Archive for December 26, 2009

Book 4: North and South

In February, I have a seminar presentation on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. The class has to read only Chps 1-12, but I decided that, since I liked the story and since it is break, I would complete my reading of it before school started up again. Half of the book I read around my Christmas baking, my work schedule, and my relaxing time, and the other half I read on Christmas Day, pretty much the whole day. Now I should probably take some time off from my school readings so that I can actually have a few days of vacation to myself. The only problem with that is that I have a week before school and still four books at least to read sections of. Sad.

I wish I could have gotten the image for the edition that I have. I have the Penguin Red Classics edition, which has a very rich colour with an image of a young woman reclining on a sofa. But with this thumbnail, you get the picture.

I think for my seminar I am going to have to tackle the idea of serializations. Gaskell published North and South as a 22-part series in Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words. As a published book, it has 52 chapters. I wonder if she wrote the whole thing before she began publishing it or if she wrote it as it was published. I used to write fanfiction for the Harry Potter-verse and I know how hard it is to keep a story together when you aren’t able to revise it as a whole.

In a way, the story does seem rather unorganized. For the first half of the book, we focus on the problem of the workers and Thornton vs Margaret, but the second half is dominated by death and we hardly see the workers or Thornton that much. One assumes that there is a high importance on Thornton’s mill and we expect to see the progress of this mill throughout the book, especially after the strike ends, but Margaret’s life intervenes and all of the manufacturing information, which we got so much of in the beginning, is wasted. Then there is the amount of space allowed by Gaskell’s editor, Dickens. As a preface to her first edition of the text coming out as a book, Gaskell noted that she added paragraphs here and there. The ending seems rather rushed as well, and we don’t see what happens after Thornton and Margaret finally reunite, even though seeing the reactions of their friends and relatives and overcoming these reactions would be part of the main theme of the book, which seems to be the prejudice of the north vs the south.

Perhaps that is the problem with serializations. Though there are 52 chapters, Gaskell probably couldn’t do all that she wanted with the story. The story is classed as a love story, but it doesn’t begin that way, and so much happens in the intervening lives of the characters that the love story can sometimes get lost in the other plots. There are moments that are glossed over that Gaskell could have shown us. Thornton went to Helstone and we only get one sentence (perhaps even half a sentence) that implies this event before it is slightly explained in the end to Margaret. I would have liked to have seen him at Helstone: what did he think of it? what did he do? who did he visit? There is also so much telling in the story, rather than showing, as if to fatten up the novel. I have noticed that Dickens has done this too, so I am assuming it is a characteristic of writing serializations that he has forced onto Gaskell, to give us what the characters are thinking and feeling, rather than what they do and say. This type of writing thickens passages up so much that it is hard to get through fast enough. We are forced to slow down and look at the characters as they are, though we know so much about them already.

The characters are wonderful, and there is a huge cast of characters to love. Even those you would hate have redeeming moments in the book. Margaret seems to have a bit of Elinor Dashwood in her, which charmed me, though she is so often viewed as haughty by the other characters. I also liked Margaret’s perseverance and strength for the people in her family. She hardly broke down while her mother was ill and gave all she had to making the others in her family calm. But then, the amount of people she had to take care of sickened me. Beauty seemed to be a huge determining factor in whether she was liked or not. Her beauty seemed to be two things: the descriptions of her when Thornton sees her elevates her to someone who is so beautiful, she dazzles, yet I seem to remember a passage at the beginning saying that Margaret wasn’t supposed to be known as beautiful. Thornton loves her for her beauty (which I am really struggling with), some people pay great kindness to her because of it, and some people hate her for it.

As to Thornton’s character, it changes a bit by the end of the book and I have seen half the 2004 adaptation since beginning my reading so I don’t really remember what he originally was like. Richard Armitage adds anger into Thornton’s personality, and yet on the page, he does seem passionate with what he speaks, but I never imagined it to be so strong as anger that he would speak with. Then, I struggle with whether or not he really loves Margaret or whether he lusts after her. Is it true love in that he goes to her house just to be in her company rather than to “bathe in her beauty” (something that would come from a poem)? Or by not looking at her but noticing her presence a token of his love? Hmm.

I also had so much impatience throughout the second half waiting for Margaret to DO SOMETHING! It is rather annoying when one is a 21st century woman reading about a 19th century woman’s cares and feelings and then that character doesn’t do what you want her to. I was going crazy throughout the second half hoping that Margaret would summon up the courage to get on a train by herself and go to Thornton’s mill to explain herself. She spends a lot of time hoping that an old friend of her father’s (keyword: old) would go up and explain her problems to Thornton. Then that old friend dies, and she still doesn’t do anything. This woman had walked so often through the streets of Milton night and day by herself and she won’t get on a train to see the man she loves? Grr.

Length of time also surprised me. The novel, and the love story within it, spans the course of almost four years (and even then, Gaskell’s markings of time within the text are confusing, so it really might only be three). I was struck by how much time would pass with Margaret doing hardly anything at all, in the second half especially. Once she loses her mother, she loses the main source of employment for her days, and I kept wondering what she did all those days that would force her to put off the task of going to Thornton with her explanation, even though we knew that she wanted to. I feel like a comparison should be drawn between our time and theirs, but here, there is even more employment in people’s days, and I don’t know whether people put off telling the ones they love the important stuff, or whether having more to do forces them to get it over and done with.


Section: Chps 1-12, though I read the whole book to be prepared for my seminar presentation.

POV: 3rd person omniscient. Though the focus of the story is on Margaret Hale, we get insights into other characters during scenes between her and them, or the narrative focuses on Thornton and his family.

I can’t wait to watch the rest of the adaptation! As far as I have gotten, Sandy Welch has slightly different aims to the storyline, so maybe the plot will be leaner. I also saw some pictures of Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe that gives me hope for a nice ending.

I got the book The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, but I won’t have time to read it completely. So far, the method of story-telling is interesting. Each character is assigned one of Jane Austen’s books, and their stories turn out to be similar to that of a major character in their book. Then, for each month/chapter that a book is assigned to be read for, we get into the character’s life. The beginning starts with Jocelyn whose book to read is Emma, and we learn about the sexual harassment that happened to her by the boys she met which will perhaps lead us to why she is still single at her age.

A quandary about the adaptation of this novel though: Bernadette is supposed to be sixty, Jocelyn and Sylvia fifties, Grigg forty-five and Allegra thirty, which seems to be so different in the movie. Are the three first mentioned just young-looking for their age, or did Robin Swicord intend for all five of these characters to have their ages reduced to fit her purposes? At the beginning of the movie, Sylvia mourns that she is too old to start over again, though her husband, the same age, can.  Movie-wise, she seems to be forties, so are these remarks and ages intentional?

I will probably post more on North and South later in order to break down the section that has to be read for school. I can’t right now because I’m reeling from the abrupt ending, what might possibly happen in the adaptation at the end, and I have to do my laundry.