Tuesday, January 4, 2011

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I'm excited to share my thoughts with you about the novel. It's no secret how much I love the movie adaptation. I tell everyone about it. I've even successfully passed the obsession on to my sister, for which she is very grateful ;)

I finished the book over Christmas break and I LOVED it.

The first thing I did when I got my copy of North of South was to try and find the line, "Look back. Look back at me," which was perfectly uttered by Mr. Thornton as he watches Margaret leave. I suspected it was screenwriter Sandy Welch's invention and I was right. However, she did draw from the novel for this gem of a moment.
Towards the end of the book Margaret is talking to Mr. Bell and fretting over what Mr. Thornton thinks of her.

"...In the respect and high regard which she had hoped would have ever made him willing, in the spirit of Gerald Griffins beautiful lines,

'To Turn and look back when thou hearest
The sound of my name.'"

Well crafted Ms. Gaskell and well adapted Ms. Welch!

I also love the next few lines:

"She kept choking and swallowing all the time that she thought about it. She tried to comfort herself with the idea, that what he imagined her to be, did not alter the fact of what she was. But it was a truism, a phantom, and broke down under the weight of her regret."

You can just feel her sorrow and frustration at not being able to fix things. Haven't you ever been in a situation where someone had the wrong impression or idea about you and there was nothing you could do to change their mind? It's quite a burden and this part in the novel is full of heartache and regret.

After searching for the "Look back at me," scene I went on to find the proposal scene. After reading that I thought: Enough! I just need to read it from the beginning!!

Here's a quote from Mr. Thornton after Margeret rejects him:

"One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not if I could. I have never loved any woman before; my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absolved with other things. Now I love and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part."

Sorry, Margaret. He's gonna love you whether you like it or not.

There are many subtle differences between the book and the mini series. I won't go into all of them, but the first one that struck me was how Mr. Thornton and Margaret meet. Mr. Thornton does not catch one of his workers smoking and then proceed to beat the crap out of him in front of Margaret as the movie portrays. Instead, they meet at her home where Mr. Thornton is waiting to speak to her father. Mr. Hale, who hadn't been told Mr. Thornton was waiting for him, leaves again and and it is up to Margaret to speak to their guest alone. It's awkward for both of them. Margaret comes across as haughty. Mr. Thornton is boring. It's not a good first impression for either of them.

And yet...there's this moment from their first encounter:

"Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once."

A few chapters later Mr. Thornton gets a second chance to make a better impression when he comes over for tea. This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie. And after I read it, I knew Mr. Armitage had read the book. He captured the moment exactly. Below is a picture from that scene and reads as follows:

"She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father...There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation for tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret."


Despite his fascination with her, they end up arguing and he leaves thinking she is proud and disagreeable. And she tells her father that she really doesn't like Mr. Thornton at all.

So how do these two ever come together? Well, that is for you to read and find out! So much happens to them. They both make mistakes and wrong assumptions about each other, attempt to set things right, suffer from pride, and form unlikely friendships with others in Milton, which eventually helps them on their journey to reconciliation. It's rich and meaningful and just buy the book already!

And now for the ending. In the movie it takes place at a train station, which provides a great visual metaphor for meeting in the middle, seeing each other's world's and appreciating where each has come from. She's been to the North, he's been in the South and they reconcile somewhere in the middle. In the novel, however, Mr. Thornton goes to the South to meet Mr. Lennox to discuss financial matters. When Lennox fails to keep his appointment it is Margaret who has to explain their business proposition. I love how this scene echoes that of their first meeting and yet so much has happened in between to change them both forever. Ah--I love a good full circle moment!

"While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said--

There is so much to love and analyze about this story. The worker's strike, the differences between social classes, friendship, love, loyalty, death, redemption, and second chances. It's themes are timeless, the characters unforgettable (I didn't even mention the secondary characters which are just as interesting as the leads!), and the realistic setting. I will definitely revisit this novel. You already know I'll watch the movie again ;)


  1. I really need to read the book. But dude, that movie. It just KILLS me and I'm always kind of useless for a while afterward. Too busy sighing. It would be so. much. worse. if I were reading the book!

  2. I loved the movie, now I must read the book.

    I picked up the first Harry Potter from the library last night, so excited to start the series for the first time. I had to wait until after the holidays to even think about getting sucked into Harry Potter.

  3. Kayla--enough with the excuses...just read it ;)

    Heather--yes, you must!
    And Harry!!! I'm very excited that you've started reading them!