Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Publication Info: Simon and Brown 1851
Genre: Historical: European
Like many people, after seeing The Hobbit with it’s remarkably, disturbingly hot dwarves, I have found myself fascinated with the ouvre of one Richard Armitage, and Zoe Archer helped (as she always helps) with her constant, steady, delicious stream of “Hot Dude Pictures” she posts on Tumblr.
And then there are are the North and South gifs. And there’s the eyes, and the nose and the jaw line and the cheekbones and dude. The voice. THE VOICE. So I watched North and South. And I may (I’m not admitting to anything, mind) have watched it three times in two weeks and I MAY have been able to note when scenes were cut from the version posted on Netflix Instant that are on the DVDs.
I admit to NOTHING.
But I wanted to read the book and review it for the fine feathered flock at the Bitchery.
North and South is an 1851 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s contemporary of Dickens’ work, but less annoying to slog through. (I believe my high school did Dickens a great disservice by assigning us Great Expectations. WHAT A FUCKING BORE THAT BOOK IS and turns everyone off of Dickens. Also being paid by the word results in… yeah). Anyway, it’s sort of like Pride and Prejudice only in the industrial revolution. You have conflicting manners, confusion in custom and idioms, class differences in a couple of different directions, people who just need to USE THEIR WORDS MY GOD, and some overblown melodrama.
Margaret Hale is the daughter of a vicar from a tiny village in the south of England. Her father has a crisis of conscience, and resigns his position in the clergy and removes his family to the (fictional) town of Milton in the North. His wife is none too pleased with this, and Margaret gamely goes along with the plan because what else are they going to do? They go to Milton because Mr. Hale has an old school friend who has connections ther that would get Mr. Hale some teaching and tutoring work, so off they go.
The main industry of Milton is cotton mills, and Mr. John Thornton owns one of the mills. He’s a self-made man, and played by Mr. Armitage, so he’s hot as HELL, and he basically is totally bowled over by Margaret the first time he sees her, walking regally like a goddess. Margaret is pretty convinced that he hates her because he is incapable of using his words.
Dude, you are totally gonna start a fire in your cotton mill with your face smoldering like THAT.
So Margaret’s family is gentry, but poor, and John is in trade, but really rich. So there’s that. They can’t understand each other’s mannerisms (a handshake in the North is expected, and to refuse is basically spitting in someone’s face- in the South a lady would never take a man’s hand because that’s practically third base). John is head over heels in love with her, and if she knew of the things he did for her, maybe she would realize it quicker (like he overheard her mother grumbling over the truly ugly wallpaper in their rented house, so he quietly had it repapered in a much more agreeable pattern, and none of them ever knew about it).
Margaret’s biggest flaw is that she just doesn’t realize that boys like her. The book starts off with her awkwardly rejecting a proposal (poor Henry) and it just never occurs to her that the reason John keeps making sure that her ailing mother gets fresh fruit all the time is because he likes her. Like, LIKES her likes her. So when he pulls a Darcy and awkwardly proposes (with less “your family is a total embarrassment, but I really like you anyway” –seriously Darcy, is it any wonder Elizabeth didn’t swoon at your feet? You have no game) she’s totally floored. And he, poor boy, is kind of broken by her rejection, because he never really dared think she’d have him anyway- just a man in trade. “Nobody loves me. Nobody but you, mother.”
MY COLD BLACK HEART.
(Seriously, you must watch the mini-series if nothing for his voice alone.)
There’s quite a lot of social commentary on strikes, unionization, workplace safety, what makes a man versus what makes a gentleman, and a couple instances of good old Victorian Novel Wasting Disease. Oh, and the ramifications of a mutiny on a Navy ship.
I sometimes have trouble slogging through old language (I finally actually read Pride and Prejudice last month for the first time ever) but this wasn’t too bad. Not quite as obviously paid-by-the-word as some novelists I could cite (Dickens). What she does with dialect is very interesting, though the lower-class Northern characters can be a bit hard to follow with unfamiliar slang (but in the miniseries, I’ve heard of some people needing to turn on the closed captions to follow Brendan Coyle’s dialogue.) The ending is rushed and then abrupt- the version I read started with an apology, because Gaskell found out at some point during the writing that she was only getting 20 chapters published, instead of the 22 she thought, so we get to the BIG EMOTIONAL CLIMAX and then it stops.
I really would be interested in how these two manage to work out their differences. By the end of the book, she's come to love the North, and sees the South more as a happy idylic dream-memory, and there's quite a lot to be said about the memory of things in your childhood not holding up when you go back as an adult. She's learned Northern manners, and he's learned how to translate her Southern manners into what she means by them.
I admit that if I hadn't watched the miniseries, I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish, but there were scenes that I really, really wanted to read!
Like this one: The proposal scene, read by the man himself, Mr. Richard Armitage:
I have only one thing to say, and that is UNF.
This book is in the public domain and available free at many locations such as Project Gutenberg. It's also available at Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks, and some versions are free.