Saturday, June 4, 2011

"North and South" Review

North and South (the one by Elizabeth Gaskell) is my second favorite book for a variety of reasons. It tells the story of the young Margaret Hale, the pretty daughter of a clergyman in the south of England. Margaret is a vibrant, sympathetic, and passionate girl who was raised in the small village of Helstone. The story starts in London as Margaret celebrates the nuptials of her cousin and prepares to return home. She is immediately shown the affections of a well-off lawyer, the brother of her new cousin-in-law. He follows her to Helstone and proposes, only to be rejected because of her lack of affection for him.

Margeret is thrown through another torrent of emotions as her family is abruptly uprooted from its quaint parsonage by Mr. Hale, who quits his profession because of conflict in his faith. Margaret and her mother reluctantly move to the dingy industrial town of Milton where they are short of money and the grayness of the setting matches their outlook on life. Mr. Hale takes up a job as a teacher while Margaret begins to take an interest in the poor mill workers that populate Milton. Many of them are starving and the threat of strike fills the air. 

She meets Higgins, a poor mill worker and one of the leaders of the impending strike who must feed his family and take care of his sick daughter who has been taken ill from the bad air within the factories. Margaret sympathizes with the poor workers and finds even more disdain with the mill owners and industrial chaos of the town. This anger is made even more pronounced when she meets the young mill owner Mr. Thornton, a favorite student of her father.

Margaret immediately dislikes Mr. Thornton, who is proud of the trade empire he has built within Milton and the mindset that the north boasts. The two are constantly thrown in each other's company and as Mr. Thornton grows to see Margaret's strong will and kind heart, he falls in love with her. 

After a strike in which Margaret attempts to save his life and is injured in the process, Thornton proposes to her and is passionately rejected as Margaret voices her contempt of his character. As the story progresses, Margaret is forced to face more challenges as her mother becomes ill and eventually dies. Her father follows shortly behind and Margaret is left alone in the world with only one caretaker who bequeaths her all of his money and property before he too passes away. 

Through her life's challenges, Margaret must learn to put aside her prejudices and look at the world through the eyes of others. Margaret slowly and steadily finds a balance between her conflicting emotions. In the end, her affection for her southern heritage, her family, the poor mill workers, and for Mr. Thornton all win and find a place within her. 

This book runs along the same lines as Pride and Prejudice, only with a greater conflict and more gravity in its subplots. There are many twists within the story's progression. The deepest chasms between characters are caused by the smallest coincidences and cases of "bad luck." Irony and symbolism (my two favorite literary words) are both in abundance in this novel. I also found it interesting how this story follows both Margaret and Mr. Thornton individually so the reader gets the full benefit of experiencing the dramatic irony, unlike other novels such as Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. This book is truly a must-read in every way and I promise that you will be completely satisfied when you put it down. 

The book has also been adapted into a BBC Miniseries that stays faithfully true to the novel and pulls at the heartstrings. This is one of the best miniseries' I've come across and it nails the characters perfectly, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage (swoon) as Margaret and Thornton. Denby-Ashe truly embodies Margaret and Richard Armitage turns in one of his best performances as the dark and ruggedly handsome Mr. Thornton. The screenplay is also written by Sandy Welch, the same lady who adapted the 2006 Jane Eyre miniseries. :) 

Here is a clip below, just to give the full effect. Enjoy :)


  1. I so agree with you about North and South. It is a wonderful story of human adjustment. Although, and I might be accused of heresy here, I found the mini-series more ejoyable than the book (which is hard to read sometimes).
    I think Sandy Welch (my favourite screenwriter) did a fantastic job of adapting the novel. Some of her decisions were controversial (eg. Thornton beating up the millworker) but she always has good reasons for the changes she makes.
    I'm ambivalent about Daniella's performance, however. Margaret is such a difficult role to play and I don't know that Daniella was quite up to it. But everyone else was brilliant.
    Just to make you a teensy bit jealous (lol), I have sat on the bench where THE KISS took place. The railway station is close to my home (Brighton UK) and I have visited it often. I've also walked down the alleyways in Edinburgh where much of it was filmed. Now, how much of an obsessive am I?!

