Tag: Elizabeth Gaskell

My Top 11 Favorite Classic Novels

When people see how much I love movies they sometimes assume that I don’t also like to read. This is probably because in my experience many men choose movies over reading but I think both are essential to be a full complete person. I love movies but there is something about the experience of living in stories that only books can give you. Movies give you a 2 hour story but a book can delight you for weeks depending on its size.

Recently I enjoyed watching the kickoff program for The Great American Read. This is a 2 hour show on PBS that has compiled a list of the 100 best books of all time. Some are questionable such as 50 Shades of Grey and an embarrassing number I haven’t read but watching the show inspired me to do more reading and to tell you my lovely readers about the books that I love.

To start off I thought it would be fun to share My Top 11 Favorite Classic Novels. Classic is obviously a relative term but for the sake of my list I started at 1960 as the end point (the year To Kill a Mockingbird was written). Some of these books are helped by nostalgia but they are all excellent on their own. It is also interesting that 8 of the novels are written by women. So here goes:

middle march

11. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1872)-

There was always a high chance I would love Middlemarch because it is my Mother’s favorite novel. Still I put off reading it for many years because its length intimidated me. However, if you can brave it Middlemarch treats you to a beautiful story about a woman named Dorothea who is trying desperately to do the right thing over what is convenient and easy. She marries out of a desire for intellectual enlightenment and then is sorely disappointed when it proves cold and distant. Then she meets Will Ladislaw and the 2 become friends. Everything is kept honorable but the connection Eliot has with her characters is beautiful and gives you hope for the goodness that lies within all of us.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

my antonia

10. My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)-

Like Eliot, Willa Cather is a novelist who always seems to find the humanity in her characters. It’s like she is writing about her dear friends not just people in a book. In My Antonia she captures the beauty and burdens of life on the American Prairie for orphan Jim and immigrant girl Antonia. We see them as children and then read as they grow up and life doesn’t turn out the way they think it will.

“Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

adventures of sherlock

9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)-

Where Middlemarch is beloved by my Mother, Sherlock Holmes is beloved by my Father. I’m not sure why he loves him so much but he always has. What appeals to me about the character is how Sherlock uses his brain as his super power. He’s unpredictable and intense but in the end always comes up with what is just and true- and usually staring the victims/police in the face the whole time! This first book has 12 of his stories including A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, and the Man with the Twisted Lip. So fun!

“As a rule, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.”

howard's end

8. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster (1910)

I love novels that have a sense of humanity for all its characters and that is what I get with Howard’s End. What I love the most about Forster’s writing is he doesn’t have villains. In a lesser hand the rich capitalist Wilcox’s would be the greedy villains but that isn’t the case. They are operating within their upbringing and doing what they think is right. When Mr Wilcox gives advice to the struggling clerk Leonard Bast he isn’t trying to be underhanded but is genuinely passing on knowledge without thinking of its ramifications. The Schlegal sisters are of an intellectual class that have the money to think about such things without having the burden of leadership. Every character has clear motivations and a story that feels real and moving and Howard’s End feels like a sanctuary we all yearn for and seek out.

“Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty.”

little women

7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)-

Little Women was the first big novel I recall reading and being proud I had finished it. I loved the story of each of the 4 girls. I loved the romance both scorned and returned. I cried my eyes out at poor Beth. As an adult, I can see the pulpy nature of especially the follow up book but I still love it. Just like most, I relate to Jo who wants to make a difference in the world and be independent and free. But I also relate to the selfish Amy, insecure Meg and shy Beth. I have all of those sides in me. And it always made sense to me that Jo refused Laurie. They were not only very different but she needed to go out and see the world and not get married in some stuffy house. With Professor Bhaer she got someone who was experienced and she had lived a little bit more. She needed a thoughtful yet adventurous spirit and that’s what she got in the Professor!

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”

jane eyre.jpg

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)-

I have always loved a great romance and what makes Jane Eyre so great is it is about 2 troubled souls who find each other and just when all seems to be lost it all works out. As readers we start with Jane as a young girl being treated terribly by the Reed family and then being sent to Lowood School where she is beaten but finally finds a friend in Helen and Miss Temple (so sad with Helen). Then she is grown up and it is time to go to Thornfield Hall and meet Mr Rochester. These 2 have such chemistry because they both have been battered and bruised by the world. I love the dialogue between them and how it builds slowly over time. And then when his secret is revealed Jane’s morals must send her away and it is devastating. Then we get the contrast between those morals and the missionary whom she has no chemistry with at all. It’s a fantastic love story.

