{Guest Post} Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

18 November 2011

I have always been fascinated by 19th-century literature, having read almost the entire canon of Jane Austen, as well as writing by Dickens, the Bronte sisters and other popular authors of the period.  At one point, I thought that I had found my "niche" of classic literature, and was confident of the quality of my favorite authors- then I was introduced to Gaskell.  Elizabeth Gaskell was the writer of the novel North and South, which was later adapted into a television mini-series by the BBC.  Other books of hers that have been converted into films include Wives and Daughters and Cranford.  Yet the story of North and South remains one of my favorites.

North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell
*Summary based off of the summary of the mini-series adaptation.

North and South is an unlikely love story following an industrialist man and a middle-class young woman named Margaret Hale, who relocates with her family from England's cultivated and slow-moving south to the northern, fast-paced and largely illiterate town of Milton.  It is a factory town, where local mill-owner John Thornton rules his mill with an iron hand.   In Milton, Margaret must grapple with her new surroundings and the conflict inspired between her and the mill owner.  Can their differences ever be reconciled despite their vastly different upbringings and frequent misunderstandings?  

My Thoughts: North and South is one of my favorite novels and with good reason.  One of the great things about this book is that it is a social drama discussing the hardships known to places such as Milton, but the arc of its story includes much more than this.  The main character Margaret Hale can be easy to relate to.  She is headstrong, reliant upon her faith in God, and highly concerned about others.  Likewise, John Thornton is a character that it is hard to dislike, something that I think Margaret struggles with because despite their differing views of economy and justice, it is hard not to wish to be on good terms with him.  In regards to his success in business, John is self-made and a hard-worker, with a strong sense of justice and a great deal of charisma.  The story revolves mainly around these two characters, but unlike many stories involving romance, this story is well-rounded, and much more faith-based than most other classics of its kind that I have had the opportunity to read.  

Pros: The quality that I like most about this book is that in many ways it is a study on living while keeping your character intact.  Another neat aspect to the novel is that the author Elizabeth Gaskell lets us get into the heads of both male and female characters, lending a different perspective than you find in many classics.  I enjoyed this viewpoint!  God and aspects of the Christian faith are also made mention of in this book in a positive fashion (most of the main characters are Christians).  I found this refreshing.  Another great thing about this book is that it touches on many real-life issues that are surprisingly similar to issues we are facing in the current economy, politics, business and so on.  This is what helps to make Gaskell's writing so timeless- and all these topics I think will fail to be boring even to readers with less interest in them thanks to Gaskell's style of prose.

Cons: The story starts out a little slow.  I would recommend hanging in there, because the novel is well worth the effort of getting through the first few pages (or for some readers, perhaps the first chapter or two).  Another con is that the story has to end so soon!  Though it is likely that readers who are not familiar with reading classics may think the opposite and find North and South to be a bit long.  Another thing to note that is not really a "con" but ought to be mentioned as a forewarning is that the book does deal with dark concepts, such as death and hardship.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Due to its length and writing style, I recommend this book for ages 14+.

An Excerpt to Enjoy (from chapter 10) - 

“I would rather be a man toiling, suffering–nay, failing and successless–here, than lead a dull prosperous life in the old worn grooves of what you call more aristocratic society down in the South, with their slow days of careless ease. One may be clogged with honey and unable to rise and fly.”
“You are mistaken,” said Margaret, roused by the aspersion on her beloved South to a fond vehemence of defence, that brought the colour into her cheeks and the angry tears into her eyes. “You do not know anything about the South. If there is less adventure or less progress–I suppose I must not say less excitement–from the gambling spirit of trade, which seems requisite to force out these wonderful inventions, there is less suffering also. I see men here going about in the streets who look ground down by some pinching sorrow or care–who are not only sufferers but haters. Now, in the South we have our poor, but there is not that terrible expression in their countenances of a sullen sense of injustice which I see here. You do not know the South, Mr. Thornton,’ she concluded...

About the Author

Hannah Kingsley is 20 years old and loves to inspire people.  She desires to work in entertainment, because she believes that the creative arts and entertainment are two areas where far too many Christians withdraw, and hopes to help fill this gap.  She likes costume dramas and loves to sing!  You can visit her blog at Joyful Idealist- Living With Love and Grace.

5 epistles:

  1. Ahh! My favourite book and mini series! Wonderful review.

  2. Love this movie! My Mom loved it too!

  3. I simply love this book, and I love your review! Thank you for sharing!

  4. This book is very high up on my reading list! I actually started reading it recently, and liked what I did read (I've also poked through it before) but started reading Jane Eyre. Not that I like it better, it was just something I was in the mood for at the time. I should be reading this one soon! I love the mini-series, and I think the book must be even better. They almost always are. =)

  5. Thank you, everyone! =) I'm so glad you enjoyed my review! I agree that the mini-series is great as well. I appreciated that it stayed very true to the story.

    Melody - Jane Eyre is a great classic as well. ^_^ I hope you like it.

    ~ Hannah Kingsley


"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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