Saturday, February 26, 2011

North and South (Revisited)

North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1854-1855. 452 pages.

'Edith!' said Margaret, gently, 'Edith!'
But, as Margaret half suspected, Edith had fallen asleep.

Last spring I discovered North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was a story that I couldn't forget. I read the book. I listened to the audio book. I watched the movie. (I watched the movie twice.) When I wrote in my review that I loved it--I meant it. No question about that. But at the same time, I questioned the intensity of that love. Would it prove a lasting love? Would North and South prove to be a true favorite? Yes, the characters, the stories made an impression on me. But would it make a lasting impression? I knew that sooner or later I would have to reread this one.

So what do I think after rereading this one? I love it even more than I did before! And I didn't think that was quite possible! Because I was very enthusiastic the first time around.

There were things that I noticed for the first time. There were things that I was only able to appreciate the second time through. Little details that may not seem like much, but taken together add to the beauty and complexity of the whole.

I was able to focus on the relationships more, I think.  John's relationship with his mother and sister. And the relationship between Margaret and her mother and father and brother. And, of course, I was paying attention to every sign of affection between John and Margaret! Knowing the characters--knowing their strengths and weaknesses--it affected how I read the novel.
This was such a satisfying, comfort read.

North and South is bittersweet. I think the contrast between life's joys and sorrows is one reason why I love this one so very much. Because of everything that Margaret endures, her happily ever after means just that much more to me. I think I love John and Margaret more because of all the obstacles along the way.

Some of my favorite lines:

As she realized what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what was. (68)

'Take care you don't get caught by a penniless girl, John'
'I am not easily caught, mother, as I think you know. But I must not have Miss Hale spoken of in that way, which, you know is offensive to me. I never was aware of any young lady trying to catch me yet, nor do I believe that any one has ever given themselves that useless trouble. (78)

'Papa, I do think Mr. Thornton a very remarkable man; but personally I don't like him at all.' (88)

'Bessy, don't be impatient with your life, whatever it is--or may have been. Remember who gave it you, and made it what it is!' (91)

'Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used -- not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless.' (109)

'I cannot forgive her pride,' said his mother; 'I will befriend her, if there is need, for your asking, John. I would befriend Jezebel herself if you asked me. But this girl, who turns up her nose at us all--who turns up her nose at you--'
'Nay, mother; I have never yet put myself, and I mean never to put myself, within reach of her contempt.'
'Contempt, indeed! Don't go speaking of Miss Hale, John, if I've to be kind to her. When I'm with her, I don't know if I like or dislike her most; but when I think of her, and hear you talk of her, I hate her.' (143)

'Don't dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the clearer parts of the Bible.'
'I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand words of promise--hear tell o' anything so far different fro' this dreary world, and this town above as in Revelations? Many's the time I've repeated the verses in the seventh chapter to myself, just for the sound. It's as good as an organ, and as different from every day, too. No, I cannot give up Revelations. It gives me more comfort than any other book i' the Bible.' (137)

'I suspect my "gentleman" includes your "true man."'
'And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man is to me a higher and completer being than a gentleman.'
'What do you mean?' asked Margaret. 'We must understand the words differently.'
'I take it that "gentleman" is a term that only describes a person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as "a man," we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men, but in relation to himself, - to life - to time - to eternity. A cast-away lonely as Robinson Crusoe - a prisoner immured in a dungeon for life - nay, even a saint in Patmos, has his endurance, his strength, his faith, best described as being spoken of as "a man." I am rather weary of this word "gentlemanly," which seems to me to be often inappropriately used, and often, too, with such exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full simplicity of the noun "man," and the adjective "manly" are unacknowledged - that I am induced to class it with the cant of the day.' (163)

'He is the first specimen of a manufacturer - of a person engaged in trade - that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He is my first olive, let me make a face while I swallow it. I know he is good of his kind, and by and by I shall like the kind. I rather think I am already beginning to do so. (165)

'Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don't let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.' (175)

'I hardly know if it is pain or pleasure, to think that I owe it to one - nay, you must, you shall hear - to one whom I love, as I do not believe man ever loved woman before.' (192)

'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do  not be afraid of too much expression on my part. (194)

'I see a great deal of difference between Miss Hale and Fanny. I can imagine that the one may have weighty reasons, which may and ought to make her overlook any seeming impropriety in her conduct. I never knew Fanny have weighty reasons for anything. Other people must guard her. I believe Miss Hale is guardian to herself.' (305)

'The exact truth! Very few people do speak the exact truth. I have given up hoping for it.' (320)

'He may care for her, though she really has been almost rude to him at times. But she! - why, Margaret would never think of him, I'm sure! Such a thing has never entered her head.'
'Entering her heart would do. But I merely threw out a suggestion of what might be.' (329)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Amen to all of it! This book is one of my all time favorites.

John Thornton is up there with Peter Blood (Captain Blood) in terms of my favorite male romantic heroes. I had to beg for months to get my teen daughter to watch the BBC version of North and South, but once she did, she was hooked.


Christina T said...

I only just watched North and South last fall and immediately purchased the book to read. It is one of my favorites now. John Thornton is my favorite character from the book. For me, he has eclipsed Mr. Darcy.

Fantastic review! I am glad to find that this book still holds its charm on repeated readings. Thanks for including the quotes! I do have to admit that I prefer the Bessy Higgins from the movie to the book. In the book she reminded me too much of Helen Burns from Jane Eyre.

Kailana said...

For some reason I didn't really like this book but I do want to watch the movie version. I might read it again somewhere down the road.

Susan said...

I have watched this movie 3 times now, at least! I finally, after over a year of looking, found the book, which is waiting for me to read - I keep sneaking looks at it while I plow through my library books. I am so pleased it not only holds up to the movie, but to rereadings. Yaaay!

Fiona said...

I love North and South and this is a lovely review. Reading the quotes makes me want to re-read it for a 4th time.

I agree with Christina - bye bye Mr Darcy!

I think Margaret and Mr Thornton have a much stronger foundation and that their love will most likely be long lasting.

They are both strong willed, principled people. By the end of the book, both of them had grown as individuals - Margaret less of a snob and Mr Thornton learnt more about his workers and showed more compassion towards them - and Margaret saw how fair Mr Thornton was. Neither were too stubborn to admit they were wrong.

He fell in love with her a little soon... I think it was nothing more then a physical attraction to begin with - and well in romances these things always tend to happen rather quickly!!

I think if you compare Lizzie and Mr Darcy's relationship to Margaret and Mr Thornton's -

Lizzie ultimately fell in love with Mr Darcy's house and because he was a strong, handsome (rich) bloke not so much for any other reason. He only showed charity towards her and her family when she refused to marry him.

Whereas Margaret fell in love with Mr Thornton's own person - as he was hardly described to be like the ultimate sexgod that everyone wants to marry!