Sunday 13 February 2011

North and South

Described by Jenny Uglow as 'sexy, vivid and full of suspense' North and South is a compelling novel with magnetic central characters.

Margaret Hale's father has a crisis of faith and removes his family from their beloved New Forest to Milton, a manufacturing town in Manchester. Dismayed by the smoky industrial landscape Margaret's mother becomes ill. Her father takes in students and one of them is the powerful cotton-mill owner John Thornton.

Hypnotised by Margaret's dark beauty, dignity and scornful disdain of capitalism he falls in love with her. Margaret befriends a local girl, Bessy, who is dying as a consequence of breathing in the dust when she worked at the cotton mills:
'Fluff,' repeated Bessy. 'Little bits as fly off fro' the cotton, when they're carding it, and fill the air till it looks all fine white dust. They say it winds round the lungs and tightens them up. Anyhow there's many a one as works in the carding room, that falls in a waste, coughing and spitting blood, because they're just poisoned by the fluff.'
After Margaret protects him during a riot by the workers on strike and is injured in the process, Thornton declares his love and is refused. Her mother succumbs and dies, so does Bessy and suddenly Margaret's father. (Charles Dickens once said that much as he admires Elizabeth Gaskell he wished her characters were a little more steady on their feet!)

During this time, Thornton begins to doubt Margaret's virtue after he sees her walking out after dusk with a young man (who turns out to be her brother, but that's another story.) Margaret's stoicism and compassion see her through and after some clever plot twists she comes to appreciate the true value of the man she once disdained and the industrial town she once disliked.

Thank you so much to Make Do and Read, Shelf Love, A Few of My Favourite Books, Potter Jotter, Lilacs in May and Iris on Books for recommending this marvellous novel and I very much enjoyed this post about Victorian embroidery and art by Jane Brocket.


Bellezza said...

I have not read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell yet, but I long to do so. It makes me laugh that Dickens said they're a bit unsteady on their feet!

Lilacs said...

Love, love, love this novel. One of my absolute favourites, Bellezza, you must read it - forthwith! Dickens and Gaskell fell out I believe, I think I read they had a publishing tiff.

Gypsy Rose Creations said...

I have this book on my shelf. I must pull it down to read.

Karen K. said...

I still haven't read this but my Jane Austen book group is scheduled to read it this summer so I don't want to read ahead! I may succumb after the TBR Dare is over.

And I am glad to see that you loved it -- I loved Wives and Daughters but my good friend Amanda at The Zen Leaf just posted about how much she disliked North and South. However, we disagree about many books, so I haven't given up hope for North and South.

Teresa said...

This is such a wonderful book. I know others who weren't impressed by it at all, but it swept me away. I'm glad you enjoyed it too!

Carolyn said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Nicola! Now if you haven't seen the miniseries of it yet, you must!

Audrey said...

Mrs G is my author, if not of the month, then of the next few, and after loving Cranford and being a little 'eh' about The Moorland Cottage, I'm looking forward to reading this one. Love the Dickens comment,'s always fun to remember that they were the celebrities of their age and had their spats too!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you liked it! It's such a wonderful, vivid book. Just reading your review made me want to go dig it out of storage and reread it!

Susan in TX said...

Loved this book! As good as the movie is, as usual, the book is better. :) It definitely sweeps you into the story and holds you there.

Darlene said...

I second Carolyn! Get to your local library and borrow the mini-series!

Anonymous said...

I love Gaskell's novels but haven't read any since my university days...nearly four years ago now. It's about time I launched back in. I loved Mary Barton as well as North and South - both such gritty but brilliant novels of real life in the Victorian era.

potterjotter said...

Personally,I think Mrs Gaskell is better that Austen at bringing to life the more 'tender moments' in the relationship between the two main characters. Had to say that on Valentine's Day!

Joanne said...

Loved this book and loved the tv series. Richard Armitage was a great John Thornton.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you enjoyed it! North and South is one of my absolute favourite books. And I agree, the BBC adaptation is wonderfully done.

Rose said...

I loved it the first time, less so on a second re-reading. It's left me wondering whether I want to reread Wives and Daughters or whether to stick with my warm memories of how much I'd enjoyed it the first time - anyone else ever get that?

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this book but- dare I say it?- I vastly preferred the movie version. Not only because of Richard Armitage's excellent acting, but because Margaret came off as less... moralizing in it. It was more a North AND South movie than a North VS South sort of thing.

Mystica said...

I thought I had this with me but I don't. Will get to it asap.

Misha said...

This is the first time I came across your wonderful blog and I am overjoyed to see a review of one of my favourite books! I LOVE this book and its BBC adaptation. I am planning to re-read North and South soon.

Vintage Reading said...

Bellezza - I love that Dickens comment! I'm relatively new to Gaskell, but I'm smitten.

Lilacs in May - I must read the Uglow biog of EG and find out more about her relationship with CD.

Gysy Rose Creations, I would recommend it - a good winter read.

Karen - I'll check out Amanda's review. I have to say I didn't know that I'd enjoy an 'industrial novel' but it is a love story.

Teresa, I've not seen any negative reviews of North and South. It is a book that requires commitment, though - Vic lit is so long.

Carolyn, I would like to see it dramatised now that I've read it. Margaret needs to be dark and dramatic looking!

Audrey, I've got the Uglow biog of EG but I've only dipped into it. I need to read it properly and discover more about her friendship with CD.

makedoandread, I'm thinking a re-read of Cranford next and possibly Mary Barton.

Susan, a very superior Victorian novel, I think!

Darlene, you and Carolyn have sold it to me!

Booksnob, Mary Barton is on my mind, too. I may read that next.

potterjotter, EG writes a very good love story. You know how I feel about Jane, though!

Joanne, I am going to check out the miniseries as it has been so highly recommended.

irisonbooks, I'm feeling all the Gaskell love!

Rose, I think you need a bit of time between re-reads. I rarely re-read Vic novels - they are just too long!

Aarti, you are right, Margaret is certainly opinionated and sets herself high standards which I think she has probably inherited from her father. I will be interested to see how this is dramatized.

Mystica, look forward to your review!

Misha, hello. All Gaskell fans welcome here!!

Anonymous said...

my mom's been telling me to read something by gaskell for years, but i've never really looked into her work. i've thought of "north and south" as a book i should read, but not even to the point that i read a plot synopsis. great review, and you've convinced me that it's about time i take my mother's advice and read some gaskell. is "north and south" a good one to start with, or would you recommend another?

-- ellen

The Book Whisperer said...

This is a wonderful book, isn't it? Glad you liked it so much :)