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!