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Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Gaskell’

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!

A Spining Book and a Swinging Song…..

Monday 5It’s been an awfully long Monday and there were times when I thought that the hour will just not pass! Naturally I am completely exhausted (It’s a Monday…I mean you live 20 times your average stressed day on Monday, on account of it being what it is – a Monday!! Ok!! I know that I need to REST!!) I will make this post short and hopefully sweet.

The Classic Club has finally spun for the last time for 2014 and come up with of all the numbers – 13. My 13 was My Antonia by Willa Cather. I am both overjoyed and apprehensive – I have been planning to read Willa Cather for some time and never really got around to doing it. This Spin seems to once again motivate me into reading something; I was not quite sure off. Besides, coming off from my recent experience with Elizabeth Gaskell “Mary Barton – I am quite hopeful about this being a good read, despite the very dreary blurb!! (I must dedicate one whole post on book blurbs…they are increasing becoming critical in how I may not judge a book! But that’s a story for another day!) My apprehension is the geography – Russian Siberia and American Frontier has always been a geographical bug bearer for me. I have no idea where I picked up such a ludicrous idea, but I do have it now and am kinda stuck with it. All things going well, Ms. Cather should be able to change my mind about the American Frontier at the very least!

Anyhow I will sign off here and because I promised something sweet, I want to share with you all a song my grandmother used to play to chase away my Monday blues (especially when I would be joining school on Monday after a lengthy and absolutely pampering vacation at Grandma’s place!!) Hope you all enjoy – Monday is almost over! Cheers!

 

The Mills of Manchester…

Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell had been lying on top of one of my bookshelves for some time At least for 3 years, it remained in the same corner of my book shelf, untouched and unread. As everybody knows, I worship Elizabeth Gaskell and I would normally never let a work of hers that I possessed, lay unused especially for such a long time. But the blurb behind the book and I am quoting verbatim from Penguin Classic publication –

“Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two me.”

Gave this book a very “Hard Times “feel and I was not sure I wanted to tackle sadness or hardship when my reality was hardly joyous for more reasons than one! Anyway, when Classic Club declared its  November event as the Victorian Era Literature and it seemed like a good time for me to prod myself to finally take this book down and start reading it!!

Mary Barton”, as the name suggests is the story of Mary Barton, a young girl apprenticed as a dressmaker, whose father, John Barton is a mill worker in the Manchester factories, circa. 1841-42. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that Mary, like many other girls, has aspirations of a better life – a life outside the squalor and poverty of the mill workers colony and dreams of being a grand lady. This cherished dream of hers gets a boost, when Henry Carson, the wealthy and handsome son of Mr. Carson one of wealthiest mill owners of the city, starts courting her. She is also courted by Jem Wilson, a workshop supervisor and the son of John Barton’s closest friend; however in her aspirations for higher life, she does not encourage Jem’s suit. It is very clear that Mary Barton is not in love with Henry Carson, but nevertheless is flattered by his attention; furthermore the good life that she so wishes, is not only for self, but also for her father, whom she loves desperately and wants him to be comfortable in his old age. All this while, the socio-economic condition of the Manchester Mill workers, worsens; as wages are brought down lower and lower, many of the factory workers are laid off and their children and other dependents begin to die due to malnutrition and illness. John Barton, one of the spokesperson for the mill workers trade union grows bitter and bitter as first the mill owners and then the government turn away from the pitiful conditions of the workers and deaths due to starvation increase. The increased divide finally lead the trade unionists to take some harsh actions, to have higher authorities listen to their demands. Amidst this unrest, Henry Carson is shot and Jem Wilson is imprisoned as the prime accused. It is now up to Mary Barton to decide what her heart truly wants and how can she go ahead in achieving its object.

