Genre: Classics, Victorian England
After a long struggle, I finally finished reading my first of Gaskell's novels. After finishing, I'm still not sure why I had such a difficult time reading this novel, but it was only my inherent stubbornness that kept me from tossing this book back on the shelf months ago. I think what bothers me the most is that I can't really put my finger on what caused me such fits!
North and South is the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a clergyman with a living in the rural south of England during the Victorian age. Margaret's father suffers a loss of faith, and feels honor bound to leave the Church of England and resign his post. Margaret's father relocates the family to Milton, an industrial town in northern England, where he becomes a tutor of sorts. There Margaret learns firsthand of the suffering of those living and working in the factories of industrial England. She also becomes acquainted with John Thornton, the owner of a local fabric mill. Her initial distaste with Thornton turns gradually to respect as she comes to learn the true strength of his character, but misunderstandings seem to continually mount between them.
North and South is more than just a love story. It is also deals with some weighty themes, especially that of an individual's submission to authority, whatever it's form. When is it right to surrender your own will to that of another, or to the modes of the society you live in? I also found it fascinating that Gaskell was able to demonstrate that those in the rural south of England were not necessarily better off than those caught up in the industrial revolution of the north.
I really expected to love this book. It is in some ways, a more meaty version of Pride and Prejudice, which has long been a favorite of mine. The characters are well written, and I enjoyed the interaction between Margaret and John. I think that this book is a difficult read partially because of Gaskell's writing style. This is the kind of book that must be read carefully as if you miss a single word you might misunderstand an entire passage. I might try to read more Gaskell in the future, but for now, I'm taking a break. It just feels good to have this one off my shelf. What books have you stumped lately?
As an aside, if you are interested in the story of North and South, and don't want to read the book, there is a fabulous film adaption by A&E. I actually watched the film version before reading the book, and can say that it is pretty faithful to the novel. I actually preferred the setting for the conclusion of the story that is shown in the film as compared to that in the novel. Have you read the book, or watched the film?