“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you… I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”

anne of green gables

5. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (1908)-

Much like Jo March, Anne Shirley was a literary hero for me as a child. I was not a child that loved fantasy stories with mysticism and lore but I did like to daydream and Anne is the ultimate daydreamer. You could say that daydreaming rescued Anne. I love the way she see’s everything through her own world and is confident enough to voice that world out loud. She doesn’t care what the locals call the pond. To her it is the Lake of Shining Waters. There is something so appealing about this kind of hope and dream. The rest of the characters are so lovely and it has such heart. It made me constantly search for kindred spirits and hope for a love I might want to occasionally break a slate over his head!

“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it… Yet.”

christmas carol

4. A Christmas Carol (1843)-

We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (you can read my Scrooge Month reviews here) but I fear our familiarity with the text causes us to forget how great a story it truly is. I love stories of redemption and Scrooge coming to know Christ through Christmas is one of the greats. Like so many Scrooge has become bitter because of the disappointments and tragedies of life. He has decided to separate himself from Christ and his fellow mankind because he doesn’t want to get hurt. This is the lesson he learns from his ghostly visitors and from the frail but faithful Tiny Tim.

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused”

to kill a mockingbird

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)-

If someone asked me for a novel that might help them become a better person I would give them To Kill a Mockingbird. Told from the innocent perspective of a young girl observing her father, we learn in the novel what it means to have integrity and to fight for lost causes. Atticus knows representing Tom is a futile endeavor but he does it anyway. He see’s the value in the mockingbird which is ordinary and worthless to others. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us hope that good people like Atticus will always do what is right and will love no matter what. Boo Radley in contrast is the quiet one who saves Scout when nobody else can. It’s just beautiful and perfect.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

pride and prejudice

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)-

I could easily put Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion on this list but when it comes down to it Pride and Prejudice is my favorite from Jane Austen. As a teen I got caught up in the romance of this book. Will Darcy forgive Lizzie after she so hotly rebuked him? Will they survive the shame of Lydia’s carelessness? Will Bingley and Jane ever get together? It was all very compelling stuff! But as an adult I appreciate the novel on a deeper level. Austen really doesn’t have much romance in her books but she has characters that have to make choices and that are brave for their time. Lizzie could even be considered reckless considering the financial state of her family for refusing Mr Collins let alone Darcy. This is what makes her story compelling and their final union so satisfying. It is also full of witty satire that still holds up and is funny over 200 years later.

“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”

north and south

1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)-

Elizabeth Gaskell is my favorite author and I try to read her books each year. When I do I am always struck by how modern her characters feel. If they were to sub out more modern language the characters choices would feel right at home in a contemporary novel. In North and South she creates 2 fantastic characters in Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Margaret has been forced to move the Northern city of Milton where she meets the proud self-made Thornton. He is strong-willed like her but not a gentleman in her eyes. Then she and him get mixed up in the woes of the factory workers at his mill and the tension begins to mount. There is such chemistry between Margaret and Thornton from the first moment they meet, but it is not just a romance but an exploration of these 2 characters and how they let go of their pride to love. It will be too long for some folks but I adore it and find it endlessly re-readable.

“He knew how she would love. He had not loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her. Her soul would walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win back her love.”

So that is my list! What do you think of it? Let me know! I will be putting out a couple more book lists so let me know what you would like to see.

Advertisements

North and South Final Discussion Questions

north and south2You guys all know North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is my favorite book and recently some of my twitter/blogger friends have been hosting a read-along and discussion group.  I posted my answers to the first sets of questions here. Now here are the final set of questions and my answers.  If you’ve read the book I would love your comments and thoughts.

Check out Suey’s Books answers here

1.  There’s much talk about all the deaths in this book. What are your feelings on that? Do you think they were necessary? Or too much?

