Book Review

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - A Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl


Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Publication Info: Simon and Brown 1851
ISBN: 978-1613823439
Genre: Historical: European

North and South - DVD set 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.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell Maybe.

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.

Napping in the sun.  It's all they down in the South of England, right?

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.”


(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.  

He is very tall.

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    2paw says:

    My friend and I love this, almost as much as P&P. She wore out her fist DVD of P&P from too much watching. N&S is wonderful. WE often quote the ‘Look back at me” scene and the very last but one on the railway station. Be still my beating heart!!!!!!

  2. 2
    LM says:

    Dare I say I like North & South better than P&P? It just seems more real. Plus Richard Armitage…swoon!

  3. 3
    Rhian says:

    Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favourite authors – and she seems so sadly overlooked! My English teacher at school was really annoyed that she had to teach so much Dickens, and she urged us to read Mrs Gaskell if we had the time.

    Two of her other books, Cranford and Wives and Daughters, have also been made into mini-series (Cranford with the amazing Judi Dench, among others). Reading them is even better, although unfortunately Gaskell died before finishing Wives and Daughters (but so close to the end that it’s still worth a read).

  4. 4
    Emma Dement says:

    I will honestly admit that I watched N&S because of Armitage for the first time. (Gawd, he is fine.) But it is a seriously excellent story too.

  5. 5
    Jennifer in GA says:

    ARMITAGE!!! The heat, flames…flames on the side of face. His utter hotness and swoon-worthyness. I love it so much!!

    I also recommend watching Armitage’s turn as an adorable accountant in The Vicar of Dibley. He’s so sweet and charming and every bit as hot.

  6. 6
    Evamaria N says:

    Hee. See, for me it was the other way around – I look at Thorin in The Hobbit and keep seeing John Thornton – the N&S mini was the first time I really *noticed* Richard Armitage. I actually cold-ordered that DVD (something I rarely do) because omg, that book is so awesome!

    I could kick myself for not discovering it sooner – I love it as much as I love P&P (which is A LOT), and truth be told,  Gaskell’s England rings so much truer to me than Austen’s (blasphemy I know! but I really enjoy that her protagonists come from various backgrounds/classes and that she mentions important social issues like the industrial revolution and what that meant for working people).

    Btw, I also recommend “Cranford” (which is a very enjoyable tv series, too, with Judi Dench being seriously adorable).

  7. 7
    JennyB says:

    I discovered Armitage watching MI-5 (I think the British title is Spooks), and then moved on to N&S, which I adore almost as much as P&P.  And now I think I need to re-watch it after reading this review…

  8. 8
    StarOpal says:

    N&S was my introduction to Richard as well. LOVE IT!

    Since we’re recommending his other work, I’d throw in his turn on spy show Spooks/MI-5:

  9. 9
    Shawny Jean says:

    Oh this just made my morning. I watched N&S for the first time on my 27th birthday. It was my first “grown up” birthday, it was a Wednesday or something, I worked all day and had no plans with family or friends afterwards, so I found myself at home with a slice of cake and my DVD player. I meant to watch the first episode only, but suddenly it was 4 hours later and the train was pulling away from the station one last time! I may have watched it all again the next night. My favourite part is the overly dramatic score, which I sometimes get confused with the Harry Potter theme, but I think just sets the tone so perfectly for everything.

  10. 10
    Katie says:

    The site is currently doing a North and South book club. The discussion of chapters 1 – 10 was yesterday and they’re working through the book through the rest of the month and into April.

  11. 11
    AnimeJune says:

    I loved North and South, and my first literary introduction to Gaskell was MARY BARTON, which was *also* about privilege and class difference and the terrible conditions of the poor. What I was caught by while reading her work was how, well, contemporary it read. I could believe a modern writer was writing Mary Barton. Also, how could you not tell people that MR FREAKIN’ BATES is in the TV production? Yay!

    I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Cranford – and also Return to Cranford, starring Tom Hiddleston!

    For Richard Armitage fans – he’s also narrated a BUNCH of Georgette Heyer’s audiobooks! Including, I believe, Venetia – if you can get through his attempt to play a woman’s voice without giggling.

    That being said I also ADORE Charles Dickens and have an inexplicable fondness for his writing style. It’s so fun and comforting and then you get to the end and realize just how bleak and sad parts of it were – he was definitely a “spoonful of sugar helps the societal outrage go down” sort of writer. I also give props to any writer who devotes AN ENTIRE NOVEL (Bleak House) to his experience being ripped off as an author.

  12. 12
    ppyajunebug says:




  13. 13
    Jennifer says:

    I am convinced that Richard Armitage is sort of the post-modern (male equivalent of a) muse of romance authors because of N&S.

    As for N&S the book, I liked the notions of practicality, industry and in relation to a romance.

  14. 14

    Great review. I’ve always heard so many positive things about N&S the TV series. I figured my public library might have the DVDs, and sure enough, they did. Looking forward to watching it.

  15. 15
    samalamadingdong says:

    i made it halfway through the book about 3 years ago. i should give it another shot. and i also only read it because richard armitage was so dreamy!

  16. 16

    The BBC adaptation of Bleak House was FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC.  I fully admit that I watched it because of previews on other DVDs.  GIllian Anderson!  Anna Maxwell Martin (who is also in North and South because in Britain, EVERYONE IS IN EVERYTHING)!  Snarky commentary on lawyers!

  17. 17
    Meborden28 says:

    Oh my goodness, are you in for a treat… enjoy!

  18. 18
    Mamselli says:

    I think I can out-Armitage the previous comments, because I have worn out my Robin Hood DVDs for his greasy, sleazy, desperately needy and terrible Guy of Gisborne. Talk about swoon.

