If you are female, you have more than likely read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. If you haven’t read it, you have probably watched one of the many film and television adaptations. If you are female and you haven’t read it OR seen it, well I don’t know what you’ve been doing. For those of you that have read it or seen it, you probably loved it (liked it at least), and dreamt of finding your own Mr Darcy. If you did enjoy this book, then I can guarantee that you will enjoy North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
The story centres around nineteen year old Margaret Hale. Born into a middle class family, she has spent the last 10 years of her life living with her rich aunt and cousin in London, while her parents live in the idyllic English countryside. When her cousin is married, she returns to live with her parents and to a place that she has loved all her life, despite not being there for all of it. When her father has doubts about his path in life, he moves his family to Milton in the north of England, where industry is growing. The foggy and dirty air created by the factories in Milton, is a stark contrast to the life that she has become accustomed to in the south, where farming is the main employment for those who must work for a living. It is in Milton that we are introduced to Mr John Thornton – a leading man of industry in the town and known by all. Through her father, a turbulent relationship grows between Margaret and Mr Thornton and a will they or won’t they situation arises. As in Pride & Prejudice, there is a spurned marriage proposal. Actually, there are two, from two different men, and it is not until literally the final two pages that you find out what the final relationship will be between Margaret and these men. So if you’re the type of person who likes to read the last page in a book before the rest of it, don’t. You will ruin the rest of book for yourself.
While several comparisons can be drawn with Pride & Prejudice, in particular the fact that the leading lady is middle-class, with not a lot of prospects and has pride above her station in life, I feel as though Gaskell has given her story a lot more depth. Her version of Mr Darcy is a far more attainable man – rich, but not born into money, he had to work for it. And while Austen focusses on the differences between the middle class and the rich, Gaskell goes one step further and brings into her story the situation of the poor and the great chasm that is between them and the rich. In this way, Gaskell has given us a fuller depiction of what life would have been like in England at the rise of industry in the 19th century.
RATING – 8 out of 10. The story rambled a little in places, but overall was a wonderful book. It will definitely have a home on my “books to read when I have nothing else to read” shelf.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – As mentioned, lovers of Pride & Prejudice, but I think if you enjoy anything by the classic female writers (Austen, Bronte and co.), then you will definitely like this.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – I really did love Margaret. Outwardly, she comes across as very haughty (which she is), but inwardly she is very kind girl. Most of all though, she has great strength of character and her own opinion on life (much like Elizabeth Bennett).
FAVOURITE QUOTE – It’s actually a quote from another author which found it’s way into the book. Here it is in it’s full context of the story:
She did not feel as if any explanation could ever reinstate her–not in his love, for that and any return on her part she had resolved never to dwell upon, and she kept rigidly to her resolution–but in the respect and high regard which she had hoped would have ever made him willing, in the spirit of Gerald Griffin’s beautiful lines, ‘To turn and look back when thou hearest the sound of my name.’