Posts Tagged ‘elizabeth gaskell’

So Sorry: Bk7-20

I have been intensely busy the past month or so, and I have never felt like  commenting on the books I’m reading. Since it’s reading week, I decided to update a little on my progress through the books, and if you look at my Twitter account, I am up to 20 books! Crazy! Just for one semester, not to mention the books that I’ve been reading on the sidelines, which I will also mention.

So, I will begin my list with perhaps small commentaries just to make up for my lack of visiting:

Book 7: John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which is a playscript by a Brit playwright from the 60s. This play started the ‘angry young man’ theatre, and it is easy to see why because the main character is a complete and total jackass. He is so verbally abusive and thinks he’s God’s gift to the world. I can’t stand him. But good play, I guess.

Bk 8: Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women. Quite a nice book about a girl’s transition to womanhood in the 30s-40s rural Ontario. The book is a collection of short stories gathered together based on the main character, Dell, who deals with changing ideas of womanhood and sexuality.

Bk 9: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Interesting, annoying, revolutionary all rolled into one. I wasn’t too fond of his opinions of white people and the detailing of his transition into the Nation of Islam, but I liked reading about his life becoming a man. I also cried when we saw Spike Lee’s portrayal of his assassination. It seemed like Malcolm X was finally on the right path for civil rights (not just black rights), and some assholes had to go and kill him.

Bk10:  Sharon Pollock’s Doc, a short play on the memories of a workaholic doctor father and his writer daughter. It was quite interesting as it played with how memories could be performed on stage.
Bk 11: Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake (selected poems). Not too bad. Helped me to understand more fully the context for ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ which I’d had to read before.

Bk 12: Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (selected poems). I think I liked Wordsworth’s poems more than Coleridge’s. We also read a hand-out of Dorothy Wordsworth’s prose (Wm’s sister) and she was quite a great writer too.

Bk13: Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Partially autobiographical poetic prose. Having to read it so fast, I missed a lot of the potential of the poetry, so I didn’t really understand much of it.

Bk 14: May Sarton’s Mrs Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. I found this one more interesting than the last one because it revolved around a poet and her writing. There was some detailed discussion on how she came to write her poetry and her muses, and we get snapshots of the people who have been pivotal to her writing. As a writer myself, this grabbed me and gave me a feeling of inspiration. Not that I’d be able to write poetry as good as Mrs Stevens’.

Bk15: Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose (selected). I have loved her poem ‘The Burning of Paper Instead of Children’, though I can’t exactly define it. And reading her poetry was quite nice and gave me more inspiration. I think I’ve written two or three poems.

Bk 16: selected poems of Emily Dickinson. She is quite morbid; a lot of death in her poems.

Bk 17: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’. Not exactly a book, I’ll grant you, but long and tedious enough to read. I would have rather been at the scene, watching as they went through the house for the letter, rather than hearing about it second-hand. Then for Poe’s hero to suddenly come up with the answer to the riddle without having told us any clues at all… no offence, Poe, but perhaps that’s why you didn’t get much money for your works.

Bk 18: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’. I read the first one, but not the second one because I didn’t have time. But I did get to see the recent movie with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, and I was quite impressed with RDJ’s portrayal of Holmes. However, poor Doyle killed off Holmes and had to resurrect him for the sake of the fans.

Bk 19: Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (Chps 1-13). I could only read 3 chapters because my presentation for Elizabeth Gaskell was on the same day that the reading of this fell on, but I think that I read more of it than the rest of the class. Because of this, I haven’t much to say about it except how sad it is that a little boy gets sent by his guardian to work in a factory.

Bk 20: Four Stories by American Women (Rebecca Harding Davis’ ‘Life in the Iron Mills’ and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.) I haven’t read these yet.

Wow. Lots of reading. And of course, I am apparently masochistic because I read Elizabeth Gaskell books that I didn’t really need to read:

Wives and Daughters. I saw the adaptation first, and Justine Waddell is adorable as Molly Gibson. I got hooked on the love story between her and Roger Hamley, so I started reading the book, and I got hooked on the book. I finally finished it yesterday, but I didn’t feel the closure that I have after finishing other books, mainly because Gaskell died before she could complete this one, and the editor of Cornhill that the book was serialized in added in a synopsis of what Gaskell figured would happen. But it is not as interesting as actually reading the events in narrative form.

I did like, though, how Andrew Davies ended his screenplay. The adaptation was quite faithful to the book, which I found nice because it gave me a picture of the surroundings, but Davies veers off Gaskell’s figured ending by getting Molly to go to Africa with Roger when he is finishing his expedition. I think this is quite nice (even if it is a little bit modern in form) since Molly has been learning a lot of natural history and science through her love of Roger and she can be his companion and coworker.

I would have liked to have seen more, though ;). After reading so much of the two lovers being apart and not knowing their real feelings towards each other, I want to know more of what their life would be like when they are finally together. It always seems in Victorian literature that writers only give us a glimpse of these after-lives, and very rarely do adaptations leave that pattern. Apparently, we have to be content with imagining it happening.

Also, if there were a modernized adaptation, wouldn’t Cynthia be perfect as a struggling fashion designer? I like the story between the two step-sisters so much that I am almost tempted to drop everything and write my own modernized adaptation.

Cranford. I have only read most of this novella, but it is quite hilarious and intriguing, even if the subject matter (the spinster ladies’ lives in small-town Cranford) may seem quite a bit dull. We are taken through the hilarious episodes of the cat that swallowed the lace to moving stories of the Jenkyns’ sisters’ history. I was sad though that Captain Brown died in the second chapter. I know from my research that since Gaskell had never meant to write more than one installment for Cranford, she was sad too that she had killed him off so early.

I do like how this transferred into adaptation. Instead of just the novella of Cranford, the creators of the series mixed in two of Gaskell’s other novellas, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. These last two novellas were displaced from their own towns and placed into Cranford so that the result was a completely new storyline where the characters of all three towns interact in some way, and yet the adaptation hasn’t lost the spunk of the originals, though I haven’t read the other two novellas yet. Captain Brown was also kept on instead of killed off, and we find out in real-time why Miss Deborah Jenkyns died. I quite like it.

It’s also nice to see the dexterity of certain actors between the series and other shows. Michael Gambon, for one, the man who is now famous for portraying Albus Dumbledore the second time around, plays Mr Holbrook in Cranford and Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters, and you wouldn’t recognize him much at all. His manner and looks are so different, it’s no wonder they gave him a BAFTA for his portrayal of the squire.

Then there’s Francesca Annis who played Mrs Gibson in W&D and then Lady Ludlow in Cranford. Another fantastic turnover. She goes from bubblingly annoying to very grave and grand. I was surprised when I saw Keeley Hawes in W&D because I hadn’t recognized her in the promotional pictures for the series and I’ve seen her in Spooks which brings her quite a different character. Then there’s Bill Patterson who plays the sarcastic but loving doctor Gibson in W&D and who played a character (forgot the name) in Little Dorrit, who was quite annoying. Tom Hollander who plays the stupid Mr Collins in P&P 2005 played Osbourne Hamley in W&D and looked quite hot doing so that my opinion of him got higher. I can’t stand Mr Collins! And Anthony Howell as Roger Hamley… would be nice to see him in other shows, but I don’t think he works in TV or movie productions much anymore.

I could go on, but I think I’ll stop.


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.