gavinf1980 (gavinf1980) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

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Book #14: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book opens with the heroine, Margaret Hale, being uprooted from her idyllic life in southern England when her father is forced to resign his job as a minister, and the family has to move to a town in Northern England.

The book is striking in its portrayal of the stark contrast between Southern and Northern England, which I imagine was even more noticeable in the time when it was written than it is nowadays, with the north being characterised by industrial towns; the book's setting meant that I found myself comparing it to Charles Dickens' "Hard Times" and Charlotte Brontë's "Shirley".

The town is home to a mill owner, Mr. Thornton; his relationship with Margaret seems fractured from the start, but my first impression was that it was a sort of will-they-or-won't-they one similar to Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwiliam Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice".

I noticed that there were a lot of disparate plot threads in the book; one involved an industrial dispute, with workers at Mr. Thornton's mill going on strike, and all the talk about workers' unions made this novel feel very political. It made me think about how bad the conditions for workers were likely to have been in the 19th century, based on much of what I had learned at school.

There was a separate plotline too, involving Margaret's brother Frederick, who had been exiled after having apparently taken part in a mutiny; he was initially mentioned quite early on, and then had a more significant role later on.

I noticed there was also a lot of tragedy in this book, with several deaths; Margaret's mother ended up getting ill early on in the book, the result of the smog that characterised the town that the family had moved to. At times the plot felt very bleak, and I wondered if there was any chance of a happy ending.

This wasn't an easy book; it felt densely-written, with large amounts of description, mostly about characters' feelings, and long conversations that mostly revolved around politics and Mr. Thornton's work practises, but I found that I got into it quite fast, and found myself caring for all the characters very fast. I did read the book before many years ago, and didn't get much out of it, so I'm glad I tried it again.

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Tags: 19th century literature, book review, british, classic, drama, fiction, grief, historical fiction, history, literary, literature, literature history, love, parenting, politics, realism

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