Readers of this blog will know that North and South is my favorite book. I read it every year when I get discouraged by the lame modern novels I find. I love it for a lot of reasons. Mostly Gaskell is so great at creating characters that are layered and change subtly over the course of the story until you feel so attached to them.
She also is so great at writing women. Whether it is Margaret in North and South, Molly in Wives and Daughters or all the women in Cranford she creates independent modern women who would be comfortable in any current setting. I love how forceful they are with their opinions and make their own life choices.
North and South is her masterpiece creating two characters Mr Thornton and Margaret Hale who are almost off-putting at first both stuck in their worlds. Then life throws them together and they change until you want them to be happy so badly.
She also throws in very interesting social commentary and is more subtle than her contemporaries Dickens and Elliot. For example, the union men in North and South are painted as thugs and brutes but also starving and unheard. I’ve read North and South over 10 times and I have no idea what Gaskell’s actual position on unions really was. That’s a sign of a great writer.
So I bring up North and South now because a few of my blogging friends are doing a book club read of it and I am woefully late in posting my answers to the questions. To find her answers and the other bloggers check out her blog for links
So here are my answers to the first 2 set of discussion questions. A few of them I took out because I didn’t have anything to say on them. If you have read North and South would love to hear your answers.
- Have you seen the BBC mini-series? Is the book anything like you expected it to be?
Yes, in fact I read the book before I saw the miniseries. I love it and I think it is one of the most stylish BBC series with beautiful production design and cinematography. I like all the casting.
However, I think the book is quite different. The book is less whimsical than the movie. Like the ending would never have happened in the era of the book. I like both.
- Why do you think Margaret refused Henry? He seems like such a nice chap.
Margaret has a very heightened idea of a gentleman and the kind of person who is worthy of her. Henry is definitely not up to snuff with the Heleston Margaret.
- What are your first impressions of Mr. Thornton?
I actually feel both Margaret and Thornton start off the book kind of unlikable. Margaret seems like a snob and Thornton a bullish boss. That’s what makes the journey so great.
- Why is Margaret so indifferent to Mr. Thornton, but she can make friends with the Higgins? They are both northern people and have different customs.
It’s kind of similar to Emma in Emma spending time with Harriet or the Bates. It is more of a condescending and serving the Higgins where Thornton needs none of that service.
- What differences are you seeing so far between the north and the south?
I don’t know if we ever get a real view of Heleston and the South because Margaret see’s it as an idyllic home which is easy to do when you aren’t living there. She see’s it through rose colored glasses like someone might do to a special vacation home.
Milton in contrast is immediately very realistic and gritty, grimy and even cold.
- Do you think Mr. Hale was justified in leaving the church and his position?
Mr Hale is the one part of the book that is a problem for me. Leaving the church was a such a bold choice and I never feel like he is the type of personality to do something like that. You have to accept it in order to get the story going but he is such a weak human being the rest of the book it is hard to buy.
- What are your feelings on Frederick’s situation?
I don’t know enough about the navy and such things at that time but I buy it. I think it works to give Margaret something she has to hide from the world. It humbles her and makes her realize she can be lower than Thornton.
- What are your thoughts on the master and worker relationship
I think it is a necessary part of life. There are going to be leaders and followers. It actually usually runs pretty well. Where you get into problems is people who are bad at following and bad at leading. That’s where conflict comes in to play. Margaret is not a good follower and Higgens isn’t really a good leader. He is better at supporting people he loves. What Margaret fails to see is that by being a good yet stern boss Thornton is respecting his workers. He learns to do even more but how often do we, like Margaret assume leaders are all bad merely because they are leading.
- Have your feelings changed towards Mr. Thornton during this section of the book?
Thonton taking lessons from Mr Hale I think helps endear him to the reader pretty quickly. There’s a humility there. His back and forths with Margaret help create building tension and an intriguing character. You learn a lot about him through their debates.
- Have your feelings towards Margaret changed?
Margaret is a very independent woman. She almost reminds me of Belle from Beauty and the Beast . She is bold with her opinion and forward about making friends and getting involved with local issues. All this makes her very likable. She is never dishonest with anyone even when her feelings and impressions are wrong they are her feelings. No attempt to lie to anyone. Another likable traits.
- What do you think about the riot and how Margaret and Mr. Thornton reacted?
It’s a superbly written scene. Gaskell builds tension perfectly and throughout the book she does a good job not really saying whether the union is the enemy or to be admired. I honestly don’t know what is going to happen each time I read it because it’s hard to know whether the mob likes Margaret or not. When she gets struck it is quite shocking but her actions make sense because we the readers are feeling the same way Margaret is about the mob. Thornton seems to be the only one who knows what is going to happen and there is a desperation in all of his actions.
- Did Bess’s or Mrs. Hale’s deaths effect you in any way
Bess’s death affected me because she is such a lovely sympathetic character. Mrs Hale I never really bonded with so I was kind of glad to see her go.
- Were you surprised to learn that it wasn’t common for women to attend funerals? What are your feelings on that tidbit?
That was interesting. Kind of silly really. They should be able to all mourn and pay their respect. Different culture I suppose.
- Now that we’ve met Frederick, do you like him? Are you sympathetic to his predicament?
Yes, I think he is a likable figure. He made mistakes but they seem understandable given the chaos of war. You don’t get to know him very well but what we do he seems sweet and sincere.
- What are your feelings on Mr. Thornton’s proposal?
It’s devastating. Gaskell does such a great job building these characters bit-by-bit until you want them to be happy. Thornton gives such a noble proposal. Unlike say Darcy he hasn’t really done anything worthy of Margaret’s disdain. She has yet to let go of the notions she picked up living with her cousins. In her defense she has had a lot to take in during a short period of time. She’s moved to a foreign local, father disgraced leaving the church, lost her Mother, dealt with Frederick and worked with the unions and Higgens. It’s a lot where Thornton has had to deal with just the union. So I give her a bit of a pass.
- If you were in Mr. Thornton’s place, having seen the person you love with a stranger late at night, then finding out that person was questioned by the police and lied, would you do the same thing Mr. Thornton did? Would you protect that person even though you think they have done questionable things?
It’s hard to say. I’m not a very good liar so I would probably let it slip even if I didn’t want too. I think he knows there is more to the story or at least hopes there is. We always hope we would do the honorable thing but who knows.
- Do you think Margaret’s feelings towards Mr. Thornton have changed? Why?
Definitely. Margaret starts to notice Thornton more after the proposal and the Frederick lie is huge in getting her to see things in a new way. Gaskell is so great at her subtle character development.