Sunday, December 12, 2010

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Margaret Hale lived an idyllic childhood in Helstone, northern England, where her father is a preacher.  However, after returning to Helstone after a long stay with her cousin Edith in London, Margaret, her mother and their maid Dixon must leave Helstone for good, when her father is forced, under a matter of conscience, to leave the Church.  They must now reside in Milton, a manufacturing town, full of dirty air, cotton, and a war between the hands and the masters.  With her mother's health failing and her father's new job of teaching the classics not bringing in very much money, Margaret must make the best of her situation.  She befriends a poor family who works at one of the mills, the Higgins, and does her best to care for the sickly eldest daughter, Bessy.  But when Mr. Hale's foremost pupil and a man Margaret doesn't like, Mr. Thornton, develops an unexpected and passionate love for her, Margaret is face with decisions she would never had expected, and finds herself in the middle of an economic and social war - and a war of the heart - that changes her life forever.

I normally would never do this, but I watched the movie first.  I had never heard of the book and the movie looked really good, so I said, "Why not?"  After watching it the first time, I watched it again.  And again.  And again.  I knew I just had to read the book.

I loved this book.  So, so much.  But I'm going to say something else that I would normally never say...  WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST.

WHY????? ask all of the "read the book first" followers (of which I am a part of).  Well, unfortunately, unless you don't already know what is going to happen in the end, the beginning is slow, and it may be hard to find the drive to get to the good stuff.  However, let me get something straight here: I don't want this to discourage you out of reading it.  In fact, I want it to encourage you.  (This is not just my opinion; two other women who I know who have read it said exactly the same thing, but that it was completely worth it in the end!)  It is one of the most wonderful love stories I've ever read...  Such beauty and sadness and courage and character comes out of this story.  And even though the story may be a bit slow in parts, Elizabeth Gaskell's writing is a treat.  I was not expecting the mastery in which she forms her sentences and paragraphs, and the way she styles her characters.

(The movie is very very much like the book.  While it has its differences, it is the same story, down to quite a lot of details.  There were a few details that needed to be changed for the sake of making the movie, but otherwise, it is a perfect and accurate rendition of the story.)

Words I would use to describe this novel:  lovely and courageous.  Lovely - because every aspect of this story is lovely, front to back, cover to cover.  Even the slow parts, I must admit, were lovely in their own ways.  Courageous - because Margaret, throughout every hardship and difficult situation, shows courage that I hope to someday possess.  Everything she says and does embodies courage.

My favorite aspects of this novel were Mr. Thornton's relationship with Margaret, and Mr. Thornton's relationship with Nicholas Higgins.  Margaret - because he was so madly in love with her even when she strongly disliked him.   Nicholas - because of the social tension between the masters and the workhands.  Mr. Thornton held his ground through the strike and Margaret's uninterest, which easily makes him my favorite character.  I was completely taken by him, from beginning to end.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good classic.  It is almost a fairytale in it's own reality.  It is one of those books that are to be "chewed on and digested".  (Francis Bacon)

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