I had the impression a long time ago, in spite of knowing that Mrs. Gaskell was a British Victorian author, that this book was about the American Civil War. It’s not. It’s set in the (industrial) North and (rural) South of England. The contrast between industry and trade and farming and country life forms the backbone of the novel.
p. 27: Early in the novel, our protagonist Margaret receives a proposal of marriage and refuses it. I have a feeling that this relationship is like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. I predict that Margaret and Mr. Henry Lennox will eventually, over the course of the novel, come to understand, then love, one another.
p. 62: I’m not that fond of Miss Margaret yet, although I can see that the author meant her to be a sympathetic character. Margaret has a disdain and near contempt for anyone who is “in trade or manufacture.” I suppose this attitude was common in nineteenth century upper middle class Britain, but it’s not attractive to modern ears. Also, Margaret’s father is severely depressed, and her mother is falling apart. However, Margaret’s main concerns about the place where they are moving seem to be the gaudy wallpaper and the fog. I just don’t understand the emphasis on the decorations and the weather:
“It needed the pretty light papering of the rooms to reconcile them to Milton. It needed more—more that could not be had.”
“Oh, Margaret! Are we to live here?” asked Mrs. Hale, in blank dismay.
She could scarcely command herself enough to say, “Oh, the fogs in London are sometimes far worse!”
p.196-197: The book has turned into a reenactment of Pride and Prejudice, but there are two possible Darcys. However, I’m not nearly as sympathetic toward Margaret Hale as I am Elizabeth Bennett. Nor can I imagine that Mr. Thornton has as much to be proud about as Mr. Darcy, not because Mr. Thornton is “in trade” and poorly educated but rather because he’s a thorny character with a doting mother and little or no sympathy for his workers.
p.277: OK, I am starting to feel sorry for the girl. She does have no real friends or family to depend upon. Still, I’m not too fond of Miss Margaret. She’s a little too stoic and and proud of her own stoicism.
I finally started to care about what happened to these characters in the last third of the novel. However, Cranford remains my favorite of Mrs. Gaskel’s novels. North and South borders on the melodramatic, and sometimes tips over into sensationalism. Four deaths within a hundred pages make the centerpiece of the story, with all the attendant Victorian mourning and histrionics. Almost every character in the novel is full of pride and full of themselves. The ending seems forced and saccharine-sweet.
If you are a fan of Dickens’ more sentimental efforts, the death of Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop or the happily-ever-after ending of Great Expectations, North and South may very well please. I found it a bit cloying, and I think I can see the Dickensian influence, but not for the best.