North and South
By Elizabeth Gaskell
Release Date: 1855
Source: Book DepositorySummary: When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.
Review: Now that I've read all of Jane Austen's novels, I've finally decided to branch out into other classic authors from the 19th century. I've heard Elizabeth Gaskell is a great place for Jane Austen fans to start, so my book club decided to read North and South for our first meeting this semester. Could Margaret and Thornton be as lovable as Elizabeth and Darcy? I guess I could only read the novel to find out!
After growing up with a tranquil life in southern England, there's no doubt life will change when Margaret Hale's father decides to leave the church and move the family to the northern industrial town of Milton. Gone are the lazy days spent at home as Margaret discovers the poverty and struggles of the mill workers of MIlton. When Margaret meets mill owner John Thornton, she can't help but view him as the emotionless industrial man who fails to see the injustices of the town. When he first meets Margaret, though, Thornton is anything but emotionless as he takes in the powerfully determined woman from the south. While they may come from completely different backgrounds, Margaret and Thornton slowly see the good in each other as they fight for the causes they most believe in.
I don't know what I was expecting when I went into this one, but I ended up loving this story every step of the way. As a lover of classic literature, I was really surprised how easy of a read this one was compared to other classics. Everything was very easy to understand and I could visualize Margaret's life in both the North and the South, and the stark difference that is often brought up between the two lives. While this is a romance, there are many social and political concerns of the time addressed, which I think gives this one so much substance and value in terms of understanding that historical time period. I really loved how deeply involved the reader was able to get into the lives of the characters in the industrial town they were living in.
But, as always, it goes back to how good the romance was to me. And boy did I love this romance. Now, they aren't as amazing as Elizabeth and Darcy. Let's face it, no one is. However, their relationship has the adorable bickering beginning that only grows into the love that they both deny until, well, they can't anymore. I love relationships that don't start out with insta-love. Especially during this time period, people propose left and right before any true, deeper feelings are developed. It gets juicy when a pair doesn't get along when it's seen as improper for people to argue. Also, you've to to love when there are one or two rejected proposals thrown into the mix. The relationship between Margaret and Thornton had actual substance and every interaction they had was both entertaining and meaningful to the book as a whole.
Overall, I really loved North and South. Jane Austen can never be replaced in my heart, but I'm excited to branch out into Elizabeth Gaskell's other novels and see what else she's come up with. If you're a fan of Austen or other 19th century classics, Elizabeth Gaskell is definitely a must-read.