    But yes, N&S is my favorite costume drama, hands down. The book is OK, but the mini…!

  19. 19
    N R says:

    I had to look up UNF. Awesome acronym!

  20. 20
    Anna says:

    I discovered Richard Armitage through the BBC’s Robin Hood tv series.  After that, netflix kept telling me I would LOVE N&S, and finally one evening I decided “sure, why not?”

    My mom got N&S on DVD for Christmas that year because I had to spread the goodness around with someone who would appreciate.  I’ve been meaning to get around to reading the book for some time now, and I think this is just the boot I needed.  Time to head for the library…

  21. 21

    I wasn’t using UNF as an acronym, that’s just the sound I make when hot men smolder.  It’s deep in the chest, may be accompanied by a little drool. 

    In the miniseries, the first time we meet Thornton is when he’s beating the shit out of someone for lighting a pipe in the cotton mill (Margaret is not impressed) but SERIOUSLY SIR LOOK AT YOUR FACE YOU’LL START A FIRE YOU HYPOCRITE. 

    You can get the book for free on the kindle! 

  22. 22
    Tinkerbon says:

    Thank you for that clip above. Hearing Mr. Armitage reading that scene … well, *that* just made my Monday morning. [swoon] First saw N&S on a PBS run up here in Canada many years ago, then there were multiple borrows from the local library, and finally my very own copy of the dvd to watch at will, and I will quite a bit. And I thought I was the only one to get a weird sexual charge every time Thorin the dwarf came on the screen during my viewing of The Hobbit … ;p

  23. 23
    LauraN says:

    Squeeeeeeee!!! I love Mrs. Gaskell and I’m so glad she’s getting some love on SBTB.  I also adore the book and TV versions of N&S, Wives and Daughters (How dare you die before finishing, Mrs. Gaskell? Couldn’t you have held on a bit longer?), and Cranford. 

    Also, my first encounter with Richard Armitage was Robin Hood, which was my silly, anachronistic little dirty secret.  It was so crappy in so many ways, and yet I loved it.  Mostly for Armitage?  Yeah, probably.  I kept thinking Marian should dump that baby-faced “I’m in a boy band” looking Robin fellow and fall for Guy.  He’s a tortured soul!  He needs her to be whole again!  Why can’t you love him, Marian?  Why?  He TRIES SO HARD.  (When he can take time off from being an evil henchman to a man who squashes songbirds with his bare hands (yes, really)).  But Marian could make him a better man if only she would heal him with her love.

    Why do I love this?  I know it’s ridiculous and wrong to expect someone to fix another person with the power of love and real life I’d tell Marian to run from both men and not look back, and yet in fiction I’m such a sucker for it.

  24. 24
    Carrie Gwaltney says:

    I highly, highly, highly recommend the audio version of this book!! Clare Willie, the narrator, gets all the dialects perfectly! It’s wonderful! Yes, the book is somewhat old fashioned not only in language but in attitudes, but Gaskell was writing to push equality, not only for women but for church dissenters. She was writing around the same time as Dickens, remember.

    This is how I concluded my review (published at
    “Clare Wille’s narration of Gaskell’s enduring story of love and struggles in industrial England is a rare treat. If you’ve enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and have a little patience with a writing style that is out of fashion, you will be rewarded with an awe-inspiring listening experience. Gaskell’s beautiful language and emotional story-telling coupled with Wille’s perfect narration is truly not to be missed.”

    The audiobook is available for download at

  25. 25
    Marie says:

    Amazing book and mini-series, and I totally agree with the other commentators about ‘Wives and Daughters’ and ‘Cranford’. One of my favorite scenes is when Margaret is leaving with her aunt and John is watching and saying, ‘look back at me’. 

    I know RA is in MI-5, but if you haven’t seen him in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, please do! He and Dawn French are awesome in the final season (it’s a great series anyway, but he is wonderful eye candy for the final year).

  26. 26
    Darlynne says:

    Full disclosure: Haven’t read, watched or listened to N&S, beyond the praise heaped upon it from all quarters. Obviously I must read/watch/listen. But seriously, am I the only one who sees Barnabas Collins when Armitage wears the black suit from N&S?

  27. 27

    Welcome to the Dark Side of the Armitage Army. Don’t worry we hand out cookies and paper bags to breathe in if you need it.

  28. 28
    Bethy1017 says:

    OMG.  OMG.  I LOVE North & South, and have been begging everyone I know to watch it to see the smoldering Richard.  His voice.  His eyes.  His love.  OMG.  Then I read the book, and it was a little bit of a slog for me, but having already seen the miniseries, I was ok.  Plus, I liked the moments when we’re in John’s head in the book.  SWOON.

    Following the Hobbit, I also went a little wild and immediately re-watched N&S, then inhaled the BBC’s Robin Hood (Oh, God, the black leather!  The 87.5% evileness—bot not completely evile!).  Then I watched MI-5—all of it.  Just started Season 10.  This is all in the space of less than 2 months.  Must have moar Richard…

  29. 29
    Marjarautala1 says:

    Oumaigaad! I love this mini-series. I first laid my eyes upon Armitages Mr. Thorton one late nigh while writing my thesis and not-not watching tv. “What is-this-I-need-it-now” I said to myself and promtly ordered the DVD. That was six years ago and I’ve watched it once a month (at least). Me and Mr. Thornton have been very happy ever since.

  30. 30
    Bethy1017 says:

    I just listened to the scene of him reading aloud from the book, and I may have swooned for a moment.

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