At the core North and South is a love story; about a woman moving from her home in the south to the north, and falls in love.
And yet it’s not that simple (it never is).
Gaskell was a writer in the 1800, during the industrial revolution, and the story very much reflects the time period. On one hand you have Margaret Hale, daughter of an educated, gentlemen, representing the old values of the south, and John Thornton, owner of a mill and very much embracing the new culture and ideas that the industrial age brought with them. Before the industrial revolution, you were a gentleman by birth, and while John Thornton doesn’t come from nothing (I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but in those rags to riches stories the people almost never come from nothing. It doesn’t happen.), he very much is a self-made man. Even by our standards.
“If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale.”
“I would do my best,” said Margaret pale. “I do not know whether I am brave or not till I am tried; but I am afraid I should be a coward.”
“South country people are often frightened by what our Darkshire men and women call living and struggling. But when you’ve been ten years among a people who are always owing their betters a grudge, and only waiting for an opportunity to pay it off, you’ll know whether you are a coward or not, make my word for it.” (North and South, chap. XV Masters and Men)
So you would think the story is about Margaret moves, is snobbish and then changes to see the error of her ways?
While this is a book about politics that does debate the changes of the time, it doesn’t really judge anybody. The reason the Hales movie in the beginning of the book is because Mr. Hale, a priest, rejects the church, but not his faith. They talk about how the industrial culture don’t value classical education since it doesn’t have any practical use, and yet the way Thornton and Margaret get close to one another is because Thornton becomes Mr. Hale’s pupil in the classics. You have a sub-plot about Thornton’s workers and the union, and we have that sub-plot because Margaret befriends the union-leader. This book is brilliant at showing that there is more than one side in a conflict.
Another aspect of this, showing more than one side, is that while Margaret is the main character, it does switch focus during the book and get to see Thornton and what he is going through. Following the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra of good storytelling, this allows us as readers to get to know him better as a person, see how Margaret is influencing him. This means that unlike in most stories, where we root for one person to get the person they love, here we root for the couple since we get the chance to get close to them both.
There is action in this book, but it’s not an action filled adventure. This is more a book about reflection and conversation. If you like movies like When Harry met Sally you will get an idea about the kind of book it is.
And this wonderful book doesn’t just have one, but two BBC mini-series. One was made in the 1970s, and I have to admit that while I have seen it I do think it’s the weaker one of the two. The one thing that I really remember from it is that Patrick Stewart is Thornton. And the man I have just known from Star Trek looking like this
I honestly had to watch the first half of the first episode again because I had spent the time staring at his hair. I know that probably says more about me than the series, but then again…
As for the other, a lot of the other fans of the book that I’ve talked to, actually read the book after watching the 2004 BBC mini-series with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard “chocolate-covered voice” Armitage
The music in the trailer always makes me feel like there should be a car chase or something in there, but the series is exciting, and while not perfectly faithful (but then again, what is?) it does manage to capture the characters and the chemistry between them. At the same time the wonderful aspect about how that they interact with other people, changes the dynamics between them.
“I ought rather,” said she [Margaret], hastily, “to apologise to you, for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.
“It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pungently as it was expressed. But you shall not drive me off upon that, and as escape the expression of my deep gratitude, my –” he [Thornton] was on the verge now; he would not speak in the haste of his hot passion; he would weigh each word. He would; and his will was triumphant. He stopped in mid carrer.
“I do not try to escape from anything,” said she. “I simply say, that you owe me no gratitude; and I may add that any expression of it will be painful to me, because I not feel that I deserve it. Still, if it will relive you from even a fancies obligation, speak on”
“I do not want to be relieved from any obligation”, said he, goaded by her calm manner. “Fancied, on not fancied” (North and South, chap. XXIV Mistakes cleared up)
As much as this is a book it is also a realistic love story. A couple exist in their environment, and are influenced by this. It’s just natural that the relationship will as well. I think, more than the characters and discussions and story, this is the reason I fell head over heels in love with this book. If people said this book was based on a true story, I would believe them. (which it is not, as far as I can tell).
If you liked to the book and want to learn more, I could recommend visiting this blog. It’s dedicated to the book North and South. http://www.westofmilton.com/
There will be more Elizabeth Gaskell in the future.
Book online: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4276