Saturday 31 January 2015

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is the third and final discussion post for the North & South readalong hosted by It's All About Books, Jenni Elyse & Kami's LIbrary Thoughts.

Discussion post two is here.

Discussion post one here.

I have been a little rebellious by not waiting to answer the questions posted by Suey, Kami & Jenni. However I write most of my big posts on the w/e & I didn't want to miss out on the mid-week catch-ups - it was hard enough getting the time zones right for twitter chats!

Happily my posts have covered many of the questions they posed, if in a roundabout fashion!

Let's see if I can wing it three times in a row.

Now that I've got to the end, I see North & South more as coming of age story about Margaret than a straight love story or even a story about the class divide in England.

Apparently Gaskell wanted to name the story after her heroine, Margaret Hale as she did for Mary Barton. But Charles Dickens insisted that she call it North and South. The story was serialised from September 1854 to January 1855 in Household Words (a journal edited by Dickens throughout the 1850's).
At the same time that Gaskell's story was being serialised, Dickens was also serialising Hard Times (also set in Manchester) in Household Words (thank you wikipedia).

Gaskell found the weekly installments required difficult to keep up with as well as being challenged by Dickens writing about the same topic at the same time and trying not to overlap on key points.

I've always found the serialised novel a curious concept.
It must completely mess with the editing & continuity process. I would have to assume that most writers would have the bulk of the story already written, although I've read previous accounts of journals being held up by authors trying to finish the final chapters in time.

By the end of North & South, Gaskell wrote that she would rather call her novel Death and Variations, because "there are five dead, each beautifully consistent with the personality of the individual" (The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell (2007) edited by Jill L Matus). Certainly, all the deaths provide key moments in Margaret's own personal development as they allow her to become emotionally, physically and finally, financially independent.

Later in 1855, the book was finally published in full with many changes to overcome the restrictions of the serialising process. This included editing, changing the ending, adding a preface, several new chapters, chapter headings and the epigraphs.

Although everything that occurs in North and South is part of the maturation of Margaret - from marriage proposals,
moving towns, deaths, money management & new friendships - it is a novel that discusses the class divide in England. A divide that exists also between men and women.

We see the competition between traditional and modern life; country life versus city; poverty and wealth; inherited family wealth and the self-made man.

Even at the end of the book, Gaskell is still highlighting the differences between the two.

"seeing the old south country-towns and hamlets sleeping in the warm light of the pure sun, which gave a yet ruddier colour to their tiled roofs, so different to the cold slates of the north. Brrods of pigeons hovered around these peaked quaint gables....There were few people about at the stations, it almost seemed as if they were too lazily content to wish to travel.

The hot air danced over the golden stillness of the land, farm after farm was left behind." (pg 467-8)

 "Meanwhile, at Milton the chimneys smoked, the ceaseless roar and mighty beat, and dizzying whirl of machinery, struggled and strove their endless labours...(and the) tireless endurance by the strong crowds, who, with sense and with purpose, were busy and restless in seeking after - What? 

every man's face was set in lines of eagerness or anxiety; news was sought for with fierce avidity; and men jostled each other aside in the Mart and in the Excahnge, as they did in life, in the deep selfishness of competition." (pg 508)

I cant help but think, by Gaskell's choice of language, that even though she admired and respected the changes happening in the North, her heart was in the South.

Thank you to Suey, Jenni & Elyse for hosting this wonderful readalong. I'm so glad that I finally read my first Gaskell & that I got to do so in such fine company.

The readalong has also helped to kick start my year of reading challenges as North & South (at 531 pgs) fulfills my TBR pile, Reading England (Lancashire) & Back to the Classics (chunkster) challenges. It is also another book off my Classics Club list.

I hope to watch the miniseries of North and South soon, although I'm not quite sure how I'm going to fit that into my current schedule!
For now I'll leave you all with a  little curious titbit - the actor who played Mr Hale in the 2004 series, Tim Pigott-Smith, played Frederick in the 1975 series.


  1. Great post, Brona and thanks for the background information on the book. It was so interesting and gives even further appreciation of a great novel!

  2. Oh, this is a great post! I love all the information you've shared. Thank you!

  3. Great post. I agree that the story is more about Margaret growing up than her romance with Mr. Thornton. Thanks for all the wonderful background information.

  4. Anonymous1/2/15

    Wow, very interesting background to the novel! I wondered if it had been serialized because I found the story to be, at times, too long and drawn out. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the topics explored, but it took me some time to find things to appreciate about the story.

  5. Thank you for so much for posting the way you did. I learned so much from the information that you shared. I really liked learning all these tidbits. Thanks for participating too! :)

    1. Thanks for hosting such a fun event. It has been lovely meeting so many new bloggers who love to chat about classics :-)

  6. I really enjoy reading your posts, the information you share helps with understanding the story. I agree the story was about Margaret and I think another title would have been so much better. "Margaret Hale" would have been good but I also like the title "Death and Devastation's" since it fit the storyline so well. Kelley at the road goes ever ever on

  7. He played Frederick in the 1975 version?! I haven't seen that one, but have been curious. That just intrigues me! :)

    I have so enjoyed all the research you've shared in each post. There's been so many little details you've brought out that I didn't know! Thanks for that. I also definitely agree that this is NOT a romance. Those of us who've seen the miniseries talk up Richard Armitage and Mr. Thornton a great deal, but one thing I actually loved about the story the first time I saw it was that it wasn't just a romance. There are so many different things going on in this story. And I found it all quite fascinating.

    Great post as always, Brona! :)

    1. I would love to see the mini-series after reading so much love about it from all of you. I hope to fit it into our schedule soon, although TV takes a back seat in my life to pretty much everything else right now :-)

  8. I was so bummed that I didn't manage to read this along with you guys, but I'm hoping I can still get to it this year!

  9. This was my first Gaskell and I loved it, I participated in a Readalong over on bookstagram (on Instagram) last year. I've never watched the mini-series but will have to see if I can one day. Gaskell became a favorite author for me after Mary Barton, she's an incredible author who did a wonderful job conveying such understanding and emotion. I'm looking forward to reading Wives and Daughters

    1. I only just watched the BBC series last weekend - I can't believe it took me over 3 years to do so! But it was worth the wait. A bit different in the end to the book (from memory) but only to make it more cinematically romantic.
      I really must read another one of her books soon.

  10. What a great review and a fun read-along idea. I love this novel. I had first heard of it because of the BBC adaptation (which I love as well) and finally got around to reading it this year. I just finished Cranford ( I can post the link, if interested) as part of my Classics Club reading and plan on reading Wives and Daughters soon as well. I appreciated your info about the serialization process of this novel. Cranford was also serialized in Household Words, but I did not realize North and South was written at the same time as Hard Times. I think I would die of fright and anxiety if Dickens was my editor since he was such a skilled writer, but really, so was she! There is a fun little nod to Pickwick Papers in Cranford that was extra entertaining once I found out about her connection with Dickens!


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