I’ve finally done it! I read North and South- ahhh! Oh my goodness- cue *raucous applause* (okay this might seem a bit random to those that don’t know, but this book was on the top of my TBR for a long time because I didn’t finish it while I was uni- to my eternal shame- although , that’s all changed now!)
Okay, now the celebrations are over, I can get to the review.
Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed with this book. I really enjoyed it- for all the reasons I was told I would- and some unexpected reasons besides. I thought it was simultaneously gritty and romantic. Certainly, the grievances were dramatic and realistic; it really engaged very well with some of the issues of the day and perfectly captures a clash of cultures. It was a Victorian Pride and Prejudice, with some added working class drama thrown in for good measure.
That being said, I still think Pride and Prejudice has the edge, because although I enjoyed it, I did have some problems with it. In fact, one of my biggest problems was that it wasn’t Pride and Prejudice– so while I liked the characterisation, I found myself missing the more exaggerated versions of the same type that you find in Austen (for instance Mrs Hale compared with Mrs Bennet, Mrs Thornton compared with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Fanny with Lydia) Granted Gaskell’s characters were probably more realistic, but there’s just something about a hyperbolic, ridiculous Austen character. I guess they just have a strange kind of charm.
On the flipside, however, the character development was quite excellent. Unlike in Pride and Prejudice, where it is clear to see who is proud and who is prejudiced, both protagonists have a little of each of those traits. I think that gives them more depth and more scope to change. And when they do change, it is so much more rewarding because of that.
In terms of the plot, I felt that, unlike Pride and Prejudice, there were plot holes. There were a lot of unexplained incidents. (For instance: What was so wrong with Henry Lennox? Why did they have to leave Hellstone in such a hurry? And what were Mr Hale’s doubts?) I just spent a lot of time wondering about these things and felt like these could have been elaborated on. It felt a bit like not much thought had been given to them and they were there simply to drive the plot forward- which irritated me.
On the other hand, as I said already, there was a lot more drama in this book and I loved how Margaret took centre stage in all the action. It was wonderful to me how much freedom Margaret has in comparison to characters like Elizabeth Bennet. Above all, how it challenged conventions in a way Austen never did. So that was a huge plus!
Some of the writing is exquisite too- like the moment when Margaret says: “I believe I have seen hell and it’s white, it’s snow-white”- which I’m sure you’ll agree is a sensational quote. (Obviously the writing style is nothing like Pride and Prejudice– not that it’s really comparable, but I feel like this has become a bit of a game of “spot the difference” at this point.)
Overall, I really recommend this for people that like classics- and especially for those who like Pride and Prejudice and Victorian novels.
Rating: 4/5 bananas