To begin with never go by the blurb, it says what the book is, without really saying what the book is. Therefore not only do not judge the book by its cover, but also use discretion when reading a blurb. To begin with, the blurb makes Mary Barton out to be one social-climbing opportunist, which she is anything but. Like all young girls, she dreams of better and richer life, but that’s for the enriched value of life itself. How many of us have not wished for a better, more prosperous life? In a restricted, confined Victorian society, Mary leveraged the only option available to her – that of marrying someone better. She is conscious of Jem Wilson’s liking for her and because she thinks that she may seek another man, goes out of her way, to not make sure she does not encourage him or raise his hopes, that may lead to him being hurt. The wish of for bettering herself does not discount that she is a generous and a loyal friend and a dutiful daughter. Her decision are made well before any shots are fired and there is no social-climbing in her sincere wish to do what is best and what is right, all the while following the dictates of her heart! You will really like Mary for all her courage and gusto in doing everything in her power to make someone’s life better or comfortable. The supporting characters are also brilliantly drawn – you cannot help but be touched by the humanity and kindness in both John Barton and Job Leigh’s character. The simplicity and dignity of Alice and Margaret’s life and conduct is wonderful and extremely joyous, especially in the atmosphere that is both sobering and tragic. You cannot help but love the Wilson cousins – Jem and Will; they steal the reader’s heart with their honesty and earnestness. Finally, there is Mr. Carson, a wealthy man, who worked his way to the top from his childhood in grinding poverty and who in his most testing times, showed how much greatness, mankind is truly capable off! I know Ms. Gaskell wrote this book as a social commentary of her times, but it’s more than just a social drama – there is a sense of thrill and chase, especially in the second half of the book, that makes you want to reach the next page as soon as possible. The pace never flags – it a big book, 494 pages – I read it through the night. No credit to my reading skills and all kudos to Ms. Gaskell fast-moving plot that keeps you going. There are bits and pieces on Christianity and faith which may a bit challenging, but are completely in keeping with the social times of the era she wrote in and are far and few and do not really distract one from the plot! One of the key factors of this novel which makes it easy to read despite the very serious nature of the subject is that Ms. Gaskell is never didactic or pedantic. She never preaches, but observes and provides incidents, written with extreme sympathy and understanding. Not for once did she make this tenacious issue black and white – her sympathy was for the workers, but she was gentle in her exhortations of the owners, allowing them with far more human elements, than books of such genre usually allow. Most importantly, she succeeds in showcasing that even in amid most painful and difficult times, good things do happen and the most vengeful is capable of kindness and forgiveness.

Ms. Gaskell, thy name is versatility and you are truly one of under-sung but brilliant heroes of that age!!

Come November, Come Books – A Spinning Update

Just when I thought, my reading plans toppleth over, Classic Club  decides to launch its last spin for the year….now how can I give that up???!!! Not that I do not have enough in my to-read list, I have now added one more. However going by my earlier post resolution, I have included only the books I really want to read/re-read! (It’s Christmas and I am allowed indulgence – so no books that I don’t want to read or books I am dreading reading and all that!) This is keeping in spirit with my December reading plan of  I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event.

The rules are as always simple and I quote verbatim from the site page –

  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.) (Like I said…I am kind of cheating on this one and reading only authors I want to read!!!!!)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday.
  • Monday morning, Classic Club will announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books and select the book that corresponds to the number announced.
  • The challenge is to read that book by January 5, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!)

Here goeth my list –

  1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope
  6. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  8. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  9. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  11. Hamlet – William Shakespeare Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  12. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
  13. My Antonia by Willa Carther
  14. A Room with a View by E.M.Forster
  15. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
  16. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  17. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  18. The Beautiful and the Dammed by F.Scott Fitzgerald
  19. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  20. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

Phew! Finally!! There goes my list. I know I have repeated a few authors, but I can safely say, that I have not any of these works, so at least I strive in a new direction!!

Once Upon A Time, let Ms. Gakell lead you on further….

