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From The Idyllic Counties To The Factory Towns

I finished reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell as part of my Reading England Project. It also ties in brilliantly with my Women’s Classic Literature Event. I have always been a huge Gaskell fan and some of my best blogging buddies (Cleo and Stefanie. I am especially looking at two of you now!) have often told me that this is perhaps on of Gaskell’s best works! Naturally, I was excited to be able to finally read this work!

The novel opens with Margaret Hale preparing for a change in her life – she was brought up with her cousin Edith in her Aunt Shaw’s house in England; but Edith is now getting married and Margaret is going back to her own home at Helstone, where her father is the local pastor. She loves the village and has great plans to settle down there and support her parents in their daily routines and get a chance to be the daughter of the family. However her plans are overthrown when soon after her return, her father tells her that he is planning to resign from his post in Church of England due to his lack of beliefs in the institution and the Hales must move to Milton, an industrial town in Darkshire, north England, where he will work as a private tutor. Margaret does not like this transition, and her initial impression of Milton is unfavorable. Her understanding of mill owners is spurious and she believes them to be tradesman, without culture and intellect, incapable of being gentlemen. Her first impressions are further strengthen, when her father’s first pupil John Thornton, owner of the  Marlborough Mills, speaks straightforwardly on how the mill owners have risen and how their work is real, versus the intellectual pursuits of a “gentleman”.  John Thornton, despite believing Margaret Hale to be haughty, soon falls in love with her and proposes, which she declines. However the ensuing 18 months, bring many changes in Margaret’s life forcing her to not only revise her first opinion of mill owners, but also start caring deeply for John Thornton. But there are tumultuous events in Margaret’s life including the well –being of her exiled brother, Fredrick, who was part of a naval mutiny and now residing in Spain as well the health of her mother which will force to make many life choices which would push John Thornton’s love for her at the very edge.

Before I get into a more detailed review of the book, let me end the curiosity and speculation and say – I LOVED the book! Simply loved it!

Now for the more detailed analysis – Strong characterization has always been Mrs. Gaskell’s strength and in North and South, she not only plays to it, but comes out triumphantly! Margaret Hale is a living, breathing girl, with opinions about matters she understands little, petty jealousies and pride. She is also very loyal, generous, and capable of doing her duty, no matter what the sacrifice. She learns from her mistakes and is humble in her acceptance; and when her very world is torn apart, she stands like a rock, despite her own heartbreak to provide strength to those who love her! In short, she is not just a heroine, but she is a human heroine. John Thornton is everything a 19th century gentleman would have been, especially around Manchester. A self made man, who will not stand for anything that comes in the path of his success, but is also kind and loyal, who will do good, even when he knows there will be no rewards for his goodness. The supporting characters are wonderful as well – Mrs. Thornton as the proud mother to John Thornton, who never bowed or lost her self respect even in the worst of times; Mr and Mrs. Hale, two good people, who were perhaps not the best couple, despite their love for each other. I loved the loyal and sometime draconian servant, Dixon and Mr. Bell, Margaret’s God Father.  Finally, my heart went out to Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Betsy, kind and good even when they have nothing, absolutely nothing to be kind with! While the novel has a similar backdrop as that of Mary Barton, this book looks more closely at the owner and employers of the mills and brings home the fact; they not all of them are black villain, a subject, and the author had already touched upon in Mary Barton. She acknowledges that while there was much that needed to be done for the workers, the mill owners were also facing challenges, especially from the booming cotton business from Southern United States. She tries to showcase the struggle and effort these mill owners themselves went through, to reach their current position and these were all self-made man, who worked their lives through to build what they have built. Like all Gaskell’s novels, religion is a strong pillar in the construct of the story, and while, it is used as a means of building fortitude and courage, it is also openly questioned for its absoluteness, several times. This streak of rebellion against the establishment runs through the plot and while very much crouched in the conventions of Victorian England, it is very much there and one cannot ignore it – Mr. Hale’s break with the church, Fredrick’s mutiny, albeit against tyranny, but nevertheless against authority, the strike of the workers, and of course Margaret’s rebellion against anyone trying to tell her about social proprieties, which she feels impinges on what is personal to her. There is a smidgen feeling of Pride and Prejudice in the romance between Margaret and John, but it is smidgen and their story stands independently on its own!

Overall it’s an absolutely marvelous read. Mrs. Gaskell remains as brilliant as ever!

TBRing All The Way….

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what Stefanie does, influence by reading/writing/blogging. I am always inspired by her posts and encouraged to read books I would not touch with a pole, until she writes about them! Therefore it is only natural that I would do a blog post of the TBR Meme when she has attempted it.  Besides it was busy festivity days here, with plenty of house cleaning, cooking and socializing, so to gather back into the folds of literary reviews would take some time. This meme seemed like a good way to start getting my feet wet again in the literature blogging world!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

That question implies that I keep track of my TBR pile, which I really do not. I just keep adding books and going back to them once in a while and the list therefore is never ending. One of the reasons why my  TBR is so badly managed is because I promise myself that I will stick to it and follow an orderly manner of reading through it; however temptation comes in form of some book or the other, and there goes my TBR for a toss!

Is your TBR print or E-Books?

They are a combination of both!  E-Books are mostly those, which I can read on the fly, great books but not necessarily classic literature. Some E-Books happen because, physically they are not available in my location or if they are, they cost an arm and a leg and a pair of kidneys and if it’s REALLY good, I may have to toss in my ears and heart as well! Print books are all classics and collector’s editions.

tbrHow do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

Please see question#1. Usually, I try to go for something that is in my TBR and matches my current reading mood – if I want to read a thriller, I try and look for something like that in my TBR, if its classic, then there is plenty of options my TBR provides; so on and so forth. There are days when I do not visit my TBR at all because I am on what I call binge readings – books which I bought after recommendations or instinct without even adding them to the TBR. Post the binge, I do feel guilty and try and restore some of my TBRs to Read category- pretty much like going on a diet, after 7 days of food orgy!

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?

The Magnificent Amberson’s by Booth Tarkington…I will get to it eventually, I guess!

A book you recently added to your TBR?

Regeneration by Pat Barker

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

None! From a very early childhood, I have determined and come to a decisive conclusion, that while beautiful covers are a joy, they are not necessarily forever….the book HAS to matter!

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

The books on my TBR list are there in my TBR list because I plan to read them some day or the other. So there is no never plan on reading. However, there are books which I may start and leave in the mid-way because I just don’t get it and they will eventually drop off my TBR!

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

None, that I can recollect at this moment; but I am sure there will be one or the other, I will stumble upon soon.

That’s my TBR Meme…and while I am not tagging anyone, it will be fun if you could share what your TBR looks like!

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