I think it was just a part of Victorian living especially in a big city like Milton.  Maybe this sounds cold but I was actually glad to see Mr and Mrs Hale go because I never cared much for either of their characters.  I feel they are the weakest as far as character development in the novel.

I always felt like Gaskell missed the boat with Mr Hale. He starts out the novel doing this bold thing of uprooting his family and leaving his profession but then the rest of the story he is a complete pansy, dominated by his wife and others.  Mrs Hale is a character we didn’t learn much about it and is kind of a big nag so no love loss for me.They are both necessary characters to get the story moving in different directions and once served their purpose glad to see them go.

In our discussion on twitter someone mentioned perhaps Mr Hale wasn’t being bold but running away from the situation.  That is a very interesting point I had never pondered before (and I’ve read the book at least 10 times so you never stop learning about a book!).  What do you think? Is he a credible character? The rest of Gaskell’s characters are so strong I’m willing to give her a pass on 2.

Anyway, the only death that does affect me is Bessie because she is so sweet and innocent.  It is the classic Victorian type of death to frail figures such as Beth in Little Women. The nice one’s always get taken first. 😉

Aside from being important in moving the plot along, the deaths do force Margaret to do her final growing up.  She doesn’t have anyone to lean on which is key to her complete change and strength.
2. Was there anything that happened during this last part that you found surprising or unexpected? Or was everything very predictable?

I guess Leonards getting thrown by Frederick onto the train and dying is a tense surprising scene but the rest is somewhat predictable but in a very engrossing way.  It’s hard to say because it’s been so long since I read it for the first time in 2006.

3. What are your feelings on the about face Margaret and Mr. Thornton have with regard to their financial status?

It’s completely devastating for Thornton. In our day we tend to villainize anyone with money- the 1% you might say. Think of a movie like The Social Network where Zuckerberg is the bad guy and really only because he is the head of Facebook and uber-rich.

Gaskell is so great at tying Thornton’s wealth to his self-worth in an admirable way.  His father devastated his world by being foolish with money, so Thornton’s goal is to do something good for himself, family and those around him by being a good steward of his factory and money.

This tie between financial success and his character can be seen in this quote:

“Architect of his own fortunes, he attributed this to no special merit or qualities of his own, but to the power, which he believed that commerce gave to every brave, honest, and persevering man, to raise himself to a level from which he might see and read the great game of worldly success”

The change in fate was almost like God saying he was a failure not just his business.

When he loses the factory it is as if the world is saying to him he is no better than his father. It’s just devastating.

Margaret getting money is more of a convenience for the story and less influential on her character.

4. Do you think Margaret is justified in being so anguished over the lie that she told? Does it mostly have to do with her feelings for Mr. Thornton? Or something else?
I do because it is such a humbling moment for her.  She is a character that prides herself on her good instincts and doing the right thing.  That’s why she jumped in front of the mob. The idea she would lie and more importantly anyone would think she had sullied her name with a secret romance is too much.

The fact it is Mr Thornton, who she is beginning to have feelings for, makes it even worse. But we all have more shame when our sins are made public than when they are confessed to God alone.  That’s just human nature.
5. At what moment exactly do you think her feelings for Mr. Thornton completely changed?

I think when Mrs Thornton comes to talk to her after the incident and she asks herself

“Why do I care what he thinks, beyond the mere loss of his good opinion as regards my telling the truth or not? I cannot tell…”  That’s the beginning of the realization of how much the loss of his good opinion hurts her.

6. Discuss the character of Nicholas Higgins. What do you think about the relationship he has with Mr. Thornton? Did he change Mr. Thornton? Did Mr. Thornton change him?
He’s a lovely character.  I think he is a man who is a great follower but not a great leader.  In that sense him and Thornton balance each other out very well.  When he waits at the door and pleads for a job it is such a humble moment.  He is trying to do the right thing but he is not a Messiah character.  He makes mistakes but pleads anyway. It’s such a well written scene.  Thornton just can’t turn someone so sincere away.

7. How does Mr. Thornton’s views on the master/worker relationship change? Or. . .did it change? Did your view on this issue change as you experienced this book?
I think Thornton realizes how much he needs the good workers.  When Higgins does the extra work to get the job done it is such a lovely moment. Before the strike he probably saw his men as somewhat replaceable and now he knows better.

