Finally, finally, finally… after years of saying that (a) I want to read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and (b) I need to see the mini-series version (starring *swoon* Richard Armitage)…
I’ve done both!
This year, my online book club (the wonderful and amazing Outlander Book Club!) chose North and South as our group classic read. We started about six months ago, and have read and discussed two chapters per week from then until now, just finishing this past week. And then, to celebrate, we all decided to watch the BBC mini-series and discuss that as well. And both were glorious!
First, the book, starting with a quick synopsis (via Goodreads):
When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.
North and South is is a combination of romance and social commentary. Through Margaret’s eyes, we come to see the struggle for workers’ rights, the plight of the poor, and the value of good people, no matter their social status. Margaret casts aside her class snobbery and learns to appreciate and respect a self-made man who pulled himself up from nothing, and at the same time comes to befriend and support the poor and downtrodden of the mill town where she ends up. Margaret and John start as stormy opposites, constantly antagonizing and misunderstanding one another, and evolve into the truest of soulmates. It’s a lovely, lovely book, and we found so much to discuss and ponder throughout.
And then there’s the mini-series, a four-episode production from 2004. How can I possibly describe the loveliness? It’s got passion, drama, beautiful people, lots of smolder, amazing costumes… also grimy, poverty-stricken hovels, dangerous working conditions, and angry mobs. Not to mention parents who are either clueless (Margaret’s) or kind of scary (John’s mom), plenty of tragic deaths, secrets and misunderstandings, and oodles of train rides.
What’s not to love about a tortured, broody hero?
Or a beautiful young woman with a backbone?
And talk about chemistry:
I’m thrilled to have finally experienced both versions of North and South, and I wouldn’t give up either! If you’ve never had the pleasure, I absolutely recommend starting with the book… unless you don’t have the patience and demand instant gratification, in which case, all this gorgeousness can be yours in just four short hours!
On a final note, I just read a terrific piece written last year on the 10th anniversary of the BBC production’s release. Check out the full article (“10 Years Later, ‘North & South’ Remains the Greatest Period-Drama Miniseries of All Time”) here, and I’ll leave you with this small line from it:
It’s one of the most explosive, chemistry-rich misunderstanding-laden romances that’s ever graced the small screen.
And if you want to know more about Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, check out this terrific post over at the always great Eclectic Tales blog.