Friday, August 3, 2012

North and South

When Margaret Hale leaves her childhood home in London upon the marriage of her cousin Edith, she is glad to return to the country parsonage her parents have lived in most of their married days. Eighteen years old and enamored with life, she is surprised to find that her mother hopes for a preferment for her husband "to escape from the damp Helstone air".

Only a few weeks after Margaret comes home, her father turns the family upside-down when he leaves his life-long career in a crisis of conscience. He can no longer promise to uphold all the articles of the Church of England, and therefore he is determined to give up his parish, and become an outcast in respectable English society. They move to the north of England where he takes a position as a tutor with the help of an old friend: and their destination is Milton, a manufacturing town.

Margaret looks down upon tradespeople and factory workers as low class. When she gradually meets them in her roamings through Milton streets, she begins to realize that they, too, have value in their own right. But however Margaret Hale comes to value Higgins and his daughters (workers in the mill), she has no respect for 30-year-old John Thornton, one of the mills owners. He is a hard man, and he finds her a proud woman, and though they do not  clash openly, their disagreement on issues of manufacturing puts up a barrier between them.

Margaret is the staff and stay of her parents throughout the difficulty of their new life. Soon after they move to Milton, she realizes that her mother is concealing ill health, and after a visit from the doctor Margaret realizes that her mother is about to die. Mrs. Hale's last wish is that she might see her son, Frederick, who cannot safely return to England for fear of his life, as he joined in a mutiny years earlier. But at Mrs. Hale's earnest request, Margaret writes to him in spite of the danger, and asks him to come.

The streets of Milton escalate in a factory strike for higher wages. When John Thornton brings in factory hands from Ireland in a refusal to raise their pay, the strike escalates to a riot. Margaret Hale finds herself trapped in his house during friendly visit to his mother while the rioters close in around it. And the climax of the strike forces the greatest struggle yet between Margaret and Thornton--North and South.

My Thoughts
North and South is not a feminist propagandist novel, as the Marxists tried to tout it. It's a story of strong and fearless womanhood, honorable and brave manhood, coming together and clashing--not in a bad way, but in the natural conflict that comes when two people have studied out an issue and come to opposite conclusions. Margaret is very ladylike and civil, but she also politely challenges Mr Thornton when she disagrees with him.
Gaskell portrays the mill strike with great effectiveness, and does an excellent job capturing it from both perspectives--the mill owners and the workers. North and South is unique in that it isn't good fighting against evil, but two right perspectives learning to value their opposites.

Little bit of language here and there.
Probably my only point to pick is that it reads like a magazine serial--not surprising, because that's what it was, but the ending was a bit abrupt and not as well developed as I could have wished. I find it interesting that she published it in Dickens' magazine, and though I hear he didn't like it, the edition I read had an endorsement of his on the back.
Gaskell never reveals what Mr Hale disagreed with in the articles of the Church of England, nor do I think it fair to speculate. The point of the story is not what he disagreed with, but the fact that he had the courage to walk away from his life's work for conscience sake. I read on Wikipedia that Gaskell was a Unitarian, which means she did not believe in the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. If this is the case it is certainly a serious error in the Christian faith, but North and South does not portray that belief in the lives of the characters, or in Mr Hale's decision. Each character in the book has a various way of worshipping God, but all are good and acceptable as far as I could see, with the exception of Mr Hale himself and his doubts. After all, the Church of England was not the way to salvation; Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved regardless of whether you're a Catholic or a Pentecostal or a CRC.
Well written plot-wise, and Gaskell developed Margaret's character excellently. She is a ladylike woman, full of poise and grace, and a good example of how young ladies can be knowledgeable and educated in discussion with young men without rudeness or feminism.
I also applaud Mrs. Gaskell for refusing to use situational ethics. This is one of the few books I've read where a lie is a sin, and is treated as such. Well done.

North & South PosterThe Movie
I have not seen the 2004 adaptation of North and South yet, but I will alert my readers to the possibility of an email  review when it is available. :)

Today's review is shorter, but I do have one more thing, if my friends and fellow bibliophiles would be so kind: I have several choices for my next "reading theory" series, and would be interested in your opinions as to what you would like to see next. The poll is in the sidebar, right at the top of the page. Only one vote per person, please! :)

Happy reading!

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Sounds like an interesting book. You really gobbled that one up. :D ;)
    Wonderful Post.
    Love, Sister
    P.S. I'm voting on your poll. :D

    1. I know--four days! :) *happy sigh*

      Love and cuddles,

  2. This is one of my favourite novels- and Mr Thornton is probably one of my favourite characters ever. I'm happy that you rather enjoyed it. Have you read anything else of Mrs Gaskell's work? (If not, Wives & Daughters is also excellent, as is Mary Barton.)

    1. I liked Thornton a lot--he's a man and a gentleman, however much he and Margaret disagreed over their terms. :)

      Yes, I have read Wives and Daughters as well, and I enjoyed that one too! I'll have to check out Mary Barton. Thanks for stopping by!


    2. Exactly so. I like Mr Thornton for that, plus the fact that he and my older brother are extremely alike (although my older brother doesn't own a mill and whatnot). ^.^

      Mary Barton is a book with much the same feel as North and South, I think, as it is set also in industrial Britain. It was Mrs Gaskell's first published work, if I recall it correctly, so perhaps not as polished, but I still found it good- especially the Christian elements which were clear and strong. :)


  3. Our mom read the book and enjoyed it, although she too felt it suffered from being published as a serial and was not up to the standard of most of Elizabeth Gaskell's books.
    Margaret Hale is an intelligent, conscientious, and tender-hearted heroine; she is not flawless, but admirable and lovable. And in my mind (if I may utter such sacrilege), John Thornton is superior to Mr. Darcy in every way (except yearly income). He has integrity and responsibility, and he increases in maturity and graciousness through trials. His relationship with his mother is one of the story's most moving aspects.
    As far as the mini-series goes, we watched it more than once and thought it excellently done. It is more faithful than most book-to-screen adaptions, and actually tones down the story's melodramatic element rather than heightening it. And the score (my favorite part) is superb.
    ~The Philologist

    P.S. Those looking forward to The Hobbit movie may be interested to know that the male lead is played by Richard Armitage, i.e. Thorin Oakenshield. :)

    1. *Superior to Mr Darcy in every way*!

      My Dear Philologist, you are entirely right. (Though Mr Darcy's manners do improve upon acquaintance. ;) I liked John Thornton immensely, and enjoyed the fact that both he and Margaret had parents. Many heroes and heroines don't.
      I am looking forward to the movie, and find it hilarious that he is Thorin Oakenshield. Hehe, the Brits really can do just about anything.

      Hopefully the upcoming movie is another accolade to anyone connected to John Thornton's character.

      Those looking forward to The Hobbit movie may also be interested to know that Peter Jackson has decided to turn it into three movies instead of two. :)

  4. H'mm, I got a copy of North and South at the same time as Bleak House; and the spoiler I accidentally took in a few months ago has faded out of memory. Maybe I should read it soon!

    1. I think you would enjoy it, especially as you enjoyed Wives and Daughters. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...