Friday, July 25, 2008

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

While I work through my current book selections (I hope to post reviews on them next week) I thought I might as well post some reviews I wrote on a few books I enjoyed earlier this year. Today I am reviewing the first, a novel, written by Elizabeth Gaskell (aka Mrs. Gaskell). Be sure to check back over the next few days for the rest of my reviews.

I am a real fan of Gaskell's work having read three of her books with a fourth on my "To Read" list. Before last year I knew nothing of this author. She was a contemporary of Charles Dickens (Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, etc.) and Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White, The Moonstone, etc.) and in fact had many of her stories published by Dickens in serial form. She also co-wrote a book with Dickens and Collins.

Elizabeth Gaskell is most noted for her books North and South and Wives and Daughters. BBC has adapted those two plus the most recent Cranford to film -- all of which were well made, though the first two were by far the best adaptations.

I read Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South a few months after viewing the BBC film adaptation (which, by the way, I really enjoyed). Although the movie stayed very true to the story, there were a few minor changes, but nothing disturbing to the reader if they were to see the movie after reading the book, or vice versa. Still, I have to say I enjoyed the book even more than I expected. I had expected the book to be just like the movie, but it was even better.

Originally published in serial form in the magazine Household Words during the years 1854 and 1855, North and South was one of many stories written by Gaskell and edited by Charles Dickens. The story follows the heroine, Margaret Hale, from London to the south of England where she lives with her parents before being uprooted to the north of England to an industrial town and a total change of lifestyle. At this time she meets the haughty and rich owner of a local mill, John Thornton. An "Elizabeth/Darcy" type of misunderstanding clouds Margaret and John's views of each other at first, but unforeseeable situations force them to take a closer look and reconsider their views of each other, themselves, and those around them.

The book is more than Margaret's story and more than a love story; it addresses themes of responsibility, duty, class, and the day-to-day struggles of those you meet throughout the novel.

I enjoyed Gaskell's writing style. I did not find it any more difficult to read than Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or even Charles Dickens. Although, Gaskell’s style might be considered more Austen-like if compared to those three. The one part of the story that I had difficulty following was the dialect and thus conversations of two characters -- those being Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessie. It took me several pages before I figured out exactly what some of their words meant. One example is, "hoo" instead of "she", but once I figured that out I was able to read their conversations much more clearly and quickly. (And speaking of Nicholas Higgins. Talk about irony. I knew a Nicholas Higgins once... and a John Thornton too.)

North and South was a steady, but enjoyable read. The copy I own is a Norton Critical Edition publication, which was only 395 pages and included footnotes that I found very helpful as I read. As a bonus readers can enjoy some of Gaskell's short stories (i.e. Lizzie Leigh) and letters included in the appendix.

If you enjoy 19th century novels, or at least Jane Austen, you should definitely add this book to your reading list. Particularly if you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion you will enjoy this book. I love a good romantic ending to a book and I don't mean romance as described through vividly worded pictures of passion that you find in modern books; the romance I mean is more a subtle 19th century passion of the heart. North and South's ending was... well you'll have to just read it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

Calon Lan said...

Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds really interesting -- I think I'll put this on my reading list.