I’ve never been a big fan of unions but Gaskell does such a good job not showing her hand. We don’t know if she likes the unions or thinks they are thugs.  A lesser writer would have gone one way or the other, so as a result of her skill I am also left unsure.  They certainly do much good and are needed but they can also be bullies and misrepresent the needs of the workers.

8. Do you have a favorite quote from this book? If so, share and let us know why it’s your favorite.
“He shrank from hearing Margaret’s very name mentioned; he, while he blamed her–while he was jealous of her–while he renounced her–he loved her sorely, in spite of himself.”

(It doesn’t get much better than that my friends…)

9. The ending! Are you happy with how things turned out? (Try not to compare with the movie here… that’s for a later question!)

I love the ending.  I think it is a sweet moment.  Shouldn’t you feel like you are getting the better partner when you marry? I love when they say “I am not worthy”. I think that is beautiful and not over-the-top like a more tawdry novel might do (but gives us a little more romantic dialogue than Austen ever does).

10. What aspect of this book would you like to address that we haven’t yet talked about? Is there something we’ve skipped over in our discussions that makes you want to say… “Yeah, but what about….?”  And if you’ve got nothing there, answer this: Did you like the book? Why or why not?

It is my favorite book.  It improves on me every time I read it because of how much I love the characters.  A great book allows its characters to grow over time and is rich enough to show that growth in a wide range of characters not just the central hero.

Gaskell is a master at allowing Margaret to change from a pampered princess who scorns men of business as not gentlemanly enough to a humble, sweet landlord. That’s pretty amazing. Thornton also grows from a man who has been idolized to a wounded but proud creature. It’s so lovely.

Smaller characters show wonderful growth like Mrs Thornton and Higgins. It’s a book I never tire of reading because I like the people so much. I like being in their world.

I love how it tackles issues beyond a romantic drama that we still face today but it doesn’t beat you over the head with them.  It presents certain perspectives and lets you as a reader decide what you think.

I also love how Gaskell writes women in all of her novels including North and South.  They are independent, confident, thinkers with strong character arcs.  If you think about the women in most Dickens novels they are weak, frail creatures, so it is a huge accomplishment what Gaskell does.  If you changed the language and clothes her characters feel very modern in behavior and choices.

I really do think it is the best novel I have ever read and when I’m frustrated with preachy modern stories with predictable characters I pull it out and read it again.  It just always makes me happy.

BONUS MOVIE THOUGHTS:

The miniseries is excellent.  I still think it would make a great feature film and I’m shocked nobody in Hollywood has taken it up as a project.  For the record I think Michael Fassbender would be the perfect Thornton.

The movie has gorgeous cinematography and the recreation of the cotton mill using an actual museum in England is amazing.

cotton-snowflakes-north-and-south-factoryThe script adaptation by the amazing Sandy Welch is wonderful.  She manages to not only include everything from the novel but give a few scenes a modern sensibility which is quite lovely and in keeping with the spirit of Gaskell’s prose.

The score is also lovely by Martin Phipps- drawing you in and creating tension and passion when needed.

thornton23

But the real strength of the miniseries is the casting.  Of course Richard Armitage is so good as Thornton.  He captures the pride and all those British stares we expect in such a movie.  He also is vulnerable and towards the end quite devastating. A lesser actor may have played him very one note but he completely captures the nuances of Gaskell’s writing .

cotton-snowflakes-north-and-south

That said, I don’t think Daniela Denby-Ashe gets quite the credit she deserves as Margaret.  She is quite up to the task for sparring with Armitage. There is an elegance and innocence to her performance that endears her to the viewer right away.

The rest of the cast is wonderful including Brendan Coyle as Higgins who would later be famous in Downton Abbey as Mr Bates.  Sinead Cusack is also so great as Mrs Thornton.

 

The Endingnorth-and-south-ending1

A lot of people in the discussion group were upset with the ending in the book.  Here’s what I would say to them.

I like the ending in the movie.  It is a suspension of belief, a fairytale and extremely romantic. The man looks across the train station and see’s the girl and he has loosed the knot in his cravat all casual style. He comes towards her and they talk, declare their love and kiss. I love it!

