North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Posted August 4, 2013 by Brin in Reviews / 4 Comments

North and South by Elizabeth GaskellNorth and South on January 13 1994 (originally published in 1855)
Pages: 521
Format: Paperback

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England.

Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.

In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

I had already seen the BBC production of North and South (many, many times!) before reading this book so had a good idea of the story and the setting. North and South, in some respects, is like a grittier version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (another book and TV adaptation that I love). The story and characters are deep and full of imperfections which is why I think I can relate to this story so much, even though it was written so long ago.

I really do love the BBC adaptation of North and South and Richard Armitage as Mr Thornton is definitely swoon-worthy however, I loved the novel for the greater complexities it gave to the characters. Margaret Hale is a character I have found hard to relate to in the adaptation but reading the book helped to understand her motivations (although I cannot really fathom her great dislike of Mr Thornton in the book – the TV version at least gives some sort of reason for her initial aversion to him).

In some ways, it may have been better if I had read the book first, as comparisons between the book and the show are inevitable, and I find it easier the other way around to not always think of the book when I am watching a televised/film version. Still, I very much enjoyed the novel. The writing was beautiful but concise, and the characters are layered and realistic.

The story is on the surface a simple one, but has all sorts of political and social themes playing in the background which are still relevant today. The love story, between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, is believable because both parties act irrationally and willfully at times. The go through periods where they quite dislike the other and the resolution of their love story at the end is hard-won and heart-warming.


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4 responses to “North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

  1. this book is one of the most underrated Classics I’ve ever read. When I first did a few months ago, barely found anyone to talk about it to, but ever since blogging took over my life, I’ve met a group if classic junkies who love it!
    I do love the BBC series. I read the book first(that bookish habit cannot be over ridden)and then watched it. Mr. Thornton is in a whole new level of heroes where even Mr Darcy has to be thought twice of. (PnP and I have some nostalgic memories too) I love the political social aspect of this book, and knowing the context of its historical setting makes reading this book so much more enjoyable, as we know what she is fighting for. Lovely review! (I’m so sorry this is so long :/ )

    • Brin

      This really is a criminally underrated book – you are absolutely spot on! Elizabeth Gaskell really should be up there with Jane Austen. Her books really were very topical and deserving of the highest praise and her heroes were just as swoon-worthy as Mr Darcy (not an easy feat mind you!)

      P&P (both the book and the 90s mini-series) will always hold a special place in my heart but I do really love North and South too. Thanks for taking the time to stop by this post – I love it when I get new comments on my older posts – it’s great getting discussions going again! 😀

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