I just finished my eleventh book in the 2016 Reading Challenge. It was another Elizabeth Gaskell title, the second Gaskell novel of this year’s Challenge, but the third Gaskell book I’ve read this year. Or maybe I should rephrase that. I’ve read two of her novels and listened to a third. But more about that in a moment.
North and South fits into the category of a 19th century classic. Of the five Gaskell titles that I’ve read over the years; Wives and Daughters (my favorite before having read North and South), Cranford, Cousin Phillis (the audiobook I listened to this year), and Sylvia’s Lovers, which I reviewed here, North and South is hands down the best one.
North and South is the story of Margaret Hale. She is the daughter of an English clergyman who experiences some grave doubts regarding certain doctrines of the Church. His misgivings brings upon him a crisis of conscience which leads him to give up his pastorate. The family moves from the south of England; pastoral, idyllic, quiet countryside to the industrial north; noise, smoke, crowds, poverty. Quite the contrast.
Her father tutors men, reading the classics with them, and thereby earns a small living. It’s not much, but it’s enough. One of the men he tutors is John Thornton, a local cotton mill owner, who falls in love with Margaret, a love that is not returned. In addition, Margaret meets several poor working class families and takes a great interest in the plight of the factory workers.
This book is a study in contrasts page after page. Unions, strikes, deaths, suicides, poverty, hunger, pride, arrogance, love, hate. It’s jam packed! And a page turner at that. One night I decided to read just one chapter before going to sleep. I ended up reading until 2 AM! I couldn’t put the book down. I just had to find out what the next page would hold.
The BBC produced a four part miniseries of the story in 2004 and somewhere along the way I watched the series. I must have discovered it on Netflix some years back because I binge watched it episode after episode all in one day. But having watched it so quickly I didn’t retain much of the story line and consequently there were very few spoilers for me when reading the book.
After I read the book I went back and viewed the series again on Netflix and had to keep reminding myself … this is an adaptation and not the whole of Gaskell’s book. It’s a good thing I watched it by myself because no one would have been able to tolerate my continual editorial remarks, pointing out what wasn’t in the book or what was left out of the movie! (Don’t you hate it when people do that when you’re trying to watch a movie!) While the miniseries is good it doesn’t hold a candle to the book. But isn’t that true of every film adapted from the written page?
The other Gaskell work I read (listened to) this year was Cousin Phillis. It’s a novella written in four parts, but according to Wikipedia six parts were originally planned. I believe that because the story ends rather abruptly and has an unfinished feel to it. Nevertheless, I loved it! I listened to it with Hoopla (digital media through your library) on my phone. What a great way to “read” books; while taking a walk, doing the dishes, crocheting in the evening!
It’s a beautifully written story, rather slow moving at times, which isn’t a negative or draw back in the least. Some passages are almost poetic at times. This was one book I want to actually read, so my eyes can enjoy the words as much as my ears did, if that makes sense. If I had read the book I know I would have gone back over passages just for the sheer joy of seeing the words again. And of course if anyone would have been in the same room with me I know I would have begged them to allow me to read a passage out loud to them every now and again.
Cousin Phillis is the first person account of a young man, Paul Manning, who is working for the railroad. His job takes him nearby distant relatives and he rather reluctantly decides to make their acquaintance. The story revolves around his cousin Phillis Holman who is both beautiful and well read (she reads Latin, Greek and Italian) having been educated by her farmer/clergyman father. When Paul’s boss, Edward Holdsworth becomes seriously ill he is invited to the Holman farm to convalesce. An unspoken relationship of sorts forms between he and Phillis which results in much pain and heartache for her.
It’s a moving story and a quick read. I will warn you though. The ending, while it does tie up a number of threads, left me hungry for more. It left me with a sense that the story wasn’t finished. I’m sorry Gaskell didn’t write the last two parts! Nevertheless, I highly recommend it and know you will find it enjoyable.