But does it really make sense to the rest of the story?  Think about it.  The pair were almost kept apart because of a mistaken scene in a train station between Margaret and another man.  Would either of them really have kissed in public like that?  No way.  While it is very romantic as fairytales can be I actually prefer the ending in the book.

They have had passionate discussions throughout the book and how appropriate for it all to come down to the two of them talking and finally understanding one another.  I love how they both feel unworthy of the other’s love and good opinion.  That is perfect for a book based on two people who start out the story feeling superior to each other in every way.

I probably won’t convince anyone but I love both endings. 🙂

North and South Study Questions 1 and 2

I love Gaskell and North and South is probably my favorite book

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 south2North 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

http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2014/12/north-and-south-read-along-january-2015.html#uds-search-results

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.

northandsouth

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

north and south 3

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 north and south 2

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

north and south

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Higgins and Thornton
Higgins and Thornton
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Books Into Movies

Just thought I would share this video with you all of books I think would make good movies. Some of them were movies like The Chosen and Hiding Place but they could be much better movies or new versions.

I have also decided a cast I think would be good and director.

I think it turned out pretty well.  Have you read any of these?  What books do you think would make good movies?

 

North and South: My Favorite Book

north and south

I’ve written a number of posts about the English writer Elizabeth Gaskell but since we are doing her book North and South for book club I thought I would add one more.  Let me explain to all of you why it is my favorite book (with the Book Thief being a close second- I know quite the contrast!).

North and South tells the fictional story of Margaret Hale who in the mid-nineteenth century is forcibly moved from her beloved South of England to big industrialized north.  There she meets a hard working and seemingly aloof textile factory owner named John Thornton.  Having grown up with an aristocratic notion of a ‘gentleman’ Margaret is initially disgusted by the tradesman Thornton and see’s him as a brute.  This impression is added to when she meets the Higgins family who work at the factory and are in dire straights.

Higgins and Thornton
Higgins and Thornton

The men at the factory, led by Higgins, are debating about striking and initially Margaret is sympathetic to their cause but as it becomes more violent she becomes conflicted.  She also gets to know Thornton more and their vigorous debates on social issues spark contempt and attraction at the same time. Both are used to being doted on and praised and the challenge of an equally vibrant and thoughtful mind draws them together but the path to love isn’t easy or predictable…

So are you intrigued?  I am and I’ve read this book two or three times every year since I first read it in 2006.  I was assigned it at a book club and I was the only girl who finished it but I think despite its nearly 400 pages I read it in a couple of days.  I was lucky enough to be introduced to it knowing nothing about the story, writer, or having seen the wonderful if slightly different BBC miniseries.

North and South is often compared to Pride and Prejudice with some cause.  I am sure Gaskell was a fan of Austen as her works became very trendy in the 1850’s.  However, Gaskell is also a contemporary of Dickens (Dickens is supposedly the one who suggested the title North and South when it became serialized in his magazine).  The romance and the prejudice of title characters is similar to Pride and Prejudice but it adds the social commentary of a Dickens novel and does not have the comedic wit of an Austen book.

north and south 2
Margaret and Thornton

Thornton and Margaret are in my opinion the two most well developed characters in literature.  Where Darcy and Lizzie change pretty dramatically (Darcy falls in love with Lizzie in basically a weekend), the leads in North and South develop a love and understanding of each other slowly, bit-by-bit.  When I first read the book I didn’t really like either character but I saw them grow and change the way real people might change.  Even on a 10th or 11th read-through there are not 2 characters that I want to more desperately fall in love than Margaret and Thornton.

Gaskell also gives all of her heroines a remarkably modern viewpoint and voice.  Take away the Victorian language and these characters could be a Bridget Jones or in a Sophie Kinsella novel.  What takes Austen half a book and a proposal to vocalize, Gaskell’s heroine says in a first meeting.  In her initial discussion with Thornton Margaret passionately defends the rights of the workers and calls him a “master” with a “Darkshire Egos, dependents clinging to him on all sides” .  I would say pretty bold even for a modern girl!

