Book Review: North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
Book Clubs! That has been on my ‘to-do’ list since long. Not for lack of enthusiasm, but for meeting right set of people to do this thing with. Not everybody in my social circle is a regular reader and then of course is the question of tastes. Past these hurdles, the only thing that remains is enough guts to admit that you might be interested in a geeky activity of meeting over a coffee, once a month to discuss the book that you read! I must admit that the club never formed, not because I didnt try hard enough. But while on one hand, I have friends whose reading activity comprises of Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Daniel Steele, Chetan Bhagat and such types of authors (which I must admit, I havent even read many. Pulp fiction is not my type of reading), other end of the spectrum are some super-Intellectual readers who’ve been reading Milan Kundera, Desmond Morris, in whose company, you feel kinda retarded….so, had been kinda trying to get on middle grounds….never happens!, though, last week, a friend from work mentioned that she’d like to form such club , I guess the only members would be its founder members – me and her! 🙂
On to the review now!.
North and South! the only reason I picked it up was continuous comparison of it with Pride and Prejudice, of which I remain eternal fan. Having read North and South, I can vouch that there is hardly any similarity between the two books. Margaret Hale, the protagonist is as different a person from Elizabeth Bennet as she possibly could be and Mr Darcy is nowhere comparable with Mr Thornton.
I liked the novel. It depicts characters humane and as prone to making mistakes in judgement as anybody without really the necessity to justify each such error. The book in essence is the story of transformation of Margaret Hale from a genteel girl to a strong woman. There’s a love story and misunderstanding a la P&P, but thats about it. Characters have been drawn out with detail and they didnt disappoint me. I will not really call this story a love story. The central idea in this story is actually depiction of socio-econo-political situation in mid 19th century when the novel is set. South symbolises gentry, old money, riches while north is about the struggling middle class, new money and labour strata. In the backdrop of industrial revolution, the middle class which mostly comprised of trading communities became rich and northern towns of Manchester (in novel, a northern town ‘Milton’ is where story is set) etc came to prominence. So when Margaret from South has to move to North, her thoughts which are earlier prejudiced against the working class, undergo a gradual change and the novel is her journey towards peace. Class struggle is one of the main themes of this novel, but so is socialism, which probably was a growing concept around those days. Mr Thornton, who represents self-made new money of robust North and is almost depicted as a capitalist is slowly shown accepting socialism as a via media to achieve his own and his workers’ peace of mind. Then, there is an arguement about existence and belief in God. Margaret’s father, a parson at the beginning of the novel surrenders his position due to some doubts about the ruling church, that he becomes a dissenter and feels obliged to quit for conscience’s sake. Then there’s a set of burgeois, represented by Margaret’s cousin Edith, her husband Captain Lennox, who are mostly bothered about parties, status and dinner. Margaret’s life in South, so totally removed from hardships that she eventually faces in north is not what she eventually chooses. One important emerging theme was related to a woman’s position, her social status in the society. Margaret is more of an exception to the conventional girls from gentry class.
There are many interesting things about this book, though it is the first time, I came across such a detailed description of socio-political scenario during industrial revolution through a novel (meaning my reading is limited to lighthearted stuff of those times). Each character in this book has been detailed to make reader understand his/her disposition. I liked how the author expressed their emotions and thoughts. Loved the style of writing, especially descriptions of nature, which made scenes stand out in front of me!! This book is not overtly dramatic like David Copperfield or Oliver Twist of Charles Dickens nor is it full of angst like Bronte Sisters’s works and one can hardly expect it to be lighthearted story a la Austen’s books given the number of issues discussed in it. I could write more, but must contain myself with a score of 4 on 5.