Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: "North and South" Classic a Month #12.2013

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
3.5 out of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a good Twitter friend a few months ago and I put it off because my library only had one copy. And then I remembered, duh I have a Kindle and there are always lots of free classics on there so I looked and yep, there it was. :) I did enjoy reading this and there were great parts but on the whole, I felt it was pretty average. If I were describing this book to a potential date, it would be "sturdy constitution, decent upbringing, with impeccable manners." But don't let that discourage you! I would still recommend it and would probably even reread it at some point. Also, I feel like I missed out on a lot because I've never seen (or heard of) the BBC series and this is definitely a book that would (does?) work well as a television show.

It's impossible to discuss this book without comparing it to Pride & Prejudice. Both are stories set in the 1800s and feature young people from different classes falling in love. Each of the couples clash immediately upon meeting, trading sharp barbs of wit and sarcasm. One of the duo (coincidence that it is the guy in both cases?) falls in love waaaaay before the other and spends half the book trying to ignore their feelings while simultaneously encouraging chance encounters.

She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening-the fall. He could almost have exclaimed-"There it goes, again!"

And then, there is an epiphany where the female suddenly realizes that she was a fool, A FOOL I tell you! Margaret was not a ready lover, but where she loved she loved passionately, and with no small degree of jealousy. She is suddenly in love with the guy but now she can't have him for some reason or another, until the very end, when they must both swallow their foolish pride and come together. Metaphorically speaking of course, I'm pretty sure the corsets and bustles would have gotten in the way. ;)

Now, you're probably wondering why you should read this if it's just like P&P. N&S is a much quieter love story, less dramatics, more tears, lots more death. But the biggest difference and the thing that makes this book worth reading is the commentary on class divisions...North vs South, tradesmen vs "genteel", factory owners vs the union workers. I never really thought I'd enjoy reading about economics but I did. Gaskell knows how to write, that's for sure. Not just making economics interesting but her world building and descriptions were first-rate.

"I don't know-I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down."

She makes you feel for both Thornton, as the hard-working mill owner, and Higgins, the poor union worker. Higgins was one of my favorite characters, with his gruff attitude and tender heart. And when he takes in the orphan children...awww. So many of the characters died, though. I kind of had a problem with that, mainly because most of them happened very suddenly and were done and moved on within a page or two. I'm just glad Higgins didn't die, I wouldn't have forgiven her lol. And I'm going to end this review with two wonderful quotes that need to be turned into resolutions somehow. I'll start working on that now.

"Surely, if the mind is too long directed to one object only, 
it will get stiff and rigid, and unable to take in many interests."

"Thinking has, many a time, made me sad...but doing never did in all my life.
Do something...do good if you can; but, at any rate, do something."


  1. Are you an American by any chance?

    You see, I think Gaskell's novel actually works better for British readers because it taps into our North/ South divide, where the more affluent and sophisticated peoples of London look down on the money-hungry and industrious communities of the north.

    The class system is awfully rampant in Britain and North and South gives a historical account of just how entrenched such social myopia is in my nation.

    The whole suspense plotlines of the novel may have less of a payoff than warranted, but I do think it to be a very important novel.

    I like your blog.

    1. Yep, I am American, and I completely agree with you! :) I don't think I could connect as well with this as say, Grapes of Wrath, which is about as "American" as you can get.

      Thank you for commenting and for the compliment!