August 16, 2013

Five Reasons to Read (And Love) NORTH AND SOUTH

As part of my Chapter A Day Classics Challenge, I opted to read Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. (Not to be confused with this cheesefest.) I'd seen the BBC miniseries countless times and LOVED it, so I figured it was about time I actually read the novel on which it was based. As I've mentioned before, I read Mary Barton by Gaskell in university for a Victorian Lit & Culture course and thoroughly enjoyed it. Between that fact and how much I love both the North & South and Cranford (another Gaskell) miniseries, it was a safe bet that I'd love this one as well. And I was not mistaken. Here's what I love about the novel North and South :

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 Thorin Oakenshield Mr. Thornton while I was reading:

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.



15 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you liked it! I could not stop reading this one; I haven't been that engaged while reading a classic since I was 15 and sitting there going "Omg! Holden Caulfield totally GETS me!"

    I also loved everything you described--especially the looks into John Thornton's thoughts. I feel like that was one thing this novel did better than P&P. The only time we ever actually know what Darcy is thinking is when he writes Elizabeth that letter. And I love how John and Margaret get into serious discussions about class and economics.

    Plus, that last scene in the miniseries might be my favorite kiss/lovers-meet-after-realizing-true-feelings scene ever.

    (If you find a place to buy the soundtrack, let me know because I'm all over that.)

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    1. I was really surprised at how enjoyable this one was. I mean, I knew I loved the miniseries, but the book was really, really good. John and Margaret might very well be one of my favourite couples ever. I'll definitely let you know if I can find the soundtrack anywhere. I honestly have no idea why they aren't selling it. Crazy! :-)

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  2. I LOVE THIS BOOK. AND MOVIE. People always used to compare it to Pride and Prejudice, and I guess the similarities are sort of there, but I think Margaret and Thornton have a unique love story all their own. I definitely swooned when I read the scenes where John was thinking about her. If only she had known, then they might have gotten together sooner!

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    1. Oh, I know! It was especially interesting to me to read these thoughts of his in a book from that time period. I think maybe that made it extra swoonworthy. I forgot another similarity between P&P and N&S: John actually saves Margaret and her family from scandal by covering up what happened at the train station. I suppose that's kind of similar to Darcy helping the Bennets during the whole Lydia/Wickham debacle. Still, I love N&S so much more! :-)

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  3. I've actually watched a few episodes of the series and LOVED it, but I do want to read the book. Especially now. I read Mary Barton for a class as well and enjoyed it.

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    1. NORTH & SOUTH the miniseries sticks very closely to the book, so that was nice. I think I actually preferred watching this before reading it because then I was able to picture different things mentioned in the book from the characters to the mills to the town of Milton. I find Gaskell's stuff so easy to get into. I'll have to make sure I read CRANFORD and WIVES AND DAUGHTERS sometime soon. :-)

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  4. I had to read North and South for my A-Levels and ended up loving it (partly because I had a really good teacher). I agree, it feels much more realistic than Pride and Prejudice. Oh and I completely agree with you on the Thornton vs Darcy front too! I've never read Cranford (I was put off by the BBC adaptation that ruled the Sunday airwaves prior to Downton) but I might dip back into 19th century literature and try to finish Daniel Deronda.

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    1. I haven't read Daniel Deronda, but I've seen the miniseries. How is the book? It's so refreshing to read a classic you actually like rather than just slogging through it only so you can finish it. I have totally been there. NORTH AND SOUTH, I am happy to say, I didn't have to slog through. :-)

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  5. You know I love both the book and the mini series of NORTH & SOUTH, so I enjoyed this post. Richard Armitage was the perfect casting choice for John Thornton. He has the whole smouldering thing down to a science (heck, even when he plays a dwarf from Middle Earth). That Tumblr page was hilarious, by the way. Someone clearly has way too much time on their hands. I'm really overdue for a viewing of the mini series again.:)

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    1. I think he's probably the most perfect casting choice ever for any character I can think of. It was awesome being able to read the book with a picture of him in my head whenever John Thornton showed up. I think the funniest part about the Tumblr page is just how bad the photoshopping looks. (Most likely purposeful.) Too funny! :-)

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  6. Well, I'm convinced. Will be getting this from the library ASAP - and I'll see if I can get my hands on the mini-series, too. :)

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    1. Oh good! Then my work here is done. :-) Hope you love it, Sara!

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  7. YES TO AAAAAAALL! I've said many a time that Gaskell > Austen. It's just fact. She's so very good.

    However, while "Northbound Train" is pretty, "I've Seen Hell" will always be the one to send me into spasms of feels.

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  8. I totally agree - on everything, but especially it being better than P&P. And yes, Mr Thornton leaves Mr Darcy in the dust. Suuuch a fantastic book and miniseries. I think I'll read it again soon. Thanks for the reminder of how great it all is!

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  9. Wowzers! I remember watching the mini-series as a teenager. You've convinced me to pick up the book. I can't wait. Awesome post!

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