North and South Read-a-long – Discussion #1

As I mentioned last week, I’m participating in the North and South Read-a-long during the month of August.  This is really fun for me because I’m usually terrible about reading books for book clubs, but as this one is broken up into weekly sets of chapters, it makes it much more manageable to keep up.  Plus I like the back and forth of discussing the book with other people as I’m reading, rather than just at the end.

Anyway, Andi’s put up the first week’s discussion questions, so here goes:

1. How are you liking the book?

I’m enjoying it so far, more so as I get into it.  At first I was reminded of Jane Austen (as someone said) in the style and setting, but the story quickly moves from the country life of the gentry to a more typically Victorian one, wherein the old rural world and the new urban world are in conflict.  I recognized a lot of the themes seen in books such as Dickens’ Hard Times, which I taught a few years ago.

2. What is up with Margaret’s father?

To me, he comes across as pretty weak-willed–I can’t believe he didn’t have the balls to tell his own wife what was going on with their situation, instead delegating that task to his daughter.  But at the same time he is typical of a Victorian man who sees women as the ‘angel of the house,’ a perfect moral pillar who would be corrupted by his doubts and weaknesses.  He can’t face her condemnation.  He also shows the real religious struggles that were going on at the time, as things like Darwinism were making so many people question their faith.

3. What do you think of Thornton and his first impression of Margaret?

I found it interesting that Thornton sees Margaret as beautiful, as this is not a view of her that we’ve had up to this point (not that she’s bad-looking, but even Henry Lennox doesn’t use the word beautiful to describe her).  He also sees her as haughty and proud, which is pretty much how I started to see her once she started going on about the merchant class.  I realize that a lot of her attitude is a product of her upbringing, and I’m hopeful after seeing how she interacts with some of the working class of the city that we will see a more tender side to her to balance out her prejudice.  I think living in Milton is going to be an eye-opening experience for Margaret.

Hope you guys are enjoying the book as much as I am, and I’m looking forward to reading what everyone else is thinking at this point….


14 thoughts on “North and South Read-a-long – Discussion #1

  1. Iris

    The introduction to my edition of North and South mentions that Gaskell felt Dickens stole her idea in writing Hard Times. He started writing it after discussing North and South with Gaskell. Interesting, right?

    I can’t wait to see what you make of Margaret and Thornton as the story progresses! As to Mr Hale, I can’t help but feel pity for him, even though the scene where he didn’t tell his wife was infuriating.

    1. Beth Post author

      That is interesting–I hadn’t heard that about Dickens stealing the idea. I think I remember reading somewhere that there were a group of Victorian writers who got together to protest what they saw as the evils of the industrial age, and Dickens and Gaskell may have been together in that.

  2. Meg

    I thought Thornton’s immediate interest in Margaret — physically, anyway — was a little surprising, too. I hadn’t necessarily pictured her as unattractive, but I guess I had more of a Jane Eyre sort of thing in my mind: a strong young woman who is rather plain, but not incapable of attracting male attention.

    Mr. Hale definitely infuriated me. I couldn’t believe he was so weak and ridiculous as to ask Margaret to give her mother that awful news, and I pretty much wanted to slug him! I don’t know if we’re supposed to feel sympathetic toward him, but I don’t . . . yet, anyway. Perhaps that will change as we continue!

  3. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    I’m glad you brought up Margaret’s appearance. In the early pages of the book I sort of got the impression that she paled in comparison to Edith. I was thinking of her as “the plain one.” But there was one line in an early chapter (she she was serving as a mannequin for the shawls) that mentioned her beautiful figure (something to that effect), and I was surprised by it. I thought perhaps she was more of a dish than I’d originally anticipated. Will be interested to see how this comes up later.

    Also an interesting bit about Hard Times. I read it as an undergrad and HATED IT (probably need to try again). Will be interested to see what comparisons I make as I read further.

    Thanks for being a part of the discussion!!!

    1. Beth Post author

      I kind of hated Hard Times, too, though after teaching it for two years I developed an appreciation for what Dickens was trying to do. It’s just such hard core propaganda and so melodramatic–it really hits you over the head to try and make a point. Gaskell is (so far) much more subtle.

  4. Heather

    I got to the part today where Thornton was watching Margaret serve the tea, and watching that bracelet as it slide down her arm and I was like wow. That’s kinda hot! I can’t wait to see their relationship develop, especially as they are SUCH opposites, moreso that Darcy and Elizabeth really. It’s going to be really interesting.

    1. Beth Post author

      Yeah, that struck me as being really overtly sensual! I’m not used to that in a Victorian novel, but I guess as a woman Gaskell was more tuned in to these things than some of her male peers might have been.

  5. Trish

    I forgot about Hard Times! I was trying to think of other Victorian novels that were set in the more manufacturing setting than pastoral (or London proper). I do love that this seems to be a bit more relatable than the world of Austen. And I agree that Margaret is just asking to be knocked down a few pegs! Think it’ll happen.

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  8. curlygeek04

    I felt like Margaret was described as attractive a few times… didn’t feel like she was painted as plain but she’s definitely less “girly” than Edith. But then Edith also has money! I liked that Gaskell pays attention to the physical appearance of the characters, some authors like to pretend that doesn’t matter but of course it does.

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