“North and South” — Elizabeth Gaskell

“North and South” — Elizabeth Gaskell

*spoilers: DO NOT READ ON IF UNPREPARED*

Two month intervals is not really what we’re looking for in a blog that offers such worldly advice and excitement — “The full depths of its wisdom,” I hear you cry (or maybe that’s just you snoring), “should be imparted on a far more regular basis!” — but my mind is currently full of pizza and pasta and ice-cream*, and I cannot raise it from its sleepy slumber to type, or indeed read, very much. Thus, the clever beyond clever smush of two exceptional ideas that comprises this selfsame blog post formed in my mind: to combine a novel and its television adaption to gently ease the burden of too many words and such.

Also, I miss my English land quite a lot, and so am happy to have any excuse to reminisce fondly on its archaic class system and the quaint North-South divide. Sigh.

*Any guesses where I am living in questo momento? Clue: it begins with ITAL- and ends in -Y. Otherwise known as the land of delicious foodity, which is why I’m surprised that my fat fingers still fit on the keyboard.

Brief Synopsis:

Margaret Hale and her family are forced to leave their home in the undulating dells of the New Forest — some nonsense about her father being racked with guilt that he doesn’t quite believe the newfangled form of Christianity, but I know a mere contrivance of plot when I see one — to take up residence in Milton, an industrial town UP NORTH. Try to contain your shudders and gasps of quiet horror. Lo and behold, after many stressful encounters (including the fact that her brother, despite being at risk of being hung for mutiny, takes it into his head to return to England and VERY NEARLY gets caught, but oh it’s fine because he gets away safely and wait did he kill someone on the way nevermind), both of her parents and the one friend she has managed to make, despite this friend being from UP NORTH and therefore extremely unsuitable, die. Oh dear. When she returns to London all on her ownsome, Mr. Thornton, a mill-owner with whom she has had a very love-hate relationship hitherto, suddenly becomes the all-encompassing reason for her existence and they end up together.

Small Points:

♥ What is it about a first marriage proposal that makes it a) so difficult to be polite at, and b) so easy to turn down? Take Mr. Darcy, for example, who’s lucky he ever got a second chance. I feel like this is one of the things that works really well on paper but would completely backfire in reality. “Oi you, to be honest you’re arrogant and conceited and I’m only saying this because I have to, but how about marrying me?”

♥ Excuse me but have you seen Richard Armitage? Get on that 2004 BBC series right now, and I mean NOW. (P.S. it’s available on YouTube.)

The Big Scoop:

I’m not going to lie to you. I did have to read this book a whole two times before I fully enjoyed it. Why is it that some novels are so much bloomin’ better the second time around? I mean, I’m not a fussy reader, but I do prefer if possible to know what I think of a something after reading it just the one time. Places to be and all that. In fact, upon first read, I was exceedingly bored at almost every point and really just couldn’t wait to put it down at the end. Second read? I couldn’t put it down at all and was absolutely gripped by almost every word. My advice would be don’t dismiss the writing as heavy or dull just because it deals with slightly grittier issues than which dress to wear to the Netherfield Ball (jokes, Austen, you know I adore you).

Along the same lines, it is this very harshness of writing that might come across as clumsiness, but Gaskell has definitely intended it this way. The difference, for instance, between the careful and considered marriage proposal of Henry Lennox, the London lawyer, and the inflamed and almost senseless one of John Thornton could not be more explicit: and Margaret herself even notes the lack of similarity between the two. However, while the first proposal is characterised by “regret” on both sides and slinks back into the comforting blanket of friendship, the second makes no apology for itself, is proud and defiant to the point of rudeness, and, ultimately, WORKS. They do get married (presumably), after all. She even thinks of Tasso*, for goodness’ sake, before slipping into French. If an ability to prevent oneself from slipping into various European languages isn’t true love, I don’t sais what è.**

So once I did read North and South for the second time, I wasn’t immediately inspired to watch the series, to say the last. In fact, it took me a few months to get around to it…. but when I did, I was HOOKED. I literally stayed up all night to watch all four episodes, and cried hopelessly during the final scene, to the extent that my roommate actually came into my room with an umbrella (everyone’s weapon of choice) because she thought I was being murdered. Favourite line? Clearly, the famous “Look back…look back at me”, urgently muttered while standing in the snow because, you know, it’s Northern England and they want to rub that in by any means possible. The only criticism I had was the completely unnecessary declaration of love from Mr. Bell, Margaret’s guardian, which creeped me out a bit as he’s just old.

Rating?

I loved loved loved the series (ask either my family who I tried to persuade to watch it almost every second of the day — even more impressive considering that I’m in a different country to them at the moment — or my poor Pinterest followers, who have suffered an onslaught of pictures of Richard Armitage in Victorian getup), and the book was just fantastic, but I have to reduce my rating just because I had to read it twice (and I also can’t give two books 10/10 in a row…). 9/10 it will have to be.

And I’m ending this now because I can feel I’m about to give in and add on that extra 1.

* Link here for the uneducated masses in which I am 100% included: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torquato_Tasso

** I may or may not have laughed for an obscenely long time after I wrote that. Apologies to all concerned.

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