North & South Read-A-Long: Week One

First and foremost, thanks again to the lovely Andi and Heather for hosting this awesome read-a-long!

The first 14 chapters were a delight to read, not that I ever had any doubts!  Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters was a favorite from last year so I knew North and South promised to be hours of fun.  And can I just say the Kindle pages turned like magic?  I’d settle down to read one or two chapters and find myself absorbed four chapters later.  Before I knew it, I’d blown past Chapter 14!  Gaskell’s writing is just so immensely readable.  You hardly even believe it’s a Victorian novel or that Gaskell was friends with both Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens (although her and Charlie did fight a bit).  For me, Gaskell just brings a concision and simplicity to her writing that Bronte and Dickens do not.  Did that sentence just feel blasphemous to anyone else?  Please understand that I love me some Charlotte and Charles, but Gaskell’s prose sometimes feels like a breath of fresh air.  She’s the kind of author that Victorian newbs can truly dig and the old weathered lot of us can sit back and enjoy.

That being said, Gaskell’s novels are deeply layered and tackle some of the heaviest themes of her time.  North and South finds itself right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and all the economic and social changes of that time.  Margaret, our heroine, moves with her mother and father from the affluent South England countryside to the smoky industrialized fictional northern city of Milton.  Obviously, there’s an innate prejudice against these Northern business men.  Margaret grapples with new ideas born from labor rights, social warfare between employee and employer, the age-old class system of poor versus rich, and the complex relationships between each of these groups.  The first 14 chapters have just skirted these issues so far, but we know what side Margaret’s on.  She grew up in a world of old money and agriculture.  This new class of Northerners who come from low birth and make their money through means of manufacturing and commerce are baffling to her and she’s automatically pre-disposed to prejudice and rash judgement.

As for Margaret Hale as our heroine, do y’all like her?  I’m torn and almost see her as two characters – the one that lives in her head and the one she portrays to the world.  Her inner monologues paint her as a thoughtful young woman who is really trying her best to be a great daughter, a helpful hand to the poor, and the type of woman anyone could be proud of.  But outwardly, she tends to come off as haughty, severe, and very outspoken – at times, rude.  Normally, I like a saucy protagonist, but something about her manner puts me off.  I’ve seen lots of discussions comparing her to Elizabeth Bennett and I can see how the comparison is a fair one, but so far, I’m nowhere nearly as enamored of her as I am of dear Lizzy Bennett (of course, I am superbly biased).

And as for Mr. Thornton, I haven’t fully formed my opinion of him just yet.  He represents the hardened Northern mill owner who has risen from the ashes of his wayward youth to find success.  He’s a great antagonist to Margaret’s protagonist and their bickering back and forth is highly entertaining.  I love when opposites attract so I’m fairly giddy about the prospects of their further argumentative romancing.  I do get a kind of villainous feeling from Mr. Thornton, however, especially in the face of the poor Higgins family who has been ruined by manufacturing work.  Does anyone else feel this way?

Before I stop my endless and rather pointless rambling, let me comment on some of the book’s secondary characters.  Papa Hale seems sort of aloof to me and slightly weak.  He never appears to be home, can’t get up enough nerve to tell his wife they are moving, and refuses to accept the realities of his wife’s illness.  Poor Margaret is really the head of this household.  What do you think this characterization lends towards the ideas of a learned and book loving man?  Not a very good one, I’d say.  As for Margaret’s dying mother, she’s silly in her own ways and complains A LOT, but there’s something a bit sturdier about her in the face of her failing health.  But honestly, I don’t think I like either of her parents.  And the brother, Frederick?  He’s confined to South America due to some boating mutiny?  Is this relevant?

Man, I need to shut up!  The first 14 have left me numerous questions and beginnings of several arguments.  I want to know how Margaret will reconcile her relationship with the Higgins family with that of the Thorntons.  Will Frederick make an appearance?  Will the mill workers strike?  Who will lose their life?  Will John and Margaret find peace and happiness?  And will poor, neglected Mr. Lennox find love in the face of Margaret’s rejection of his marriage proposal?

Will I be able to restrain myself from finishing the novel way ahead of schedule?  Questions, questions!

*********

I forgot to mention something!  Reading North and South has been very interesting alongside Gone With the Wind.  How similar some of the themes are.  And technically, they take place very close historically.  Ok…I’m really going to shut up now.

Don’t forget to check out the other posts over at Andi’s blog!

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18 thoughts on “North & South Read-A-Long: Week One

  1. It’s interesting to me to see Margaret compared to Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice. I have never thought of her that way. Or at least it’s been overshadowed by the way I always compare Mr Thornton to Mr Darcy and Mr Rochester. There are many echoes of Pride and Prejudice overall, though, I feel.

    I think both Mr Thornton and Margaret have two sides to them, and the challenge is for them both to change for the better, to reconcile prejudice and bad behaviour with their ideal image of themselves, somehow? Everytime I reread N&S I’m shocked by how much I forget about the bad behaviour of the characters: Mr Hale’s treatment of his wife in not telling her anything, Mrs Hale complaints because she’s not richer which make her unable to see the beauty in her life at Helstone, Margaret snobbish and downright ugly superiority at times, Mr Thornton’s unwillingness to see the bad circumstances of his workers and to help them by education (though from the first he’s shown to be more mild than others – still, quite shocking how he feels about the Higgenses for example).

