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Past Group Reads > North and South - complete discussion (spoilers)

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message 1: by Simon (last edited Feb 29, 2016 05:26AM) (new)

Simon (sorcerer88) | 108 comments This is a thread to discuss all of North and South and the complete plot.
Of course it's advised to have read all of it before reading and discussing here.


message 2: by Brit (new)

Brit Mrs Hale married for love and yet the Hales do not have a marriage where they communicate. Mr. Hale had his young daughter tell his wife that they were leaving the church and moving to Milton.

Mrs Hale is not necessarily a likable character. She did not have a realistic view of the life and duties of a clergyman and resented that Mr. Hale took an interest in the parishioners and the school. The result was that her husband withdrew from her and spent his time in his study.

Yet, Mr Hale clearly loves his wife. He just does not have an intimate relationship where they truly communicate.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan Oleksiw | 119 comments I've reached the point of the family's removal from Helstone, and at this point Mrs. Hale is shown in her worries about the parishioners left behind much more dutiful as a clergyman's wife and certainly much more compassionate and caring. And although she seems weak, I found her more sympathetic in these chapters. I find Mr. Hale less sympathetic. He may be following a principle but that seems to be the only strong fiber in his character.


message 4: by Brit (new)

Brit The first time I read the novel, I sympathized with Mrs Hale more. This time through, I noticed she was a whiner or complainer. She did not want to go to her nieces wedding due to lack of appropriate dress.

Mrs Hale disliked Helstone, though that was partly due to what happened to her son Fredrick. His court martial clouded her life as we see through comments such as

“It was one of Mrs. Hale's fitful days, when everything was a difficulty and a hardship.”

It is not stated what issues or doctrinal statement(s) Mr Hale could no longer subscribe to. I believe Gaskell was a Unitarian, so it may be the doctrine of the Trinity. Depending on the readers own sense of the importance of this doctrine, it may seem trivial and negligent to his family to uproot them from Helstone. He is, however, very positively described as a caring parson:

“His spirits were always tender and gentle, readily affected by any small piece of intelligence concerning the welfare of others. He would be depressed for many days after witnessing a death-bed, or hearing of any crime.”


message 5: by Bill (new)

Bill Kupersmith | 125 comments A great Victorian but not quite a true classic. North & South has long been a book I’ve regretted not having read & I’m most gratified the Classics group read finally made me. Tho I’ve never aspired to being a Victorianist - spent my academic life in the 18th-c - I loved Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, Trollope is a favourite author, Vanity Fair perhaps the novel I’ve most enjoyed reading several times, & have no doubt Middlemarch is the greatest domestic novel in the English language. So I feel qualified to attempt to rate North & South. It’s a four star, a must read for students of the literature & culture of Victorian Britain, but it is not quite a true classic. It almost perfectly embodies the culture & values of its time & place, representing both social class & historical setting. But I found the characters, especially Margaret, much more symbolic than realistic enough to care about: Captain Lennox & Edith & her mother belong to Matthew Arnold’s Barbarians, the Thornton’s are the Philistines, & the rioting strikers Arnold’s Populace. Mr. Hale & Margaret are a pair of Arnold’s Hellenists, exuding Sweetness & Light. Margaret’s horror & self-reproach of having told a lie, altho to protect her brother - was one of those Victorian scruples that was just over the edge of even my horizon. Of course doing whatever was necessary to protect her brother takes precedence over telling the truth to a policeman, then & now. Also am quite sure Thornton did absolutely the right thing as magistrate in the face of his suspicions of Margaret’s behaviour. But I think even a Victorian would have found his & especially his mother’s doubts about Margaret pharisaical & unworthy. But the various political & social movements we can loosely label ‘Reform’ led to a society quite different than either Marx or even Arnold expected. Of course part of the impetus for those melioristic developments was this very novel. So ironically the author herself was an actor in the very things that would deprive her book of contemporary relevance for future generations. But for most people in Britain who have much better lives than anyone then could have imagined (tho I’m sure Arnold would be appalled by their culture), to have relegated North & South to a historical curiosity is a very happy outcome.


message 6: by Simon (new)

Simon (sorcerer88) | 108 comments Thanks for that detailed criticism of the book, Bill! With a bit of formatting, it would surely make a very fine goodreads review.


message 7: by Bill (new)

Bill Kupersmith | 125 comments It already is a GR review tho as is.


message 8: by Kristie (new)

Kristie I hadn't read much about England's Industrial Revolution prior to this, and none of what I had read was fiction. So this was definitely an interesting read for me. I enjoyed the stark contrasts drawn between the north and the south and how she made both come across sympathetic and worthwhile. (I also enjoyed comparing England's industrial north and south to the US's at a similar time.) Her inclusion of a "lower class" of people was also commendable, as was her attempt at writing in their accent. I do think she romanticized them quite a bit, though--you see something similar in George Eliot's portrayal of the Jews in Daniel Deronda. People in general, no matter their class, don't often break into long , proselytizing monologues, which both Nicholas and his daughter did quite often. It made them seem more like mouthpieces than characters. But, that aside, I enjoyed pretty much all of her characterization, especially Mr Bell. Gaskell has that happy ability to make me appreciate all of her characters, even the ones that I dislike on a personal level (I'm looking at you, Mrs Thorton). I especially liked Mr Bell and was sad there wasn't more of him

The biggest complaint I have is the ending. I felt like it left many things loose and unresolved: what are Margaret and Thorton going to do now? Does he get his business back? What about Mrs Thorton's and Margaret's extended family's reaction? What did end up happening to Frederick? Etc. I think the fact that she ended the book at the exact moment her two main characters got together (her objective from the outset) made it seem more jarring than it had to be, even if she didn't answer any questions in full. Jane Austen usually wrote a page or six after her heroine and her man finally got together and I think it made the endings feel smoother, rather than like getting the door slammed in my face.

