Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What We're Reading Wednesday: June 3rd

Linking up with Jessica of Housewifespice and sharing what I've been reading.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
    There is a very slow start to this novel but it came so highly recommended I decided to push through and I'm glad I did.  In so many ways this novel is a treasure. It's not easy to write a political novel with a strong love story and good characterizations. Gaskell takes on quite a bit and mostly succeeds in her task of describing the changes industrialization brought to England. She balances her sympathy for the workers in the factories with the dilemmas posed to the mill owners by new machinery, competition from abroad, and the threats of potential workers' strikes. She contrasts very effectively the excitement of this new way of life against the nostalgia for the agrarian past. These were new concepts in Victorian England, but they are not so foreign today that we cannot readily understand their significance.

She gives us a sympathetic and spirited heroine in Margaret Hale, who is wise beyond her years. Another colorful character is Nicholas Higgins. I found myself looking forward to his scenes because he provides the humor in an almost-humorless book. I definitely missed the comedy of manners usually found in books by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.   Mr. Thornton is a character we can readily identify with--someone who triumphs over adversity and seeks to constantly better himself. Someone with high standards, yet none higher than he holds himself to. Margaret is his match in every way.

I did see many plot similarities with "Pride and Prejudice" in the love story. We have characters of different class backgrounds who are initially repelled but who come to appreciate each other and are kept apart by misunderstandings and circumstances. The proposal scenes are strikingly familiar, and the first proposal includes almost the same language (re gentlemanlike behavior) that Elizabeth speaks to Darcy. And we have a Lady Catherine DeBourgh character in Mrs. Thornton, who does her best to drive the lovers apart. But I can't fault Mrs. Gaskell for borrowing plotlines from the master. Although Gaskell is a strong writer, she does not quite have Jane Austen's gift for revealing the humanity in her characters with humor and affection. There is not much "fun" and no banter (until the very last lines of the book) in the North and South love story.
Mostly I'm glad I held in there, I learned a lot about English history at that particular time. I love that it rewarded me for getting through those first 150 pages with a rich, compelling story.  As Victorian novels go, this is surprisingly modern and a worthwhile read.

Currently finishing up Them ~ starting Erin's Ring and as part of the Stella Maris book club reading some of Flannery O'Conner short stories


  1. Great review, Joy! I watched the miniseries a while back and this makes me want to read the book. I also recently finished a book about the Victorian era and want to read this while some of the info is fresh in my mind. :)

  2. North and South! Haven't read it but I saw the mini-series on Netflix. We thought it was funny that the main guy is John Thornton. Lots of Johns in this Thornton family.