Sunday, 23 March 2014

NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell

Apparently I have entered the phase of re-reading the books of my youth. Does this mean I am old? No. Probably it is my actual age that means I am old. Anyway, on to an iconic text of my pimply youth: NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell.

As you can perhaps guess by its title, this is a novel of the Industrial Revolution. But, as so often with female authors of this period, it's wrapped up in a love story. The main character, Margaret, is a young woman living with her parents in the charming countryside in the SOUTH. She helps the elderly, darns clothes, is surprised by an offer of marriage, etc. Then her clergyman father loses his faith, and feels he can no longer preach. Hello modernity! The family are forced to scrape about for a new income, and her father is offered a tutoring position in a large city in the NORTH. It's called Milton but I think we all know its Manchester. And so begins Margaret's education in industrialisation. She is horrified by the filth and the noise, but slowly she comes to understand the life, and to value it. It's an interesting transition, but it's hard to get past how Gaskell really goes to town with the workforce. Here's a worker, whose son his going hungry while he is on strike: " Our lil' Jack, who wakened me each morn wi' putting his sweet little lips to my great rough fou' face, a-seeking a soft place to kiss - an he lies clemmin'". It's not nice to laugh at starving children, but what can you do?

Margaret also meets a dark and louring young man, a captain of industry, and it's very obvious where this is going. It's not obvious to Margaret though, who is once again surprised with an offer of marriage. I mean: it's one thing to be demure, it's another to be a dumbass. Anyway, he is rejected and becomes even more dark and louring, while breaking the strike and leaving the children to clem a bit more. Eventually after much tortured distance, they finally get together.
He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length, she murmured in a broken voice:"Oh, Mr Thornton. I am not good enough!"
"Not good enough! Don't mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness."

Honestly. I don't know who has been re-writing this novel in the twenty years since I last read it. I don't remember it being like this at all.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, Sarah! I haven't read 'North and South', but hope to read it some day. Your last comment made me smile :) I think that is one of the perils of re-reading our favourites from our younger days.