I finished the book a few nights ago, and I have to say... I actually enjoyed it. I was quite surprised as I tended away from Victorian Literature in general as I was under a very false impression of that genre being depressing.
I had read Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy back in my university days and hated it. The book was so bloody depressing, and I wanted to smack Jude more than a few times, the idiot. Plus, I had impressions of Victorians as being prudish and uptight. (Read boring).
Synopsis of book (from Amazon.ca): Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South examines the nature of social authority and obedience and provides an insightful description of the role of middle class women in nineteenth century society. Through the story of Margaret Hale, a southerner who moves to the northern industrial town of Milton, Gaskell skillfully explores issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to the mill owner, John Thornton.
What I learned about Victorian England from reading the book (and cursory research from the Internet):
- England had a large booming cotton industry
- There were actually unions in England at that time (I thought it was a North American phenomenon)
- There were other Christian denominations in England other than Anglican (John Thornton was thought to be Non-Conformist, whatever that means)
- Victorians weren't necessarily prudish people, they just didn't allow to show certain emotions publicly.
- There was great proliferation of pornography available to the upper class gentlemen. (Not in the book, simply a point of interest)
- Getting a glimpse of the cotton trade and unions in England during the 1850s
- Seeing the relationship between Mr. Thornton and his mother
- Characterization development. I found the characters to be very interesting, and quite well developed
- Lots of romantic bits
- The ending was way too short and abrupt (I blame Charles Dickens for that)
- There are some depressing parts, especially when seven people die within a span of a few chapters. It almost felt like plot devices to advance the story
- Margaret, although having to endure a lot silently, annoyed me at times (see below)
- I felt that while reading the book, I'm certain that there were sexual/religious references that I'd completely missed as I don't have the same mentality as a middle/upper class Victorian, so that did take a bit away from the enjoyment of the book.
- If Margaret was so thoughtless to risk her reputation by throwing her arms around John Thornton, why didn't she just tell him how she felt? It certainly would have made things easier. Again, unless I'm totally missing out on some Victorian impropriety. (Okay, by the time she realizes that she's in love with him, she thinks that he's not in love with her any longer, but still...!)
A bit on the BBC mini-series. There are three main deviations from the book:
- At the beginning, Mr. Thornton is seen beating a worker for smoking in the factory, and Margaret sees this (this is also the first time she meets him in the story). It's to impress upon the viewer that Mr. Thornton represents the North, and Margaret, at first, resents the North and everything about it (Including Mr. Thornton). Although effective, I felt that the beating was a bit excessive as it went a little longer than just trying to make a point
- A visit to the Great Exhibition (thereby setting the adaptation a couple years later than the book).
- The ending. It happened on a public train platform and not in the privacy of a drawing room. There was a lot of hot kissing. Nuff said. =P
- The story really didn't pick up for me until the end of Episode 2, the Proposal scene. The story did drag a bit until that point (and this point will seem contradictory to point #2).
- The adaptation went too fast for me to really pick up what was going on the first time around. I had to watch it again (not that I'm complaining) to start picking up subtleties.
Acting was great. My favourite characters were Mrs. Thornton (played by Sinad Cusack, Jeremey Irons' wife), and Fanny Thornton (Jo Joyner really hammed it up). All in all, a good watch for an afternoon.