But, adding more complexity to the character, soon after this discussion Margaret steps out to defend Thornton from union thuggary.  She seems to have innate idea of right and wrong and is confident enough to act upon it.  Both Thornton and Margaret are emotionally honest in this way.  Him with a bold proposal, her with a rescue.  Then the story continues to add layer after layer. (is that obscured enough for you? Tried to not be to spoiler)

I also like North and South because it is not centered around the characters marital hopes.  In fact, that is somewhat incidental to the plot.  Gaskell, like Dickens, hopes to champion political change but she also invites more of a discussion than he ever allows.  There are points in favor of both the “master and man” debates within her novels and one could make a compelling case for Gaskell advocating either side.  That is great writing in my book.

north and south vs pride and prejudice
North and South vs Pride and Prejudice

Another difference in North and South from Pride and Prejudice is Thorton is a fleshed out character that we see a full journey from.  We hear his grief and feel the pressure that weighs him down as owner of the mill and lovesick man.  In their first discussion Thornton tells Margaret:

“I value my own independence so highly that I can fancy no degradation greater than that of having another man perpetually directing and advising and lecturing me, or even planning too closely in any way about my actions”

What a man right?  He has felt the weight of his father’s indiscretions, mother’s dependence, sister’s carelessness and his communities reliance, and never been confronted by anything he could not master or adapt to until Margaret.  That is such an attractive idea for a woman.  To be the girl that causes such a man to change and learn!

But he is not alone in change.  Margaret changes too, maybe even more so.  She learns that there is more gray than her stilted Southern ways have taught her.  By being the target of a misunderstanding in the story she comes to realize that all is not always as it seems at first and that the most important part of Thornton’s character is his honest heart. In this sense their mutual understanding is very similar to Darcy and Lizzie.

In the final scene in the novel Margaret declares “I am not good enough” and Thornton says “don’t mock my own feeling of unworthiness”.  Is that not also a very modern sense of love?  That we should feel we have gotten the better half of the bargain?  And even though it is clear to any astute reader that this will be the ending of the story, the journey is so satisfying that I want to cheer every time.

north and south 3

I just love it.  Read it!! (and then watch the miniseries. Be smart like me and do it in the right order!)

Wives and Daughters

Wives and DaughtersWives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars  (My first Goodreads review posted in my blog.  I didn’t know you could do that but hope to do it many more times in the future.  If you are on goodreads and we aren’t friends please add me!)

Whenever I get bored with reading I go back and reread either Gaskell or Austen (with an occasional Elliott or Bronte thrown in the mix). They are my version of comfort food in book form. Wives and Daughters is a splendid book with humor, warmth, intrigue and of course romance. I probably read it and North and South 4-5 times a year if not more so.

The key to it is Molly Gibson. While North and South is my favorite Gaskell, Molly Gibson is my favorite character. She may be my favorite character in all of literature. Gaskell knew how to write women. I feel like she gets inside my head with her characters better than any other author.

Despite the prim and proper age which she lived she managed to always write women that are complex, dynamic and bold. Molly is a perfect example. She is one part intellect and one part frustratingly naive. She is thoughtful towards all but also slightly petty. Her heart is easily attached but she is by no means a push-over. She is insanely likable because we all can relate to some part of her personality.

All of Gaskell’s women are free with their opinion and feel remarkably modern. Molly and Margaret (North and South) are not waiting around to be useful or make an impact on society, as you see in the Austen books (I realize they were written in a different era but still).

The attribute I relate the most to in Molly is her deep and abiding love for others. She genuinely loves the Hamley’s and even finds a way to love the manipulative yet sympathetic Cynthia. Hyacinth is the only Gaskell character I can think of which borders on caricature, but even then you do see some perspective as to why she feels she must act in such a silly way.

Wives and Daughters is practically perfect- if only Gaskell had finished the last chapter before her death…Nevertheless, it will make you laugh, cry, smile and question your own behavior. It tells a love story in the best possible way- a meeting of the minds, of 2 kindred spirits that finally realize they are meant to be together. Who doesn’t love that? 🙂

(Molly actually reminds me a lot of my sister (minus the negative characteristics listed above!) who is so thoughtful, kind, inquisitive and forgiving.)

PS- I love how the main critique of this book is that it is long. Duh. You think you could tell that by looking at it.

Now the question is what do I read next?…I always ask that after reading Gaskell? Nothing else quite compares in my eyes. Christmas Carol will probably be next up!

