Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship's Reviews > North and South

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
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Mar 26, 12

bookshelves: 2-stars, classics, england, historical-fiction
Read from March 19 to 25, 2012

Caution: Spoilers and Snark abound!

I’m afraid this review will not be popular with fans of the author, or those who see classic literature as unassailable. But after slogging through this book (especially so soon after discovering Villette, a truly excellent classic!), I feel obliged to warn potential readers, and let those who were disappointed with the book but wary about criticizing a classic know that they aren’t alone.

So, then: a recipe for North and South:

- Add one romantic plotline borrowed straight from Pride and Prejudice, only the leads’ arguments are about labor relations. Also, after the disastrous proposal scene, don't let him write a letter and so keep the relationship on hold until the last two pages. (These reviews lay out many more similarities between the two books that I have not repeated here.)

- Add some poor families/dying children borrowed straight from Dickens, only keep the deaths off-page.

- Add at least 6 character deaths, almost all off-page. The deaths and subsequent grieving can substitute for a plot throughout the second half of the book.

- Add 1 Mary Sue, otherwise known as Margaret Hale. Everybody must worship Margaret. Include sentences such as “Martha, like all who came in contact with Margaret.... felt it a pleasure and an honour to forward any of her wishes.” Ensure that even Lady Catherine.... sorry, Mrs. Thornton.... is melted by her lovely eyes and straightforward demeanor. Have characters berate each other for not singing her praises enthusiastically enough, then report the incident to Margaret with concern. (I am not making this up!) Also, describe her constantly. Like when she meets the leading man for the first time. Don’t describe him, describe her! Again!

- Add many interior monologues by the leading man detailing his feelings for Margaret. Think you have enough? Try doubling that. We want to know EXACTLY how in love with her he is.

- Add a handful of goofy, melodramatic scenes and startling coincidences. (I shudder when I think of that riot scene....) While these may threaten any feelings of authenticity the plot may have had, at least they'll keep it moving when you run out of deaths.

- Add 4 cups of tedium. Mix well.

- If you are Penguin Classics: sprinkle useless, spoiler-laden endnotes (such as, after Margaret shares her views of a subject in Chapter 1, “Margaret painfully revises her view of X after the deaths of A and B”) throughout. This is super easy to do because all you have to do is find really obvious points in the text and spell them out.

Voila! North and South.

In all fairness, and the reason I at least give 2 stars: there is some decent characterization here, particularly of the minor characters. There are some passages that make me think the author might have turned this into a decent social satire a la Jane Austen. And I’m willing to admit that the book might have been ahead of its time on some issues, like workers’ rights, although the bookjacket gave the impression there would be more of a social justice ethos, when it seemed to me just repackaged Dickens (who was its publisher) plus a strike. But was it ever a slog to get through! There just was not much tension in this book; even the romance wasn’t interesting until the last two pages, and by then it was too late.

So: apologies to any who loved this book and were offended by my irreverent treatment, etc. As for me, I’ll just read more Jane Austen. Or better yet, Charlotte Brontë.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat I remember this a pretty decent clash of cultures type novel with this rural family thrown into industrial Manchester. I didn't love the ending but that didn't cast a shadow over the book for me.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship I hadn't heard of it, but it sounds interesting.

And damn, you have an impressive classics list. Maybe someday I'll get there....


message 3: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Hmm well, my guilty secret is that I'm prejudiced against new books in fiction and against all the blather about new authors and new books so I use staying in print as way of weeding out the flash-in-the pan books. I read ADWD when it came out and Wolf Hall once it was out in paperback (but actually I could have waited) but for the most part I'm happier with whats still in print after ten years or available in translation, those are my quality hurdles!


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Ah, that explains it. I admit I was one of those kids who thought classics were just random books that lit professors happened to like, but I'm starting to think the real problem with teaching literature in schools is that kids aren't equipped to appreciate it yet. And there's quite a bit of really good old stuff that's never taught in school, maybe not even mentioned. So, I'm coming around....


message 5: by Pauline (new)

Pauline Ross Classic is not synonymous with good, and certainly not with readable. I'm not convinced there's any such thing as a 'good' book in a universal, objective way.

I enjoyed Wives And Daughters, but that had some great characters, no Mary Sue and no heavy political subtext. Also not so many deaths although it wouldn't be a Victorian novel without a few good weepy deaths. Mind you, it is very wordy (read s-l-o-w).


message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fun review! And reading North and South seems to have improved your opinion of Villette.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Contrast can do that I suppose. Mostly I bring it up here to stave off angry comments by people who assume I just find all 19th century prose tedious.

Heh, one thing about the deaths here is that we miss all but one of them, and even that one isn't tear-jerky. (Or maybe it's just that I didn't give a shit about anyone in the book.) So Gaskell may deserve credit for not writing them in an overly sentimental way. I said that the dying poor girl was straight out of Dickens, but he would totally have milked her last moments for all they were worth.


Cheryl Leigh It was definitely tedious.


message 9: by Josiphine (new)

Josiphine You should try the mini-series. Everyone I know who read it liked the mini-series more.


Hayley I second that, although there are some details in the book which the miniseries really should have included, the TV adaptation is by far superior and the casting is superb!


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