February 10, 2015

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

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As I've been bombarding all of you with my North and South posts for the last month, I figured I really ought to actually review the book. But where do I begin?! (Beware, because here there be spoilers.) First of all, I should say that by watching the miniseries first (a few hundred times or so ;), it really colored my opinion of the story. I doubt that I would ever have been tempted to pick the book up otherwise. I am glad I did, however! Although I should also note that as much as I enjoyed the book, the miniseries still has first place in my heart.

That being said, this story is so full of....stuff! From the tensions between the masters and the millworkers, to Margaret, who's southern England upbringing did not prepare her AT ALL for life in a northern industrial town, to the tensions in the Hale family because of so many secrets they all carry, as well as tension in Mr. Thornton's life as a master and as a son to a formidable but loving mother, and of course the swoonworthy romance. Ms. Gaskell certainly knows how to write compelling characters! Because it's the characters that we fall in love with and who cause us to care about what happens to them. Although there were a few that I liked less than others.

My favorites are Margaret Hale, John Thornton, and Nicholas Higgins. They all start off rather off-putting, but through time and experience, slowly their individual struggles cause them to change into more understanding and caring people by the end. Oh, they never truly lose their innate personalities though. Margaret will always be forthright and outspoken in her ideas, Mr. Thornton will always be impulsive and emotionally driven, and Higgins will always be a little rough around the edges. But they learn to respect one another for their opinions and understand that there is much to be gained from each other, even when they disagree. If the three of them ever got together to discuss some subject or other, I can only imagine the debates that would happen! ;)

My least favorites were Mr. and Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Thornton, and Frederick Hale. I never could warm up to Mrs. Hale and how she woefully neglected her daughter and her marriage. And Mr. Hale wasn't much better at the beginning, but he does open up to Margaret a little more later on, which helped how I felt about him. As for Frederick, he just seemed underdeveloped and I never really liked or disliked him. He felt more like a plot device that was there to move things in certain directions and once his use was over, he went back to Spain and I didn't mind at all. Mrs. Thornton lives up to the nickname of "battle-ax Thornton" indeed! She could be very insulting, but her one redeeming quality for me was the love she had for her son. She and John had a great relationship and I was glad for Mr. Thornton's sake.

I would say my absolute favorite part of the story was how much time we spend in Mr. Thornton's head! I loved reading all his emotional turmoil. Watching him love Margaret regardless of anything or anyone was lovely. Then to see he and Higgins begin to respect one another and learn from each other was delightful. I'd like to think that they became good friends by the end of the story. And of course, the romance is enchanting! Quiet and subtle, as befitting the time period this was written in, nonetheless it's full of tension and chemistry. Mr. Thornton certainly knows how to make a girl swoon! ;)

There were bits that felt a bit slow or draggy to me, I confess to skimming quickly through some of the union stuff. My interest was much more the characters and their developing relationships with each other. But mostly, I just really enjoyed all the extra detail that the miniseries can't give us. Definitely a keeper! :)

It seemed as though he gave way all at once; he was so languid that he could not control his thoughts; they would wander to her; they would bring back the scene,- not of his repulse and rejection the day before but the looks, the actions of the day before that. He went along the crowded streets mechanically, winding in and out among the people, but never seeing them, -almost sick with longing for that one half-hour-that one brief space of time when she clung to him, and her heart beat against his-to come once again.


20 comments:

  1. I was tempted to buy the penguin edition of the book that's on book depository right now...but I stopped myself at the last minute. (Must save money!) It sounds like the BBC series breathes more life into the story but I would LOVE to get into Thornton's head and see his daily thoughts. Nice review :)

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    1. Don't you just hate when real life gets in the way of book buying, Sandy? *sigh* Ah well. Such is life, I suppose. Hope you can get a copy sometime soon! Will be anxious to hear what you think of it. And thank you! :)

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  2. Awesome sum up of this awesome book. And I second the emotional turmoil in his head. It's priceless! I need to post a little review too I suppose.

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  3. I am officially entranced. I MUST read this book. :-)

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    1. You really must, Emma Jane! It's wonderful. :D

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  4. I agree that the character development is one of the highlights of the book. I really enjoyed Mr. Thornton and Higgins's growing friendship. Nice review!

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    1. Thanks, Amy! The character development is just so well done, isn't it? :)

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  5. Good review. I wish that I had seen the mini-series first. I think I would've liked the book better.

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    1. Thank you, Jenni! The miniseries just makes the story so much more awesome, doesn't it? I'm so glad you enjoyed watching it! :)

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  6. Dear Kara, when you say things like this:

    I would say my absolute favorite part of the story was how much time we spend in Mr. Thornton's head! I loved reading all his emotional turmoil.

    please know that you are making it REALLY HARD for me to not just go read this book immediately! Because more of what was going on in his head is exactly what I was hoping the book would have, as the miniseries was so much more from Margaret's POV. Oh boy. That book has bumped up on my list a lot all of a sudden. Thank you!!!! :-D

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    1. That was my favorite, too, Kara!

      Hamlette, you should read it next after whatever you're reading now! :)

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    2. Well... I'm reading "Middlemarch" with a friend right now and that's going to be continuing for months yet. I'm reading "Persuasion" with Heidi's read-along, and that should be done by the end of the month, but then I'll be starting up my own read-along of "Little Women." I'm reading "The Christian Imagination" and will not be finished with it any time soon. And I'm reading an Alistair MacLean book that's almost done, but when it is, I need to read "My Hands Came Away Red" because I got it from the library. And after that, I'll be free to start "North and South."

      So... not next, but next-next :-)

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    3. Hamlette, I'm SO sorry that I'm making it hard to refrain. So very sorry. ;) But I can't help it! The details we get about Thornton are just so lovely! I want to go back and reread just his thoughts (which means a lot of rereading because we spend a LOT of time in his head). I cannot wait until you finally have the time to read it. But I do understand how life can be. Especially our reading lives! I mean, just by looking at your list of current reading above, you're a busy lady! Next-next totally works for me. Especially if My Hands Came Away Red is in that list! CANNOT wait to hear what you think about that one! :D

      Hannah, so glad you agree! Definitely the highlight of the story, isn't it?! :)

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  7. Great review! I agree, the movie will be first in my heart as well.

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    1. Thanks, Kami! The miniseries is just too awesome, isn't it?! :)

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  8. Lovely review of my favorite novel. You don't have to wish, though, Thornton does call Higgins his friend before Margaret even leaves Milton (Ch. 42). :)
    There's a Goodreads group for N&S lovers if you'd love discussing it with others. https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/120502-north-south

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    1. Thanks, Trudy. And that's right! I forgot about that line! Thanks for pointing it out. And for mentioned the Goodreads group! I'll definitely stop by soon. :)

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  9. Great post, Kara! Really enjoyed chatting with you and everyone else at the N&S RAL Twitter chat :) lol, love that you mentioned the skimming bit, I think the only time I skimmed the book was when Bessy was talking :3 I appreciate Elizabeth Gaskell using the accents and stuff but it made for some tough reading at times!

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    1. Thank, Liane! Those twitter chats were so epic and awesome, weren't they? Completely agree with you there! And as always, it was fun to chat with you too! :)

      Well, I do try to be honest in my reviews, so I had to own up to it. ;) But I know exactly what you're talking about. The accents did make it hard to understand what they were saying sometimes. I struggled with that myself.

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