North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

So the readalong is officially over, and I’m missing it already. I had such fun talking about this book with you guys! I’ll definitely be on the lookout for future readalongs to participate in, as I had such a good experience with this one.

On to the review. Overall, I thought North and South was a highly readable classic.  Although it took me a few chapters to get into it, once I did I was hooked. Of course, the romantic elements drew me in and made me want to keep reading to find out if Margaret and Thornton would ever get together, but I also found Margaret interesting as a character and was curious to see how she would develop over the course of the novel. I wouldn’t say she was a very likeable character, but I’m not sure that Gaskell meant her to be. She’s someone who undergoes a transformation in her way of thinking as she overcomes preconceived notions of what it means to be from the south and from the north, just as Gaskell seems to be trying to lead the reader down the same path. Gaskell is obviously trying to teach us something, but I didn’t find it to be too heavy-handed (not as much as some authors, anyway.  (*cough* Dickens *cough*)

I won’t talk too much about the first half of the novel as I’ve already covered it here and here, but I thought once past the subject of the strike, the novel flew along fairly quickly in the second half as Gaskell seemingly tried to kill off as many characters as possible. Seriously, the body count in this book was huge, as I counted no less than seven major or minor characters who bite it in the course of the story.  I’m not sure if this is meant to be an indictment of the poor health conditions of industrial cities, the times in general, or if it was just a convenient way for Gaskell to cause emotional drama.  Talk about putting your main character through hell–I couldn’t help but feel sorry for our poor Margaret.

As for the romantic drama, I felt like most of that could have been avoided if Margaret just wasn’t so darn proud (shades of Pride and Prejudice here). She can’t stand thinking that anyone has a poor opinion of her, and her pride even keeps her from defending herself on several occasions. In the case of the one “sin” which she does commit, she beats herself up about it so much that I expected to see her wearing sackcloth and ashes at any moment.  So when she and Thornton are finally reconciled at the end of the novel, she brings it about in the guise of helping him out in a business deal–even then she can’t bring herself to tell him outright how she feels about him.  Proud, proud, proud.

For his part, I think Thornton develops into a very nice romantic hero.  And having now watched the miniseries, I can tell you that he is really sexy, too!  🙂 Who wouldn’t fall for this guy? Yummy.

Like many people have said, I thought the end was very abrupt, but I really enjoyed reading North and South.  I thought that Gaskell’s writing was quite humorous and witty at times. Some of my favorites lines:

“He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it.”

“Nevertheless his moustachios are splendid.”

“‘But oh! Mr. Bell, somehow that fall killed him!’ ‘How awkward.'”

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16 thoughts on “North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

  1. Brooke

    It really was a lovely reading experience to share with all of our fellow bloggers! I enjoyed it so immensely and am now convinced that all books should be read as read-a-longs.

  2. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    I skimmed your post because I’m the loser host who isn’t done reading. AHEM! But I’m tickled that you enjoyed the readalong. Maybe you’ll join us for The Little Stranger Readalong over at The Estella Society???

    1. Beth Post author

      I’m trying to see if I can get it from the library. Otherwise, I can’t buy any new books at the moment…but would love to join in!

  3. Marg

    I am so glad you loved the mini-series! I don’t know if you had notes in your version of the book but from memory there was something in it about why the book ended so abruptly.

    The mini series of this triggered my almost obsession with Richard Armitage!

    1. Beth Post author

      Marg, I can totally understand becoming obsessed with him. Wow. Have you seen anything else he’s in? I love how he went from being all bad-ass with a temper to smiling at Margaret at the end…that smile completely transforms him!

      1. Marg

        I highly recommend watching the Vicar of Dibley Grand Finale in which he is just fabulous! You can watch it all on Youtube if you can’t find it. The first part is available here

  4. Trish

    I remember that olive line and smiled at it as well. Really true in a way. I guess I just wanted MORE. It’s like on the Pride and Prejudice movie (the newer one) at the end where they’re in the fields and her response to Darcy spilling his guts is “Well then, your hands are cold” WHAT?!?!?!

    Can’t wait to watch the mini-series. I started it the other day but hub quickly vetoed it. Boo.

    1. Beth Post author

      Trish, that’s so funny because I just watched P&P the other day and thought the same thing. What kind of a response is that?? Kiss the guy for real already!! He’s putting his heart on the line and all you can say is ‘your hands are cold’?!

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  7. kristi

    It was really fun reading everyone’s posts. I was glad that Margaret had a transformation over the course of the book because she was not particularly likable for most of it.

    I’m definitely going to check out the miniseries!

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  9. Iris

    Oooh, Mr Thornton. I think I might like him even more in the mini serie (though the beating of the worker at the start? perhaps not so much).

    Once I start on the subject of Thornton I lose all focus. Um, yes..

    There are a lot of deaths, I agree. Perhaps a little too many? And some too convenient too? (Mr Hale and Mr Bell?)

    I agree with you about Margaret. She’s part of a message, but luckily not too heavy handed. Or at least a little more hidden in the text than in some novels.

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