I was not overly excited when I first started to read "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell. I just read it because one of my dearest friends told me I had to. And now I'll be her eternally grateful - and always remember to keep her book recommendations in mind. This was simply perfect; it was just what I needed to read.
"I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you don't understand me.
What struck me upon reading this, was how much it reminded me of Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (which is perhaps the biggest compliment you could ever give a Victorian novel). Of course it lacks Austen's simplistic and witty storytelling, but the love story is in many ways similar to that of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, involving the very themes of pride and prejudice.
Margaret Hale is such a strong main character and heroine, and through she clearly has her faults, she is so admirable. Her incredible courage and her ability to stand up and speak up for her beliefs defines the novel. Also Gaskell manages to make her seem so much like a real person
, with all her imperfections and little quirks.
John Thornton made me sigh numerous times with his deep-felt devotion. As a love interest he is ideal - as a character he is perhaps a bit more one-dimensional than Margaret Hale, but that may be an intentional strategy.
“But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it.
"North and South" is a very ambitious novel, and is very wide in its scope. It deals with important themes in the Victorian society, and documents every phase of the industrial revolution. Gaskell's use of opposites in order to illustrate the traditions of the old society and the changes within the new society is utterly brilliant. Margaret is from the traditional south and she is of a prestigious family, while Mr. Thornton is from the industrious north and is a "newly-made" man, who has built his own empire. It is no wonder they find each other difficult, as they each symbolize the fading of traditions and the coming of changes within society.
Before I end this review, I will need to illustrate Gaskell's beautiful writing. It is perhaps a far cry from Austen's naturalism with its pompous use of adjectives along with the long and heavy descriptions, but it is stunning and a source of continuous wonder as you read through the novel. Gaskell adorns the most simple everyday scene with picturesque descriptions. An example could be:
“She stood by the tea-table in a light-coloured muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink about it. She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness.