Sunday, August 23
North and South
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell tells the story of a young woman, her change in circumstance, her sorrows, and her loves. Margaret lives in comfort in the South of England. Her father is a parson and their situation is in a small village surrounded by the New Forest. Add to that that she spent a good portion of her youth amongst her aristocratic relations. However, her father's dissention from the Church, results in them leaving all that they love behind for the smoky air of the industrial town of Milton. Of course she meets a man of the town, Mr Thornton, who is in marked contrast to herself. While she has been relatively privileged and of Southern, and thereby 'refined,' sensibilities, he is a rough diamond and a manufacturer no less!
Margaret and Mr Thornton play out their story, which serves as a reflection to Gaskell's secondary plot, and commentary, on the clashes between worker and master. As well as the geographical aversion between the South and North of England. One that is repeated in many countries around the world, between the industrial - trade and working class - and the agricultural - landowners and upper class.
Gaskell doesn't own the brilliance of Eliot. She has neither her keen insight nor intellectual capacity to reflect upon them. She isn't as witty and mischievous as Austen. Yet I enjoyed her because of these differences.
Her prose was clumsy on occassion but otherwise stands up alongside Austen. Austen's humour, however, would not have done for Gaskell's subject matter. But I was very glad to read something more manageable than Eliot, however brilliant she may be.
The characters are well-rounded if showing occassional displays of caricature. Overall though, they are believable and likeable. I was anxious as soon as I discovered Margaret's father was a parson because I didn't think I could stomach another severely pious main character such as Maggie or Daniel. Never fear, Margaret is 'good', but she is flawed. She is haughty, proud, and a little prejudiced. That makes her more real and, in my eyes, more likeable.
The story lulled for me a little in the middle, where a good chunk was taken up with the strike and conversations took to commenting on labour and whatnot. But by the end, I came to appreciate this discourse on class differences. The story paces along quite well on the main, and the ending is oh so satisfying. This has been the most enjoyable classic of the year of me.
I recommend it to lovers of the classics, and those who wish to try something less girly than Austen but less weighty than Eliot.