Thursday, 23 December 2010

Well my first month and first group read is under my belt. For December the group read chosen was Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North And South'.

North And South is a silly romance and highly amusing due to Gaskell's narraive skills and her level of wit and humour.

Surprisingly it is not really the condition of England story that we have come to expect of Gaskell's novels. There are the obligatory working-class represented by the Higgins family, Milton factory workers, and there are the middle-classes represented by cotton mill owners the Thorntons, the shallow, fashionable Harley Street set with the Shaws, representing London society, and the Hales', the lower middle-class family of the protagonist Margaret Hale.

Margaret has spent the entirety of her teenage years with her maternal aunt Mrs Shaw and her family at Harley Street, London, where she has assumed the role of companion to her cousin Edith. At the start of the story we are just days away from Edith's marriage to Captain Lennox, following which the happy couple move to Corfu, where Lennox's regiment are posted. Margaret returns to her family home a humble Hampshire parsonage in the wooded village of Helstone.

Upon returning home she learns that her vicar father has split with the Church of England, and the family - her parents and herself - will be moving north to the large, expanding industrial town of Milton.

From then on the story concerns itself with a series of misunderstandings between Margaret and John Thornton, a mill owner, who is recieving an education in Greek and Latin from her father, in his new career as a private tutor.

There is no serious examination of Mr Hale's decision to break with the Church of England, and oddly no mention of any church Anglican or otherwise that he is inclined to agree and worship with. As monumental a life-changing move it is for the family it becomes as a side issue to Margaret's blossoming romance, which blossoms at a very slow rate and against any designs of her own.

Anyway, froth and fury aside, it's an absorbing read, highly satirical and very funny. The Higgins' family - in particular Bessie - provide the customary pathos, the bathos coming from faithful family retainer lady's maid Dixon, constantly refering to the good old days in the service of the family of her mistress Mrs Maria Hale née Beresford.

There is a lot of humour derived in the form of Mrs Thornton and her daughter Fanny, mother and sister of the romantic hero John Thornton.

In truth I was expecting something a little more substantial than the light romance North And South is. I had hoped for a grittier Libbie Marsh's Three Eras, an extremely poignant early short story by Gaskell, concerning the lives of Manchester factory workers.

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