Tag: gaskell

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.

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?