Wednesday, February 11, 2015

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

I seem to be flying through my Classics Club books this year, and I'm curious to see if I can manage to cross fifteen off the list in 2015 rather than the twelve that I need to!

Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favourite nineteenth century authors. I became mildly infatuated with Wives and Daughters when the BBC miniseries aired here in 1999, and became obsessed with it all over again in 2001 when I studied it at university (and let me tell you, I was not well pleased to turn the page and discover that Gaskell had rudely up and died before finishing the story!)

My first exposure to North and South came courtesy of the 2004 BBC miniseries of fabulousness. I watched the first two episodes and absolutely adored it. So much so that I immediately went and bought it from the ABC Shop so that I could see the rest rather than waiting another fortnight, and I loved everything about it. That last episode is still one of my go to today-has-sucked-and-needs-to-be-fixed remedies. Because of reasons.

I didn't read the book until about 2008, and the first time I read it, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Bessie struck me as really whiny with her constant talk of death and religion. I found Margaret kind of annoying, Mr Thornton was sort of bland, and I really wasn't happy with the ending compared to the BBC series.

But I've reread the book several times over the years, and I love it just a little bit more every time. Margaret is an incredibly interesting character, in that she's basically between two worlds. She's grown up with the upper classes in London, but that's not who she really is. At best, she was middle class. Her family never had huge amounts of money, and her father's parish was incredibly small. Yet she carries herself like nobility and looks down on anyone who works "in trade".

What it takes for her to see her life as it really is are the opinions of the people of Milton. Gaskell's Northerners don't stand for Margaret's better-than-you attitude. While they're not actively disrespectful towards her, many of them treat her as an equal, something she would never have expected in London.

Mrs Thornton, in particular, is super judgey towards Margaret and incredibly proud of her son and his achievements. She has no allusions about where their money comes from, and fails to see how Margaret and her tendency to romanticise life in the south is worth more than her son, who's built himself up from nothing to one of the most respected men in Milton.
#judgingyou. Also, source.
The change in Margaret's attitude becomes obvious when she returns to London and spends time with her cousin Edith, who's extremely privileged but seems to constantly pout and complain about her life and how hard it is. When living with Edith, Margaret - while she may not acknowledge that she used to be far more like that - sees the merits in the Northern way of life far more.

In short, I love the characters, I love the setting, I love that the lower classes play just as much of a role as the middle to upper classes. But perhaps most of all, I love the ending - Gaskell's "delicious silence" is certainly one of the most explicit Victorian endings I've come across. I may still prefer the miniseries, but this is still one of my favourite classic books.

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx


  1. I have to watch the miniseries again just like I have to watch so many things again. Haven't read the book yet but one day.

  2. I've read a lot of Classic literature, but I've never really been interested in Elizabeth Gaskell. I watched part of the first episode of North and South and it just didn't appeal to me - I like my Victorian world smudgey and scandalous, not in a factory.
    And also because the south is always better than the north. (Not that there's still rivalry here or anything...).
    Beth x

    Calms self.
    Also, I have not read this, of course, I'm shameful commenting on most of your posts, aren't I? But I'm 1000% curious because of Thorin *coughs* because YOUR REVIEW WAS GREAT. <-- That's better.

  4. Yes, that's Thorin before he was Thorin! Even if you don't read the book, you should check out the miniseries. He's fabulous.

  5. I think part of why I love this one so much is that it's northern but doesn't in any way involve coal mining!!

  6. The book can be a bit rough at times, especially with some of the northern dialogue. But I love it nonetheless.

  7. This is on my TBR list. I really enjoyed the BBC min-series so I'm excited to read the book!

  8. I just read the book for a read-along and while I had a hard time with it at first, the story and characters really grew on me. "Delicious silence" what a great way to describe the ending which I loved, although I know so many others were dissatisfied with it. Who was your favourite character?

  9. I can't handle that gif of him getting off the train! *fans self* I have not read the book yet but I plan on it because I LOVE the mini series


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