of industrial progress in the mid-19th century. And alongside all this Gaskell pointedly shows the contrast between the frivolity of the London social scene and the harsh life of Milton, as well as slowly drawing the reader deep into the lives of the Hale family, who have their own preoccupations, hardships and tragedies to bear.
All in all, this is a wonderful novel. It provides a fascinating insight into a time and an existence very different to modern life, while never losing the intimacy that draws the reader into the lives of these characters. I cried several times over the course of the novel, and had the HUGEST smile on my face at the inevitable and well-deserved happy ending. These characters burrowed their way into this reader's heart over the course of the book, and I've learned a little to boot. A fantastic read - and if you haven't seen the BBC adaptation with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe, you should! It's what started my love affair with this story and I've been watching it very happily as I've been reading... Highly recommended.
on 30 November 2004
This has been a favourite book of mine since I first read it nearly 20 years ago. It has parallels with Pride and Predjudice and many of Dickens' novels. The main theme is a passionate love story involving two very strong people from different worlds. It is set against a backdrop of the Industrial Revolution. Margaret Hale has led a very quiet and sheltered life in the rural south of England when circumstances force her to move to a rather grim northern city. The story of how she gets to know some of the people, in particular John Thornton one of the mill owners, and begins to understand their way of life is a compelling one. Anyone who has been watching the BBC adaption of North and South should read this book. The story has been been changed slightly to appeal to modern audiences but the essence is still there. Elizabeth Gaskell has been overlooked for far too long, in my opinion. Hopefully this will bring her to the notice of another generation of readers.
on 14 January 2003
For me, Elizabeth Gaskell is the Victorian's Jane Austen. She wrote enduring love stories featuring characters the reader cares about, and this novel continues that record. The relationship of Margaret and Thornton is tempestuous and full of twists and turns, with its misunderstandings, unacknowledged passions and fiery exchanges. Gaskell handles the sexual attraction between these characters skilfully, communicating as she does within the far less sexually-open idiom of the Victorian novel (check out the scene where Margaret saves Thornton from the rioters, or the bit when, whilst having tea with the Hales's, Thornton is transfixed by a bracelet tightening the flesh on Margaret's arm).
Adding an extra depth to the novel are the contemporary Victorian social issues which are addressed within its pages - the decreasing social distinction between the classes, the rise in female empowerment - but don't let these put you off. They are so carefully woven in to the inherent fabric of the plot that there is no struggle to understand the significance they would have had.
In short, this is a fantastic book - Margaret and Thornton remind me of Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth and Darcy, with their stormy, unacknowledged passion for one another and their intellectual compatibility. And just like Pride and Prejudice, this novel is filled with the kind of pleasurable scenes that you'll want to read over and over again.
on 7 June 2013
I most probably have read this well over 30 times and I still enjoy reading it. It is my favourite book.
It made me cry, smile and laugh. When I read the sufferings of people such as Nicholas Higgins it allows us to understand the impact of the industrial revolution - politically, socially and economically.
This is from wiki as I just can't articulate (with appropriate justice) how great this book is. Words that I could use seem commonplace and impertinent. I would not insult it so.
North and South is set in the fictional town of Milton in the North of England when industrialization was changing the city. Forced to leave her home in the tranquil rural south, Margaret Hale settles with her parents in the industrial town of Milton where she witnesses the harsh brutal world wrought by the industrial revolution and where employers and workers clash in the first organized strikes. Sympathetic to the poor whose courage and tenacity she admires and among whom she makes friends, she clashes with John Thornton, a cotton mill manufacturer who belongs to the nouveaux riches and whose contemptuous attitude to workers Margaret despises. The confrontation between her and Mr Thornton is reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but in the broad context of the harsh industrial North.
Miss Margaret Hale -- The protagonist
Mr. John Thornton -- The owner of a local mill, a friend and student of Margaret's father, and Margaret's love interest.
Nicholas Higgins -- An industrial worker whom Margaret befriends. He has two daughters, Bessy and Mary.
Mrs. Hannah Thornton -- Mr. Thornton's mother, who dislikes Margaret
Fanny Thornton -- Younger sister of Mr. John Thornton
Bessy -- Nicholas Higgins's daughter, who suffers from a fatal illness from working the mills
Mary -- Nicholas Higgins's youngest daughter
Mr. Richard Hale -- Margaret's father, a dissenter who leaves his vicarage in Helstone to work as a private tutor in Milton
Mrs. Maria Hale -- Margaret's mother, a woman from a respectable London family.
Dixon -- A servant of the Hales, very loyal and devoted to Mrs. Hale
Mr. Bell -- An old friend of Mr. Hale, god-father to Margaret and her brother
Mrs. Shaw -- Margaret's aunt, Edith's mother, and Mrs. Hale's sister
Edith -- Margaret's cousin, married to Captain Lennox
Mr. Henry Lennox -- A young lawyer, brother of Captain Lennox. Margaret refuses his suits early in the story
Frederick Hale -- Margaret's older brother, a fugitive living in Spain since his involvement in a mutiny while serving in the British Navy
Leonards -- Frederick's fellow sailor who didn't mutiny and wants to hand Frederick in to get a reward
on 3 February 2005
I would certainly recommend this novel. I read it before the TV series came along, and loved it for itself. I read half the book in one night - so desperate was I to find out what happened - although I later regretted having almost skimmed through parts of it. This is a book with a lot to offer - from gritty portrails of life in working mill town, to the beautiful romance that is entwined in the dirt and grime like a silken ribbon slinking through a brier bush. The contrasts between the supposed ideallic life in the South and the harsh North are blurred and erased, as stereotypes are broken down through personal contact as the pages progress. It is a delight to read, giving delight to anyone with a romantic heart, or the harder feelings of someone interested in dealing with issues of empathy with the Victorian working classes.
Read it. You would a stoic indeed to regret it.
In the days before my kindle my favourite reads were period romances and while now my kindle has opened up a whole new world of books, in fact I'm spoilt for choice with MC's, shifters, vampires...the list goes on and on but you really can't beat a good classic.
I originally read North and South years ago and while I enjoyed the relationship between Margaret and John it was the poverty and suffering of the mill workers which really caught my attention. After the BBC drama I read the book again and this time it was the romance I felt drawn to, the difference age makes, I suppose.
This is an interesting read which covers the struggle and social injustice of the workers, it has great interesting characters and the relationship between John and Margaret builds and simmers throughout the book. I'm glad that I now have this on my kindle since even though I was adamant that I wouldn't give up 'actual' books in reality I find I read them less and less these days.
I always thought of 'North and South' as the industrial northern version of 'Pride and Prejudice' less ribbons and balls and more poverty and suffering and while I like both books 'Pride and Prejudice' is I think my favourite book of all time maybe because it's the book that made me fall in love with reading.
on 4 May 2011
Gaskell is less well-known than she deserves, though recent miniseries of several of her works are helping to redress the balance. "North and South" is a powerful but accessible story, with strong characters and a vivid setting. Gaskell manages to include a wealth of information on social and economic conditions of the day without becoming didactic.
Margaret is a fine character; strong and self-possessed, and willing to entertain new ideas. Which also describes John Thornton. They have real chemistry, right from their first meeting. Gaskell's large cast of secondary characters are also convincingly drawn.
The author says in a note that she was "was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity towards the close" due to publication limits, and that does show. The body count becomes rather distressingly high, and the lovely lingering progress to the inevitable conclusion becomes breakneck. But that certainly doesn't spoil the reading experience.