Title: North and South. Author: Elizabeth Gaskell. Published: 1854. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Challenges: The Classics Club
Margaret Hale is living a lovely life in the South; having spent some years in London with her charming, if somewhat shallow cousin, Edith, she returns to her parents in the Hampshire village where her father is the Reverend. Life continues in this bliss until the day her father decides he can no longer honourably serve the church and so he uproots his family to the Northern town of Milton in the fictional county of Darkshire. Margaret and her mother are both unwilling to go and make this perfectly clear from the moment they arrive in Milton. They are disgusted by the busy, noisy and smoky atmosphere of Milton and even more put out by the locals. However, Margaret soon comes to feel passionate about the lives and struggles of these Northerners and seems determined to make life better for those she grows to love, this bridging the North/South divide that forms a prominent theme throughout the novel.
I was supposed to read North and South at university. In fact, I got a fair way through the novel but something invariably came up, whether it was my inability to read more than one book at a time or my tendancy for a few too many nights out who knows, although I suspect the latter. I added it to my Classics Club list in the hope that one day I would finish it and as it was my Spin number for the most recent Classics Club Spin, now seemed to be the time. I found it hard work. I had very little interest in the characters if I’m honest and needed a slightly jucier story to keep me gripped throughout. There were parts I enjoyed, such as the descriptions of the settings and the hustle and bustle of Milton, but equally there were parts I had to force myself to read. I can fully appreciate how Gaskell aimed to raise the plight of the poor in the social consciousness of Victorian Britain, but I prefer Dickens’ slightly more melodramatic way of doing this. I did enjoy her efforts to highlight the vast difference in lifestyle between the North and the South and as someone who has family in both parts of the country, I certainly agree with some of her more astute observations.
A slightly mixed experience of reading, but I’m glad I finally finished North and South and I think I would happily read more of Gaskell’s work.