1. JOHN THORNTON'S HEAD
That sounds weird, I know. But the thing is, Gaskell actually lets us inside of love interest John Thornton's head from time to time. I read a lot of YA (and write it, too), and as you know, there are oodles of books told from first person POV. While I love this, it's sometimes nice to get a peek into other characters' thoughts. Lucky us, we get to see Margaret through John's eyes and let me tell you, it's kind of swoonworthy, folks. Also sort of surprising when you consider when it was written.
2. MARGARET'S INDEPENDENCE
Again, given the period in which North and South was written, it was interesting to read about a female character who was free to turn down marriage proposals, was never pressured by her parents to "settle down" with someone with "X pounds a year", who wandered the streets of Milton freely without an escort, who came into her own wealth and decided herself how she would invest it. One of the best parts? Spoiler in white: She uses it to save John Thornton and not the other way around. I loved this part of the story so much.
3. P&P vs. N&S
There's a similar sort of dynamic in North and South as there is in Pride and Prejudice if you consider the whole girl meets guy, misunderstandings, prejudices, and dislike ensues thing. Oh, and then there's the spurned initial marriage proposal. But what elevates the former over the latter, in my opinion, (please don't come after me with pitchforks, rabid P&P fandom) is how much more real and gritty it feels, not to mention the absence of over-the-top bordering on obnoxious secondary characters. Don't get me wrong, I really like P&P, but I'm not a particular fan of the younger misses Bennet (ugh...Lydia), Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, among others. One final thought on the two stories: John Thornton > Fitzwilliam Darcy. There, I said it.
4. EDUCATIONAL MERIT
As with other Gaskell novels, there is much to learn about the customs and culture of the time and place in which they are set. In this case, the fictional city of Milton was based on Gaskell's own city of Manchester and we as readers get to see firsthand what life in Industrial England would have been like. Spoiler alert: It's far from pretty and totally gritty. This novel is a bit like a crash course on the topic without bogging the reader down. (Or so I thought, anyway.)
5. SWOONWORTHY MENTAL VISUALS
Perhaps my favourite part about reading North and South was seeing the BBC adaptation first, thus being able to picture this fine fellow as
|Careful, Margaret. He's smouldering in your general direction.|
(Oh, and you really should have looked back, you fool.)
|Note the lack of a jacket, tie, and the unbuttoned collar. So risqué. Also: hot.|
Still not convinced? Get a load of this (the final scenes set to the gorgeous track "Northbound Train" from the soundtrack*):
Bonus points for a non-spitty kiss.
North and South is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it. And once you're done, you can treat yourself to the miniseries!
P. S. I just stumbled across this Richard Armitage with Cats Tumblr page and it's kind of hysterical.
* By Martin Phipps, and for some odd (read: infuriating) reason, not available for purchase ANYWHERE that I've been able to find.