  2. It's my opinion that the North and South miniseries was the best adaption of a novel to appear on screen. I don't think I necessarily liked it BETTER than the book, but it matched my image of the book down to a science. To cast Armitage as Thornton was a work of genius, and even though I too was hesitant to see Daniella as Margaret, she did fit my physical image of the character. I also loved the departures from the novel that actually worked in the miniseries' favor. We know that the novel didn't end in a train station, but it still used the same context of the novel and did it a huge favor.
    A "teensy bit" would not be the word to describe my jealousy! I'm burning with envy! I live in America, but I've always wanted to travel and visit the locations where a lot of these movies were shot. The scenery in England is spectacular! Trust me, if I was living as close to the setting as you do, I'm sure I'd be obsessive too. :)

  3. I'm afraid "the grass is greener on the other side of the hill" for most of us, Bonnie. There are many Brits who would equally love to visit the locations in those iconic American films! (I went to New York in 2005 - loved it.)
    At the end of July, my husband and I are going to Derbyshire and will be visiting Chatsworth House (P&P05) and, joy of joys, Haddon Hall where several Jane Eyres were filmed. I can't wait!

  4. If Chatsworth house is anywhere as gorgeous as it looks in Pride and Prejudice then I'm sure your breath will be taken away. As for Haddon Hall, you must KNOW how I long to see it! I'm really glad that we're talking about this because I actually have a lot of questions about the culture and geography of the UK. Where exactly is Derbyshire in relation to Brighton. And I've heard that the culture (and accents) of those who live in the north and south of England are very different. Perhaps you could help educate me on these differences?

  5. Well, Brighton is on the south coast, about 50 miles south of London. You may recall that Lydia Bennet went to Brighton to be near the army officers!
    Derbyshire is towards the north of England, about a four-hour drive away.
    Our accents are very different. In fact you only have to travel less than 100 miles to encounter people speaking in quite a different way. In the north, people speak with "clipped" vowels (particulary the letter A), but we in the south speak with elongated vowels.
    Traditionally, northerners are meant to be blunt but friendly. Southerners are more polite but reserved. I think there's some truth in that.

  6. When you first mentioned "Brighton" I immediately thought of Pride and Prejudice. :)
    I love hearing about the differences in accents and personalities in the UK. From what I gather, it's kind of like the north and south of the U.S. Only here, the northerners are the rather reserved ones and southerners are more known for bluntness.
    I want to be as educated as possible on the culture of the UK because I actually hope to spend a semester over there during college. Thank you so much for answering my questions! :)

  7. You're welcome. Any time! Where do you plan to go on your semester?
    Just to rub it in about the film locations (lol), just over a week ago we were in Dorset visiting Lyme Regis. I stood at the top of a certain flight of rickety steps on the Cobb, but I didn't jump because there was no Captain Wentworth to catch me! Sigh.

  8. You must be brave to venture out there. When I watched that version of Persuasion, I thought it was scary to go out there. It seems like the water comes up so high that you might get swept away. But I'm sure if their was a Captain Wentworth, I would willingly go (and jump).
    There's actually three places that I have the opportunity to go, and I'm contemplating which one I should choose. My options are London (of course), Manchester, or Edinburgh.

  9. Edinburgh is a beautiful place - and of course you have all those wonderful N&S locations! I've not been to Manchester, but it has some grand Victorian architecture I understand. (It is really Milton, but I don't think N&S was filmed there at all.)
    However, if you have only the one oppurtunity, then I think you should go for London. You might regret it if you don't! And there is so much to see and do in the capital.
    I don't know if this link will work, but I have some photos on photobucket of myself in Edinburgh (outside Margaret Hale's house, among others) and also at a CERTAIN railway station! Please let me know if it works:

  10. The link worked, and now I'm twice as jealous! I can't believe that you've gotten to see all these things. Sometimes I almost forget that they're only just settings made by filmakers because I imagine them being the real thing.
    I was actually leaning more towards Edinburgh. I plan on visiting the UK more than once in my lifetime, and I can always visit London later. Right now I think that Edinburgh fits better. I am, after all, going to the UK for a semester in order to study English Lit. Another question that I've been burning to ask is where (and what) exactly is Yorkshire. Is it considered a city or an area. I never really got a total grasp on that.

  11. Great Britain is divided into areas called counties. This wikipedia article describes them and has a map of English counties:

    Yorkshire, in the North of England, is the largest county, but has been sub-divided into North, South, West and East Yorkshire (the latter is usually known as the East Riding of Yorkshire).
    Yorkshire contains many large cities and towns, many of which prospered during the Industrial Revolution. Yorkshire is also the home of the Bronte sisters, and delicious Yorkshire Pudding!
    One thing to remember about Britain is that it is manageably small! You can drive from one end to the other in less than a day. So all these wonderful locations are relatively near.
    You will love Edinburgh if you manage to go. The Old Town is medieval in origin, and the New Town dates from the 1700s.
    Btw, did you giggle at my videos?

  12. I see! Thank you for the map. I've been trying to find one like that and didn't have much success at first. I'm glad that you mentioned Britain's size because we do get the chance to explore the country when we study there. The assigned city is merely the place where you live and go to class. The rest of the time, you're free to visit wherever you want. And yes, your videos were very amusing lol.