Saturday, June 26, 2010

North and South

North and South is a story about the North and the South of England, of industry, working classes, society, family, and friendship. The story follows Margaret Hale, a young woman who grew up alternately between her aunt's home in London and her parent's parish home of Helstone. Margaret's happy life amongst the yellow roses of Helstone is shattered when her father, a parson, announces that he is dissenting from the Church of England and moving his family to a dirty, industrial town in the North of England, called Milton (based off the city of Manchester). There, Margaret meets two entirely new classes of people: masters and workers. While befriending some of the workers of the local mills, she at the same time breeds a keen dislike for the mill-owners, particularly John Thornton, proprietor of Marlborough Mills and a pupil of her father's.

In a rather Pride-and-Prejudice sort of manner, Mr. Thornton develops a romantic interest in Margaret, who detests his ways of dealing with his workers and spurns him with her haughtiness. At the same time, the tension between masters and men increases, as the workers begin planning a strike. To make matters worse, Margaret must deal with difficulties within her family: her mother's failing health, her father's spiritual struggle, and her brother's precarious situation as a mutineer sought by the authorities. Will Margaret ever feel at home in the North? Will she find love and friendship? Can masters and workers, and Margaret and Mr. Thornton, come to the point of laying down their prejudices and choose to understanding each other? Can North and South be reconciled?

North and South, written by Elizabeth Gaskell and published in 1855, has been said to be the best of this authoress' works, and the heroine to be one of the most original in Victorian literature. Mrs. Gaskell was not perhaps the most expert writer of the 19th century, but her stories and characters are among of the best of her era. Margaret is a very real sort of heroine and the reader often finds herself right alongside her, laughing with her, cheering for her, crying with her, learning with her. Margaret's struggles in uprooting to a strange place, trying to hold together her family during times of distress, and feeling confused over her actions and emotions are very real and identifiable and make her a heroine to be admired.

A few aspects of the book might be considered deficiencies according to the reader's taste. The authoress tends to fall into the usual 19th century descriptions of "the curving lines of the red lips...glossy raven hair...smooth white neck...the smooth ivory tip of the shoulder" and other rather silly physical descriptions that personally drive me crazy-- but then, some people might not be bothered by that. :-) At times, a scene might take on a slow pace as it goes into detail about working situations and strikes, and sometimes some characters seem inconsistent to themselves, and the ending is a little too quick and sudden for my taste, but these are minor occurrences and details did not spoil the book for me.

For those of you who have watched the BBC miniseries based on this book, you will find a few differences-- the book contains a great deal of spiritual application and shows Margaret's, John Thornton's, and Mrs. Thornton's faith and walk with God in a way the movie does not, and it also sheds a little more light on the reason Mr. Hale left the Church.. It is very refreshing to see in the book that several of the characters are true Christians and that God's Word governs their lives and shapes their minds, convicts them when they do wrong, and helps them to move on. In the book, also, the reader gets a chance to see inside Margaret-- "Why did she say that?" "Why did she do what she did?" "How did she feel about this?" These questions are answered by glimpses into Margaret's thoughts that the movie chose not, or was unable, to show. The book also help the reader understand who Leonards is, why he was pursuing Frederick, and what Frederick did after he returned to Spain. In addition, several of the characters (though not all) are much more likeable in the book-- Margaret is not annoying like she sometimes is in the film, Thornton does not have such an explosive temper, even Mrs. Hale does not seem quite as obnoxiously fretful and sickly in the book.

At the same time, there are aspects of the movie that I think are better than the book (if I may be so bold to say the filmmakers improved upon the original). The movie shows you the mills at work several times and alternates scenes between Margaret, Thornton, and Nicholas more frequently to help you know better what is happening on all sides. (In the book, one does not know about Marlborough Mill's financial troubles or Thornton's and Nicholas' friendship until nearly the last chapter, or only by hearsay through letters that Margaret receives.) The movie also gave more color to characters like Bessie and Fanny, and Nicholas is more likeable in the movie than in the book.

I would have to say that reading the book North and South helped me to enjoy the movie better, and I think both are best enjoyed together. You can read North and South on Gutenberg press or buy it off of Amazon; the miniseries is also available from Amazon or from your local Barnes and Noble Bookstore.


Mama said...

Excellent review Melanie. You covered those points wonderfully. I agree that the two together is the best way to go.

Rosebud said...

Nice review! You almost make me want to read the book. :P

Lilly said...

I LOVE the movie!

Gabrielle Renee said...

I need to read the book now... ;)