[Review] North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Publisher and Publication Date: Oxford University Press. 1854-55. My edition was published 1998.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature.
Pages: 496.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Excellent.

North and South is a read for these challenges: Victorian Reading Challenge, The Classics Club, Chunkster Reading Challenge, and Back to the Classics Challenge 2021.

For further information:
Oxford World’s Classics
The Gaskell Society
American Literature

Elizabeth Gaskell Goodreads author page

Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson Gaskell, 1810-1865

Other books by Elizabeth Gaskell:

Mary Barton 1848
Cranford 1853
Ruth 1853
The Life of Charlotte Bronte 1857
Sylvia’s Lovers 1863
Cousin Phillis and Other Tales 1865
The Grey Tales and Other Tales 1865
Wives and Daughters 1866
Gothic Tales is an assortment of her writings from 1851-1861. The Old Nurse’s Story is one of these stories. The e-book is currently .99 cents at Amazon.

Summary:

Margaret Hale is the heroine of North and South. Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Margaret has one brother, Frederick, who was in the Navy but brought about a mutiny. He is now living on the European continent and in hiding for fear of court-martial. Her father is a minister in the Church of England. She has a cousin named Edith. Edith is Margaret’s age and early in the book she marries.

Margaret is from the south of England. She is a young woman of middle class.

The Hale family’s lives change when Mr. Hale resigns his position as a minister. The family relocates to a northern town in England. It is an industrial town. The mill owner is Mr. John Thornton.

My Thoughts:

This is the second time to read North and South. I’ve seen the film several times. It is a film produced by the BBC.
When I re-read a book I try and focus on something new. I usually pick a different character than when I read the book the first time. Focusing on someone new helps me learn something new about the book. This time I focused on Margaret’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hale.

There are several reasons why I love this story:

1. Margaret is one of my favorite book heroines. She is steady and reliable. She is observant and cautious. She has a heart of gold. She is not a woman who can be persuaded to become involved with a person or an idea without time to think and weigh the decision. She is beautiful in appearance and character.
2. The romantic element has time to develop and mature.
3. Margaret’s parents come across to me as acting much older than their probable age. Margaret is about 18 or 19 when the story begins. Her parents would be in their 40s or early 50s. But they come across as being much older, 60s to 70s. Mr. and Mrs. Hale are insecure, frail, fragile people. Margaret shows remarkable strength in comparison to her parents. Margaret shows remarkable beauty in her character opposite her cousin Edith. North and South is a story of several comparisons: Margaret and her parents. Margaret and her cousin Edith. The industrial town of the north compared to the towns of the south. The industrial workers compared to the owners. There is also a comparison between Protestant and Catholic.
4. Mr. and Mrs. Hale are not a good match. They are a married couple who are not close. They do not bring out the best in one another. They are not a source of strength for one another. They are not a couple who are transparent and honest. Their strength seems to come from Margaret. She is more like a parent than they are. This is intriguing for a story.
5. Mr. John Thornton is a bit of a brooding, serious type character. It is never voiced, but I believe he is lonely for a wife. He is at an age when he no longer wants to share a home with mother, but have a wife and help-mate. I felt empathy for him in the story.
6. Mrs. Thornton who is John’s mother. She comes across as a sour tart. However, there is something I immediately like, she is a person who states how she feels and this is a breath of fresh air. Whether I like what she always says is another matter. She too is a comparison against Mr. and Mrs. Hale.
7. A good, solid, satisfying closure for the story.

I don’t understand exactly why Mr. Hale wanted to leave the church. This is skimmed over. It is vague. However, through their demeanor and behavior I understand how in this type of situation people feel ashamed, disgraced, embarrassed, and humiliated. His career as a minister placed him in a distinct class station. When he left there would be gossip. Those people would treat the minister and his family differently. Add to this is the situation of their son and what happened to him. Both of these issues are too much and the Hale family would need to relocate.

Themes in the story: family honor, romance, suffering, judgment, conformity, beauty, greed, charity, tolerance, grief, kindness, death and dying, courage, and compassion.

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