#CBR7 Review #209: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

This time, K has our book club selection, and she chose one of her perennial favorites, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I was excited—I’d never read it, my friends all raved about it and the Richard Armitage mini-series, and I liked Wives and Daughters (though some parts of it drove me CRAZY). Plus, I saved this up for my train ride to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving. All signs pointed to a promising experience.

North and South is a story of contrasts, of class tensions, and of social strata. Margaret Hale is the daughter of a minister who becomes a Dissenter, and resigns his position out of conscience. This sudden change throws her family into a new world in northern England—a world of industry and trade and cultural tensions between the working class and the wealthy-by-trade. It’s a stark critique of capitalism and industrialism in England, while mourning the loss of agrarian life that had been led. And in the middle of it, there’s the story of Margaret and Mr. Thornton, a self-made industry tycoon. Mr. Thornton is rough, Margaret haughty. They clash immediately, but somehow cannot keep each other out of their thoughts.

This was a novel I really, really wanted to like before I read, and really hated it as I read, and then couldn’t hate it in the end. Margaret is a Mary Sue—everyone LOVES her and finds her pretty and clever and whatnot, but we really don’t get any evidence of it in the book. And there is just so.much.emotion in this book. There’s crying, and snipping at each other and swooning. It’s so Gryffindor I can’t even. [Also, if you’ve not read this hilarious and delightful piece from The Toast, you must. Elizabeth Gaskell is Gryffindor as f**k, for sure.] I did feel that the last two chapters pulled the book up somewhat, but that meant wading through a lot of handwringing and emoting. I don’t like emotional porn, and fantasizing about Richard Armitage did not help. Especially since I spent several chapters wanting to slap Mr. Thornton in the face, Scarlett O’Hara-style.

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