North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

Posted 27 August, 2012 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 14 Comments

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Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Published: 1855; Pages: 480
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Audio Duration: 18 hr, 18 min
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Rating: 4/5

I apologize up front about the rambling nature of this post.

In Short: Margaret, a young woman used to her comfortable life in the south, moves to the industrial northern town of Milton when her father suddenly leaves his post as parson. Margaret finds many surprises in Milton as the way of life is much different than that which she knew in Hampshire, but the biggest surprise is her new friendship with Mr. Thornton.

Why I read/listened: I read North and South as part of a Readalong hosted by Andi and Heather. I’ve wanted to read something by Gaskell for a while so this was the perfect reasoning. I listened because I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the entire book in a month.

Thoughts in General: I love the idea of classic books but sometimes they’re a struggle to read. There, I’ve said it. The language is oftentimes difficult and the authors have such a round about way of stating things that if I’m not careful I’ll miss the entire meaning of a passage. I have to work hard at transporting myself a hundred and fifty years in the past in order to relate to the ideals and behaviors of the characters and mostly I wish that the characters would just defy their times and get on with it!

That said, I found North and South to be surprisingly readable! There were lots of conversations, which was a nice change of pace from some of the other classics I’ve read, and the characters were a lot easier to relate to. Still the normal shenanigans of mistaken identities and misunderstandings and misleadings–lots of dramatic irony (yay for tropes learned in high school) which at times made me want to scream at the characters but honestly made the reading much more exciting.

One thing I really appreciated about North and South was the different perspective provided of life in the 1850s. Most of the readings I have done take place in provincial communities or in the heart of London; the northern locale and the political and industrial tension provided a refreshing backdrop for this romance. I loved the discussions of the differences between the northerners and southerners and Margaret’s earnest desire to drop some of her prejudices. More than many of the other Victorian novels I’ve read, I felt like North and South really translates to modern times (at least the political, industrial notes).

My Readalong Contribution (ie spoilers ahead): Ok, seriously? Did anyone else find the ending to be incredibly abrupt? I feel as though I must have missed something incredibly big because all of a sudden Margaret is confessing her lie to Mr. Bell and feeling so badly for the misunderstanding with Mr. Thornton–was this all because she didn’t want Mr. T to think that she was dallying with another man? Her change of heart towards him seemed too out of the blue for me and if I have one complaint about the book it’s that there wasn’t enough about Margaret’s love development and definitely definitely not enough of the union–though that’s the way it usually goes with these, huh?

Bottom Line: Definitely recommend this one. While it’s not Wuthering Heights (bahahaha), it is rather like Pride and Prejudice but with a lot more class and culture study. The characters are colorful and the writing is very accessible. There is a bit of dialect which normally drives me batty but this problem was solved by listening to those parts. I noted this in the spoiler section above, but my biggest complaint is not enough love interest. Wishing these Victorian novelists weren’t such teases–I guess the draw is reading about the love tension but couldn’t we have just a little bit more…?

A Note on the Audio: Juliet Stevenson is the perfect choice of narrator for North and South. Her voice is buttery and rich but she does an excellent job handling the different accents and multiple characters. Her inflection for Margaret was soft and delicate, which felt suitable, however her inflection for Thornton was a bit rough and it was hard for me to reconcile with my feelings for him. Not going to lie, though–there were times when Stevenson almost lulled me to sleep with her slow and rhythmic narration. Overall I recommend.

Whew. Have you read any of Gaskell’s novels?

North & South Readalong hosted by Andi and Heather.

First selection for The Classics Club. Which means I’m 2% done!

14 Responses to “North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell”

  1. Count me as another 4/5 as well! I agree with the abrupt ending, but all these Victorian novels tend to do this. The heroine just all-of-a-sudden decides she’s actually loved the guy all along. Jane Austen does this as well.

  2. Shut up! you read/listened to this one. I always hear such good things about it and it’s my list. I’m sure your review is quite excellent but I skimmed so as not to be spoiled.

    btw, I’m little over 200 pages into IT, and I am bored. I’m giving IT until 300 and then I’ll decide whether to give up or not. How are you faring?

  3. I have read several by her and loved them all. Wives and Daughters is a special favorite.

    I’ve always loved the North and South ending, but that could be because the way the movie handled it is PERFECT!!! Have you seen that yet? If not, add that to you to do list. Ah… swoon….

    What classic read along is up next? :)

  4. Definitely abrupt! I kept trying to get the page to turn on my iPad and was totally baffled as to why nothing was happening.
    And I agree with the readability. I think she’s much easier to read than Austen. It just got boring in parts. Really boring.

  5. Great post, Trish. This was my first Gaskell novel and I definitely plan to read more. The read/listen approach worked really well for me. Juliet Stevenson did an amazing job differentiating all the character’s voices, but I agree Thornton was a little harsh.

  6. Definitely agree that the time period and setting were quite unique, and I also found the book much more readable than other classics I’ve encountered! I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another Gaskell, especially as I’ve devoured most of Jane Austen . . . I find the voices quite similar and compelling, although the scope of the work is very different. Thornton was pretty swoonworthy, and it’s nice to see a head-strong female character in the Victorian era! :)

  7. Well done, Trish :) I feel that it depends on the book rather than the time in which it was written. Of course the era does put a big stamp on the style, but there are quite a few contemporary books out there that I cannot get through because of the language used.

    I’m always in doubt whether to listen to a book or to read it. The narrator can really make a difference, I’ve noticed. Good to know that Juliet Stevenson did a more than decent job :) I haven’t read a Gaskell novel yet… she’s on my list though!

    What will be your next Classics Club read?

  8. I agree that her writing is much more accessible than some other classics. I was surprised by how easy it was to get into it. I had a tough time with the dialect, but the audio probably would have helped with that.

    I kind of thought that Margaret started falling in love with Thornton back in Milton after he helped out Higgins, so it didn’t seem that odd to me, but the ending was a tease. There’s half a page about it and that’s it.

    It kind of reminded me of Pride and Prejudice too, but not as witty.

  9. Listening to the parts with dialects would make it easier to read. I always struggle with those parts (but partly blame that on English not being my native tongue).

    I’m glad to hear you liked it overall. I do agree that the end is rather abrupt. Especially as those last two pages were ones I really liked, I would have appreciated a few more ;)