Throwback Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I read this book in college about five years ago, and absolutely loved it! I grew up watching the 2004 BBC adaptation (which I also love) and in many ways this book is kind of a deeper version of Pride and Prejudice.

But recently, since I’m doing the 5 Tomes, 5 Weeks challenge, I felt like rereading it as one of the tomes (as it is over 500 pages). Reading it as a much older adult (my tastes in books have changed a lot since college), I’ve noticed things about the book that I didn’t notice before. So I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I have for this book.

Release: January, 1855

Synopsis: When Margaret Hale’s father uproots her family from the south country of England to the northern industry town of Milton, she must put aside her prejudices to understand a world so different from where she grew up. As she learns of this new strange world, she catches the eye of a powerful mill owner, John Thornton.

Review

I am a massive fan of Elizabeth Gaskell, though many modern readers might have difficulty reading her writing. This book is slow moving, and much of the plot is simply told to us. However, the characters are exceptional, especially Margaret and Thornton. Since this book is set during the industrial age and contrasts the lives of different social classes in England, it is all the more fascinating.

Margaret is perhaps the best thing about this book. I realized in my reread just how immature she is at the beginning of the book. She is only nineteen (which is ironically the age I first read this book) and filled with idealistic notions and prejudices. However, through the story she learns many things and must endure such suffering. She looses her parents, her close friend Bessy, and moves around often. But through it all she continues to be a good person, following her convictions and her heart to a fault.

John Thornton is also, I would contend, the best romantic male lead in any book (and that is a rare compliment coming from me, who rarely likes romantic male leads). Too many classic romance (like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre) focus more on developing the female lead as a good, moral character. Someone you can truly root for. Too often the men are defined by the stature in life (like wealth) or their brooding demeanor. Thornton is neither of these. He is just as admirable as he is brooding. We understand him, sympathize with him, and love him. He is the perfect example of how a romantic male lead can be created.

The romance itself is not entirely forefront to this book. Instead, it takes a back seat to the goings-on of Milton in general (whether it be the strike or various character’s relationships with other character’s). Saying that, I do love the romance. Thornton admires Margaret, but she is blinded by prejudice to see he is not the cruel mill owner she would like to believe him to be. In many way, I do not think Margaret deserved Thornton. She was so young and often hurtful, and yet he treats her so well. By the end, you can really see how they have gone through so much to reach their happy ending. Trust me, they deserved it!

The plot is slow-moving (as the book is over 500 pages, what do you expect?). However, like my recent thoughts on Crime and Punishment, it never felt long. I would compare Gaskell’s writing to a female version of Charles Dickens. And yet I find her books are far too often overlooked by modern audiences.

A Mention of Adaptations

As far as I could find, there are only two adaptations of this book: a miniseries in 1975 and a miniseries in 2004. I first watched the 2004 series when I was really young (which prompted me to read the book in the first place). While it is not a perfect adaptation (I mean, they literally kiss at the end of the movie in a busy train station, which would never happen during that period!), it is truly beautifully filmed and acted. While Thornton is portrayed a bit more brooding than in the book, most of the characters are acurate.

1975 version trailer (I couldn’t find an actual trailer for the 2004 on YouTube)

I recently watched the 1975 version as well, which was…less than wonderful. Thornton is played by Patrick Steward. I love Patrick Steward, but he did not fit for Thornton at all, and the actress chosen for Margaret delivered her lines so awkwardly. While this version was probably closer to the book when judging particular scenes and lines, because of the terrible acting and lack of chemistry, I was not impressed.

Conclusion

I love this book. It is debatably my favorite book of all time (if not my favorite, at least in the top ten). If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice or simply historical novels in general, I highly recommend it!

Have you read this book? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Also, what is your favorite historical romance? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

13 thoughts on “Throwback Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

  1. Wow now I’m quite interested in the male lead! My favorite male lead by now is Ralph in The Thorn Birds. I know He is immoral from the perspective of Church. But I think He is true! His pain caused by love and faith is so impressive😭

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read The Thorn Birds, though if a character is immoral, I’m not sure I can really love them (I can understand them, but not really support their actions). But I will check out this book. I’ve never even heard of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m studying another of Gaskell’s novels ‘Mary Barton’ at the moment and although I found it slow to start with it’s really grown on me! I would definitely like to read ‘North and South’ as well – thank you for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of the book or author but I’m impressed to learn that the industrialist was not automatically made out to be some sort of cruel overlord. I’ll look up the later pbs series. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, in fact, there is a constant analysis between wealth vs. poverty, and capitalism vs. a more socialistic ideal. It’s really fascinating to read, because it paints both sides as good for different reasons. Margaret believes in helping people, not merely profit, but Thornton sees that a world cannot be run merely by helping people and that having jobs helps them as much as Margaret taking them baskets of food. This book is also a really interesting political analysis. I hope you like the tv series!

      Liked by 1 person

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