On this night after Halloween, it makes sense that I close my RIP IX readings with Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Gothic Tales” (Yeah!! I know I am day late, but with everyone going crazy with the “Halloween rage” thingy, it’s good that I did not pile on to already overcrowded bandwagon of Halloween celebrations). I state close, though I did mention in my RIP post that I would be reading 4, besides the read along is because my 4th book is completely untenable, unpalatable, un-everything!! If I thought “Rebecca” was OTT and “The Sign of Four” had a weird appraisal of women, then “Angelica” wins hands down on all that  is unbelievable dumb, stupid and all kinds of unpleasant adjective. I could not go on beyond the 100 pages – there is not one bit of scare and I completely hated Angelica and the entire family. I am not sure if the book gets better later but I am no longer making an effort to find out. I am so thoroughly disappointed – I was really looking forward to Arthur Phillips’s work and it was such a letdown!

Anyway, this post is about “Gothic Tales” and not “Angelica” which does not deserve even one sentence and I have already wasted 3! “Gothic Tales” is an anthology of all works mystery, gothic and horror genre written by Elizabeth Gaskell between 1851 and 1861, published mostly in Household Words and the Christmas special edition of All Year Round. Elizabeth Gaskell with her complete flexibility and virtuosity of the art weaves tales which are old legends like “Disappearances” as well as a ghastly ghostly tale of a secret marriage and a mysterious child that roams the freezing Northumberland in “The Old Nurse’s Tale.” There is an absolutely terrifying doppelgänger and threatens the future of the one person the witch who gave the curse loves in “The Poor Clare”. “Lois the Witch” is a sympathetic take on the young women accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch hunt in 16th Century. Another sympathetic and heartbreaking novella is the “Crooked Branch”, a tragic tale of love gone awry. “The Doom of the Griffiths” is also a sympathetic narrative of loneliness, filial love and loyalty. Then there is “Curious if True” a fun and extremely weird narrative that includes all famous fairy tale characters including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast etc. The other novellas include “The Squire’s tale” and “The Grey Woman”, stories about ruthless highway men and chases across countries.

The book is a brilliant collection of all kinds of weird tales, some downright scary and others plain bizarre and yet others which points to utter foolishness of men and women in believing in stupid superstitious nonsense. Each tale is distinctive and is located in a different time and different geographies. We move between England, United States, Netherlands, Germany and travel between 17th to 19th centuries. These are not short stories but novellas and reading one does take time, simply because of the lovely details Ms. Gaskell has put in. Like a storyteller from old (I realize that she is from the old!!) she sits around the fire and tells you the story in a “once upon a time” style. There is no rushing, no get to the point in her tale, no breathtaking actions; but a slow meandering walk in which you follow her lead and suddenly you are in the middle of thick events. If you want fast paced adventure, she is not for you, but like a wine, if you savor this book slow, well get ready to sleep with the lights turned on!! This collection more than ever convinces me of the extreme brilliance of Ms. Gaskell – she is completely in her element writing a North and South and can turn her eye equally masterfully to satire; Cranford being the prime example. And now Gothic Tales is a testimony to the fact that an author need not really have a declared “genre” as long as he or she had a great tale to tell and knows how to create the atmosphere and evoke the reader’s imagination with use of words.

Considering that this year, my RIP reads have been borderline, disasters, I am eternally grateful to the last Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell and Ms. Shirley Jackson, from rescuing it from complete and utter annihilation!

P.S. Yes …you know what I will say – I would again urge all too please help us in supporting the project that I am currently leading. This help from you will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

The LIST!!

This game has been going on Facebook for a while – you know where we are supposed to do the following – “In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard—they don’t have to be the ‘right’ or ‘great’ works, just the ones that have touched you.”

I have been tagged at it a few times but have been unable to respond with the list due to recent events. Also this time away from Facebook (since many people have posted their lists by now) made me realize that a lot of people are doing exactly what they were asked not to do…thinking too hard and making sure that the “right” works get listed! Therefore I publish this away from Facebook and share my bookish musings on the same with people who live, breathe and love books!!!!

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
  4. Tintin Comics by Herge
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  6. Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
  7. The Source by James Michener
  8. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. Maskeradeby Terry Pratchett

Deciding on just 10 is REALLY REALLY hard!! But there you go…that’s my list!!

What are your 10 favorite works? Can we do this on activity on our blog sites as well?

A special Thank You to Emily, who gave me the idea to share the list on this forum instead of Facebook!