All that said, I'm glad I read this book. I'd actually never heard of it before I saw it as the pick of the month for this group, which is shameful considering how much I go out of my way to read the classics. But I'm glad I got a taste of another kind of 19th century English literature. I'm looking forward to reading more Gaskell in the future.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Brit wrote: "Mrs Hale married for love and yet the Hales do not have a marriage where they communicate. ."

I agree, but you seem to suggest that it's Mrs. Hale who is more to blame for this. But Mr. Hale made this major change to Milton without, it seems to me, communicating with her about it and consulting her. He seems to have just done it. Maybe that's what marriage was about then, but if so, Mrs. Hale is hardly to be faulted. She's seen as an appendage more than a real person, isn't she?


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Brit wrote: "The first time I read the novel, I sympathized with Mrs Hale more. This time through, I noticed she was a whiner or complainer. She did not want to go to her nieces wedding due to lack of appropria..."

But wasn't appropriate dress very important in that era, especially as it was a significant mark of status (even more than today, much more, I think, what you wore was who you were; this was the era of women dressing several times a day). She had married the vicar of a relatively well off parish, and had, I think, a right to expect to be provided with the status symbols of that role, part of which was proper clothing for special occasions.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Bill wrote: " It’s a four star, a must read for students of the literature & culture of Victorian Britain, but it is not quite a true classic. ."

I would agree with that based on the reality that I am finding, re-reading it after a number of years, that it doesn't say anything more to me on this reading than it did on the first reading. To me, one important mark of a true classic is that it gives more each time you read it. For me, N&S didn't.


message 12: by Bill (new)

Bill Kupersmith | 125 comments I was so surprised to find that upper class women in Victotian times were expected not to attend the funerals of their closest relations, such as Margaret's father. Why didn't I know that before?


message 13: by Marge (new)

Marge DuPrey (maggzd) | 5 comments Once again my comments vanished before I could finish. I shall try again when I retrieve my computer from the repair shop. I cannot type a long review on this tablet.


message 14: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 627 comments Bill wrote: "I was so surprised to find that upper class women in Victotian times were expected not to attend the funerals of their closest relations, such as Margaret's father. Why didn't I know that before?"

I found that odd, too: I've never heard of that practice before. Is that supposed to be a Victorian idea of the swooning woman, that she can't be there for a funeral? Yet several women are mentioned as having attended, so apparently it wasn't a completely widespread idea. Or merely for the upper classes?

Kristie, I agree about the ending. There was so much to do with Frederick and the attempts to clear him, but it' like that thread is completely dropped because his purpose in the story is only to create confusion between Mr. Thornton and Margaret. I guess maybe it's to leave things open, like real life, but it seemed a bit stilted and poorly though out. And I agree about the relationship, although frankly I think in a lot of ways we get a more realistic ending than an Austen novel, in that it's not a completely lower class woman somehow capturing the attention of an extremely wealthy man, but more of a working out of mutual attraction and point of view. Still, though, how do we really see this relationship working out?

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the story and loved getting lost in it. One of my more enjoyable reads of the year, despite some of lack of reality.


message 15: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Gill | 7 comments I did not know of this book until I saw it in this group. This book is awesome. My favorite character throughout the entire works was Mr Thornton. This is a book I will enjoy reading again.


message 16: by Trudy (new)

Trudy Brasure | 28 comments Although the ending is abrupt, I find all the pieces of the puzzle are in place at this point.

What about Frederick? Gaskell makes it clear he won't be getting cleared, and he's happy to make his life in Spain with his Catholic wife. Margaret has come to terms with this.

Will Thornton renew his business? Of course he will. The penultimate chapter explains that Thornton is eager to be a part of business that includes working with the laborers. And Thornton has specifically pointed out that the men at Marlborough Mills want to work for him again if he should resume his position as an employer. The money Margaret offered was intended to restart his business. The lease for the mill was not turned over to anyone else yet.

I see the marriage working out very well. Both John and Margaret are no strangers to the struggle and hardship an active working life in Milton will entail. Margaret has not been able to stop thinking about Milton (and Thornton) for the entire time she's been stuck in London.

Their relationship symbolizes the happy wedding between the old/new, North/South, compassion/logic that the entire book was about. A happy medium. I see both Thornton and Margaret as having arrived at a more rounded and broader perspective by meeting somewhere in the middle from their original rather rigid point of views.

They will be carving out their own path in Milton: Gaskell's vision of a more compassionate capitalism, in which masters and workers work together and respect each other.


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