It is not an overreaction coming from Richard Armitage appreciation. This book is really good. I would have said, it was even better than the BBC series and a by far a better writer than Jane Austen and Brontes’. As much as I love classical adaptations, I actually abhor their books.
As far as I concern with Gaskell’s, this book is like Huxley of her century. Because of the industrialized (read: capitalism) nature of her world, North and South is more than a bit prophetic and mirrored our generation than her woman writer’s predecessors. The concerns with Margaret Hale toward the situation in Milton and the contrast with the south is very real and still relevant in most developing country. From the fight of factory owners in maintaining their trade with their workers, the perceptions between the gentler Hales towards the Milton’s society, to -curiously- Gaskell’s comprehension on religion, the occupational hazard brought down from working in such factories and the business world. I hardly see any fillers with this book which I long associate with classical books.
It is such a disappointment that I never found out about the book before I saw the BBC’s North and South. I thought the realism would outweigh the characterization that I often see these Victorian authors. Pleasantly surprised that Gaskell managed to balance character-driven and plot-driven storylines that made this book less deary to read. In fact, its very fast paced.
Written in variate point of views, mostly Margaret, somehow the novel is rich and broke through the conventions of time. I can’t quite buy in that Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was considered as a modern woman (who became a tech-savvy nanny in ‘Lost in Austen’) while Margaret Hale went out of radar for her being quite spunky, opinionated and independent woman alone with her parents and insufferable maid in
Manchester Milton where I think everyone think badly of her. She’s probably more modern than anyone in that century. If she were to live in this time, she would be a politician.
If I were to read this novel just for Mr Thornton, I rest my case. Mr Thornton is more perfect and more humane than emotionally-castrated Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester. From Gaskell’s narrating by giving a view on understanding Thornton as a character, he is more complex as a person with feelings of love and compassion and even stubbornness that both shared by Miss Hale. Half of the novel retained his unrequited love and jealousy while the rest was his desperation and hopelessness in the prospect of losing what he had built on and thus disappointing his mother. He learn his mistakes and try to be a good person under his staidly manner. Through the end of the novel, we see the changes in him as a character which complements to Margaret’s who had suffered multiple experiences of having her family snatched away from her and both character matured and found each other by the time the novel end. Thus completing the romance part of the story.
Emotionally-driven book set in an age where modernity began to emerge (and subtly feminist) and provide consistent realistic backdrop where we could find everywhere in our modern culture. Being in constant wariness over the plight of industrial revolution over the harsh truth of agriculture life. Refreshingly different from Austen-like copycats, the book is a very deserving read for all who are tired by the pretentious romance that was associated in that time.