    Aaaah, all your questions at the end there! I’m trying very hard to shut up, but I will say that most of the people that have been introduced will become relevant in some way or another.

    • I’ve seen Margaret compared to Elizabeth in various different criticisms – more so in light of her relationship to Mr. Thornton than anything else and her initial prejudices. I’m excited to see how John and Margaret grow over the course of the novel (hopefully, grow together!). And I hope that all of the characters with their somewhat nasty behaviors redeems themselves down the road.

      I’m glad to know that certain characters do become relevant!

  2. I haven’t decided if I’ll put up a post yet for today or skip this week as I just got back into town last night. I have finished the reading for the week but I don’t have quite as much to say as you do!

    I don’t mind Margaret yet but I do find some of her behavior curious. I’m very much feeling the Pride and Prejudice aspect in her behavior towards Thornton (and to a lesser degree with him to her). I’m listening to the book and am loving it. Yesterday in the car I pulled out the Kindle and read several chapters that I’d already listened to and agree that it is fairly easy reading for Victorian literature. And I love how short the chapters are. 😉

    The character that has been crawling under my skin is Mrs. Hale. She seems like such a whiny flibbertyjibbit. Though I guess I’d be pretty upset if my husband decided to up and quit his job and take me across the nation.

    • Mrs. Hale definitely has her cringe worthy moments! I was appalled by her behavior at Helstone – always complaining about wanting to move away and then complaining even louder when her ‘wish’ comes true. I’ve read a little ahead, though, so my feelings are changing a bit on her account. We’ll see if she can redeem herself in the weeks of reading to come!

  3. I really like Margaret! I think that she tries to take the brunt of all of this change and continues to try to be the strength and foundation of the family. This is my first Gaskell and I can already tell that she will turn into one of my favorite authors. (Unlike Mr. Dickens. Argh!)

    • I think I hold Gaskell as a favorite author as well. I just enjoy her writing style so very much. And I do ultimately believe Margaret to be a strong, wonderful protagonist, but she just has some growing to do before I’m completely head over heels!

  4. Great post! I agree with many of your thoughts. I haven’t formed an opinion of Thornton yet, but I tend to admire people who rise up from nothing and make their own way in the world. To that end, he has my temporary approval!

    Margaret does seem like a hard nut to crack. I thought the scene where she parts with Thornton and winds up inadvertently bowing instead of shaking his hand was very telling, and it was obvious why Thornton would think her haughty. His grumbling about her reminded me very much of Darcy and Elizabeth, though I agree that Gaskell’s writing has a clarity and readability that Austen’s sometimes does not. (Blasphemy, I know!)

    • I, too, admire people who rise from nothing and make their own way. I just hope he hasn’t tread over less fortunate people to get there, so I’m worried about delving into the details of his backstory.

      Margaret is definitely complex which I love. I’m enjoying that she keeps me on my toes and makes me question her motives and true beliefs. Her relationship with Thornton should prove immensely readable, enlightening to both their characters, and supremely entertaining!

      And I’m glad others find Gaskell’s writing as clear as I do!

  5. good for you for joining and having fun with the book! I had hoped to read it as well, but wasn’t able to fit it in this time…perhaps I will take a bit of a more leisurely stroll through the book while you guys are doing the readalong. Keep up the good work!

    • It really is such a great novel and so easy to swallow up quickly! I’ve been reading about a chapter or two a day at a leisurely pace and have had no troubles keeping up along with reading my other commitments. I hope you do find the time soon and enjoy as much as everyone participating! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  6. Yay!!! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the book, and I won’t fault you if you blow ahead. LOL I need to do some catch-up reading this week because everyday commitments have gotten in the way. I have to say, I am enjoying the book a great deal. I like Margaret’s beginnings and I’m keen to find out more about her as alluded to in some of the posts I’m reading. Also excited to meet Thornton. I’m fascinated by issues of class and the repercussions of the Industrial Revolution in general, so this novel can only hold good things for me. 😀

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Brooke!

    • No worries about needing to catch up! Plenty of time and the story only gets better and more page-turney! I’m trying to restrain myself from getting too far ahead and then spoiling everyone on what happens – that would be bad!

  7. So I’m loving the book much more than I anticipated! So far, shes briefly alluded to some of the social issues that will arise in the book, and I am looking forward to seeing her treatment of them further in the novel . Jury’s still out on Margaret and Thornton, but something about Margaret isn’t clicking with me. I do enjoy hearing what she is thinking, though. Perhaps my views will change as the novel progresses.

    Will be starting on the next chapters tonight!!!

    • I’m glad you are enjoying the book, Courtney! And Margaret hasn’t won me over yet, either. Far from it, in fact. I’m hoping to see her grow and learn as the novel progresses. I do think she bears a lot of her family’s hardships on her shoulders, especially in light of having such a weak father figure.

      Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on our next section!

  8. Not blasphemous at all! I can’t stand Austen (talk about blasphemy!), but am loving Gaskell. Maybe it’s because she limits the simpering idiots in her books? Ma and Pa Hale aside, of course.

  9. I really like your point about ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ Margaret. I really liked how Gaskell tells you what’s in the characters heads and then flips to the other person’s point of view and whether they see the person accurately or inaccurately. I also love the idea of this smart woman who really knows very little about the world and is about to realize that.

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