The BBC Miniseries is excellent with wonderful performances. Michael Gambon is always superb in everything he is in and he gives a heart wrenchingly nuanced performance as Squire Hamley (a role that could be very cliched).  Justine Waddell is very good as Molly Gibson.

The series also does a good job creating a pitch-perfect ending.  I recommend reading the book first, develop your own ending and see how it compares with the series.  It is currently a stream on Netflix.  I wonder when Hollywood is going to get with it and create a regular movie version of Gaskell?  They’ve done Austen to death. You think they’d be jumping at the chance to do Gaskell?

Who Will Be My New Gaskell or Austen?

I love Gaskell and North and South is probably my favorite book
I love Austen. Her books make me happy.

Readers to this blog are aware of my favorite author Elizabeth Gaskell.  Jane Austen is a close second. (I know it is a cliche for girls to like Jane Austen but what can I say?  I love her books!).  I love the characters (particularly the female), the plots, and the romance in all of their books.  They are the kind of books that I can read over and over again and get continual pleasure.  In fact, sometimes I finish rereading one, just to start repeating another. (I think I read North and South four times last year. I’m not kidding and its a big book.).

The problem I have is  Austen only wrote 6 books (Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park) and Elizabeth Gaskell only wrote 5 (North and South, Cranford, Mary Barton, Wives and Daughters, and Ruth)  This leaves me yearning for a new book but having depleted all 11 books multiple times. I am consequently left adrift without any books? What’s a reader to do?

That’s where I turn to you my fabulous online community.  What are some other author’s similar in characters, plots and tone to Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen?

Let me give you an idea of other books I enjoy-

I LOVE Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Adam Bede and Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

I also like modern books but it is difficult to find author’s that are at least moderately clean and that don’t have sullen weepy characters.  (I don’t mind a tragedy but there has to be something redeeming  in them or at least in the story).

An author from the 20th century  I liked is Willa Cather.  Her books have a poetry and a depth I find moving. By the end of her books you really love her characters and want them to be happy.

Cry the Beloved Country by Allan Patton is another book I love.  It paints a beautiful setting while sparing nothing of the horrors of apartheid.  The two main characters maintain a purity and love for their sons that is gorgeous.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is another  great book. Is there a more noble man in all of literature then Atticus Finch? I certainly can’t think of a better father.

Finally, I enjoy a well-written memoir about an interesting person facing challenges or experiencing new lands.  Red China Blues by Jan Wong is a long-time favorite.  I also like Yak Butter and Black Tea: A Journey into Tibet by Wade Brackenbury (crazy book about this man who travels to China with a tour and on a whim decides to traverse forbidden Tibet with an unknown french man he met in a cafe. Crazy!).  On a more somber note I just finished the Hiding Place by Corie ten Boom for the third time- what a remarkable book about an amazing lady.  Another of my favorites on that vein is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs- the most stirring memoir on slavery I’ve read.

So that should give you an idea for the type of books I like to read.  I don’t mind something long so don’t be afraid to recommend them!  I’m not a huge fan of fantasy but it can have some fantastic elements. I also like some chick-lit but it has to be relatively clean and well-written (I liked the first two shopaholic books and the Devil Wears Prada).  Another tip- if it is an Oprah book I probably won’t like it. Her books are so pointlessly depressing.

Some books that I hated are the Scarlet Letter, the Awakening, A Separate Peace, A Fine Balance, Julie and Julia, The Jungle, Brave New World, the Princess Bride, Catch 22, the Invisible Man, Catcher in the Rye, and Netherland.  All were about crass unfeeling people that I hated and didn’t care a lick about their story. They are all very annoying in their styles, tones and plots.  I also hate books that are preachy and manipulative in forcing their world-view upon the reader (ie David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace- overrated, condescending, foul-mouthed, and preachy). Such books drive me crazy even if I agree with the world-view presented.

So, friends give me your suggestions.  Help me find my new Elizabeth Gaskell, my new Jane Austen.  Many of the author’s I mentioned above only wrote one or two books, so I’ve already tapped them out.  It’d be great if I could find an author with a number of must reads that I haven’t read yet! I can already envision the many happy days of reading ahead of me!

To see what some of my favorite books are look at this post.