It's quite illuminating to see how the family managed to construct Jane Austen. Having Kathryn Sutherland's introduction and explanatory notes to go w...moreIt's quite illuminating to see how the family managed to construct Jane Austen. Having Kathryn Sutherland's introduction and explanatory notes to go with this added a much-needed academic layer of reflection on the Memoir, as it allows for more critical distance with the text. It did shape much of Jane Austen's historical reception, after all...(less)
To come clean first: I could not put North and South down. I wanted to ignore all else going on so that I could see Margaret Hale's story to...more4.5 stars
To come clean first: I could not put North and South down. I wanted to ignore all else going on so that I could see Margaret Hale's story to the finish line and was extremely peeved when I found that I couldn't. Stupid life, how dare you interfere?
Now, on to the novel proper. I suppose that most people will be familiar with the storyline due to the BBC series, so I shall not recount it here. I admit I was not; the praise I'd heard about the book initially induced me to pick it up, though it's been some time since it entered my to-read stack. But now that I know I'll be going to Manchester come September, I could not wait to finally delve into it. North and South was my first glimpse at the city, albeit 150 years removed.
The novel is interestingly constructed. There are the social changes and subsequent problems of mid-19th-century Manchester (re-imagined as Milton-northern) at the very forefront, wrapped up very realistically in the marriage plot convention of the Victorian era and aspects of a formation novel as concerns the development of Margaret's character; but there is so much more to it. Indeed, North and South surprises with a topical richness that for me held the novel together and made reading it such a valuable experience. There is the father who gives up his church post due to "doubts", there is the brother who has been expatiated because of a mutiny, and continually there are questions about gender. I found the in my opinion pretty over sexual components to Margaret's looks and how she is literally 'seen' by others very (maybe too?) interesting, and Gaskell's observations delighted me many times with their clarity and exactness.
The only thing that I found to be too much was the count of deaths (four, was it?), and the thing I found to be too little was Mr Thornton's presence. His relationship to Margaret works on a very implicit level - the narrator doesn't even refer to Margaret's changing feelings as "love" - which isn't problematic in the least for me, but I did find the initial connection between them, especially as regards Mr Thornton's feelings for Margaret, to be too -- not abrupt a change, but not quite as smoothly introduced as I might have hoped. But I'm simply nit-picking here.