Wednesday, January 19, 2011

North and South: Katniss Everdeen, meet Margaret Hale

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Published: 2008 by Vintage Classics
Originally published:  1854
Length: 547 pages
Source: Purchased from

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"He [Thornton] shook hands with Margaret.  He knew it was the first time their hands had met, though she was perfectly unconscious of the fact."

Sometimes reading does not follow any kind of predictable equation or outcome.

My expectation for North and South:  

The wit and quirk of Cranford + the cinematic and  hottie appeal of the miniseries + brand-new Vintage Classics edition = All that and a bag of Miss Vickie's Jalapeno Chips.

It just didn't quite add up that way, but I still enjoyed it.  It was true comfort reading, which is valuable in and of itself. 

For fans of the Hunger Games Trilogy, remember how frustrating it is to see Katniss' complete cluelessness when it comes to romantic love?  Even when there's bread involved?  Margaret Hale has the same problem.  She receives two marriage proposals from men she has no idea are in love with her.  And her responses are less than gracious.  But like Katniss, Margaret focuses a lot of her attention on taking care of those who traditionally should be taking care of her, with love and marriage being the last thing on her mind.  So I'll forgive both of them, and be entertained by the tension it creates. 

North and South is more than a love story, giving it a satisfying amount of depth, which makes up for the lack of fireworks in the writing.  Social issues are explored through the hardships of factory workers in an industrial town, but you also get to see things from the perspective of the factory owner.  Religion is also touched upon, with the storyline of Margaret's father, who has a crisis of faith and leaves his post as a vicar, which precipitates their move from the south of England to the industrial north.  One of my favorite quotes describes a group prayer, in which Higgins, a frustrated factory worker who has seen his fair share of adversity, reluctantly joins in on:

"Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together.  It did them no harm."

Now that's an equation that adds up just the way it should!


  1. I love the formula. Too funny. Those chips sound delicious. I love the Vintage Classics covers. I just bought a couple for myself.

    I've been wanting to read North and South for a while. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this in mid-February.

  3. I've had a lot of people tell me I should read this one so it's been on my list for a while. I like the Hunger Games comparison too!

  4. Kristi,
    I only recently discovered Vintage Classics, and it could be dangerous!

    As always, I can't wait to hear your thoughts! You sound very organized in your reading plans :-)

    I hope you like it when you get to it, but if you're like me, it's not the only one on your list of books you want to get to someday!

  5. The group prayer scene was lovely, I wrote it down to use in my post on the book as well. Rereading this, I appreciated the "more than a love story" far more than the first time. On my first read, I would have agreed with the "no fireworks", now I feel that does not quite do Gaskell justice.

  6. I though the "hottie appeal" was a great compliment for the series ("Look back!").

    I also really liked the praying scenes and another favorite is Thornton thinking about the bracelets in Margaret's arms.

  7. I've seen and enjoyed the movie but haven't read the book. I really want to get around to actually reading one of her books someday.

  8. Irisonbooks,
    I think I was just expecting something like Cranford, in which I found something to delight in on every single page. But of course this is a longer work published in serial form, so I probably shouldn't have had that expectation. I did find more of what I loved in the second half of the book. I'll check out your post soon!

    Yes, I also loved the bracelets! What a wonderful detail. The book made me want to see the movie yet again!

    I hope when you get to it you enjoy it! I'm definitely going to read more of hers.

  9. I just discovered that this is on Librivox which I listen to a lot at work. But I'm thinking it might be something that I'll want to pay more attention to than I can give at work. Wonder if I can keep my husband quiet enough at home to listen to it?

  10. I've got this book on my list of classics that I want to read (this year...hopefully :) I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

  11. I read North and South last year and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I agree with you, it felt like "comfort reading." I usually only get through two or three chunky Victorian classics each year, and was glad I chose this one.

    On a completely unrelated note, I read you somewhere talking about not feeling the need to review/post about every book you read. How marvellous. I have decided to do the same thing, without feeling guilty or negligent :) I do read alot of books that while I enjoy, I don't really have much to say about, or I am not sure what I want to say about them. Many thanks for a simple idea that has set me free somewhat.

  12. Margaret Hale from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of the extraordinary heroines of Classic Lit. Elizabeth Gaskell isn't quite as known or as celebrated as Dickens or the Brontes, people who had been big friends of hers, according to her biography, but she was a gifted writer in her own right and her talent shows in this wonderful gem which I will reread again in the not-so-distant future.

  13. I'm definitely going to pick up a copy of this book after reading your review. I really liked the Hunger Games analogy too!