All About Gs

I know I have stated this many a times, but one of my biggest inspirations for blogging and reading is Stephanie. Like a younger sibling, looking up to her elder sister, I look up to Stephanie for all great books (including books I would have never read had it not been for her review), blogging discipline (though I am nowhere as diligent as her) and of course adventure (online courses and carrot soup to name a few!) Naturally when she posted this, I had to give it go, only I did not realize just how difficult the alphabet G was!!

The task and I quote verbatim from her post is –

Say your favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you’d like to join in, comment in the comment section and I’ll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.)

Here goes, my love affair with finding the right “G”s –

Favorite Book – I racked my brains and racked it all through the week before I concluded on this one. It’s off beat but perhaps one of the most sensitively written novels on racial discrimination, equality and traditions. It’s a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and it’s called “Gora” literally meaning someone who is white, i.e. of European descent. The story of “Gora” an orphan adopted by an orthodox Brahmin family and his journey of self-discovery set in the late 19th century Bengal, India, transcends borders, time and cultures to make one question the common understanding of religion, caste and patriotism

Favorite Author – I was not sure if “G” had to be the alphabet in the first name, middle name or last name; so like always, I choose three with “G” being placed in different places in the names:

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth – Well, what can one say about this brilliant and sensitive author from Victorian England. Whether it is her sensitive portrayal of the trails of the factory workers in “North and South” or her humorous take on the “genteel” lives of a small Victorian town in “Cranford” or her bone chilling “Gothic Tales”, she was a mistress of all that she wrote, infusing all her works with a succinct understanding of those with lesser fortunes and abilities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Nobel Prize winner, author extraordinaire and humanitarian. I cannot think of anyone who wrote with such imagination or depth of understanding of human feelings and relationships than this great man; the man who wrote about a beautiful love affair in the golden years of ones lives or decried the violence and mourned about the loss of freedom of his fellow countryman in the aftermath of the Columbian Civil War that affected so many lives
  • G.K. Chesterton – Humorous, contradictory and witticism personified, G.K. Chesterton was an author of wide ranges, whether he wrote about Father Brown stories or satires about modern materialistic lives like The Man who was Thursday, he was a modernist who understood traditions and mocked it, while capturing the gentleness of the lost era

Favorite Song – This was easy! My grandmother used to play this on the loop – Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite artist and the ever optimistic person that’s she was, this naturally appealed to her, though the religious aspects of the song she ignored, being one true blooded agnostic that ever was there ….(yes! Optimism and a love for Ella Fitzgerald run in the family and are DNA type of things, passes on from one generation to another!)

Favorite Film – Sigh!! I know this is clichéd and god knows, I am not really fond of the book, but I do love the movie – Clarke Gable, brilliant period costumes and sets, some lovely shots, awesome music and of course, did I mention Clarke Gable? Of course, I am talking about Gone with the Wind

Favorite Object – Dang!! Most of my favorite objects start with a B (Books) or F (Food and Friends), but finally, I came up with this one – God!! I know this one is not an object, and I have probably committed 989 blasphemy by quoting the Great one as an object, but here’s the thing – I am not particularly religious, (not with agnostic grandmother and father DNAs) and I am not at all into pious rituals or orthodoxy, but I do believe there is a greater force at play. Like I always say, I will never have the luck I want but I will always have the luck I need, and someone somewhere is taking care to make sure that I get the luck I need. It’s good to have someone to be thankful to and of course rant and rave and blame at when things do not go right and I think, selfish being that I am its more for the latter than the former, I keep “the great one” close to my heart!! The other “G” related object very close to my heart right after “God” would be my girlfriends – where would I be without their crazy adventures, disastrous love lives, existential crisis, all night gossips, ice cream binge sessions and shoulders to cry on – thank god for the crazy, lunatic, brilliant and lovable bunch of girls, I have the privilege to call friends, life is so much more worthy and wonderful, because I have them in my life!!

Phew! Finally all done; kind of exhausting but oodles of fun, especially vis-à-vis making those choices to select “the final one”…try it and do let me know if you need an alphabet to help you around!!

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