Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction
A true masterpiece.
This story is now buried in my molecules. I can’t remove it even if I try, if I cut my heart open with a scalpel and dig deep, deep, deep. The blood pouring will still hum and whisper Elizabeth Gaskell’s words, will sing about Thornton’s passion, Margaret’s strength, about love and social war and loss and pain and faith.
❝ Take care. If you do not speak – I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way. Send me away at once, if I must go; – Margaret! –❞
Raised in the ways of English aristocracy, despite her family’s rather poor finances, Margaret Hale was content with her life, her beloved Helstone with its fragrant roses and green trees, helping her father’s fold. But when her father decided to leave the Church and move to the industrial North, Margaret found herself between dirty, uneducated workers and tacky, rude mill owners, in the throes of Industrial Revolution. Mr. John Thornton, the mill owner who became regular visitor of her house due to the unlikely friendship that blossomed between him and her father, became her personal nemesis, representing the lust for money and the lack of finesse. Amidst strikes, illnesses and terrible losses, Margaret will see her life falling apart, shaping and reshaping according to the whims of fate. The question is, what kind of person will she be in the end?
Many compare North and South to Pride and Prejudice and, at first glance, the similarities are there. Margaret is the embodiment of prejudice and pride when it comes to Mr. Thornton and his profession, with her stern refusal to actually open her eyes and see him. But the core of North and South is something different altogether. It is intense, not only as regards the passionate love story, but also as regards the heavy element of class antagonism, social mobility and fight. I struggle to find the words that will express the impact of this book on my very soul. It is turbulence, a maelstrom that cleansed my mind from thoughts about the present, and filled my senses with wild emotions. I suppose this is how falling in love feels like. Ever since I finished it, every time I think about it, my heart swells, like it can’t contain my strong, bottomless affection; I let out such affection with tiny, shallow breaths; my head is constantly buzzing, never leaving the dirty streets and the heavy smoke of Milton; a sweet shiver jolts my body and my eyes sting when I recall all the reasons it is embedded in my veins. It is the passion, in heavy silences, in heated arguments, in awkward pauses, in the beast of jealousy that devours Mr. Thornton’s insides and the snake of Margaret’s prejudice.
❝ He shrank from hearing Margaret's very name mentioned; he, while he blamed her – while he was jealous of her – while he renounced her – he loved her sorely, in spite of himself.❞
It is the love, of a rejected lover, a father, a mother, a son, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a friend.
❝ Margaret was not a ready lover, but where she loved she loved passionately, and with no small degree of jealousy.❞
It is the faith, along with the pertinent doubts, struggles, hesitation, acceptance, cowardice and strength.
❝ Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.❞
It is Margaret’s resilience, the humble habit of swallowing her pain, taming her agony and being the rock of her family. I can’t count the times I was furious at her parents for burdening her with the problems that were theirs to deal with. Her father for his inability to make decisions, and her mother for not appreciating her efforts. Margaret was a force to be reckoned with, a combination of thunder and soft waves, a scream in the dark and the chirp of a bird during a sunny day. We should all learn something from Ms. Margaret Hale.
❝ I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.❞
It is the social and political aspect. The clash between industrial North and agricultural South. The disgust of the aristocrat towards the nouveau riche. The contempt of the merchant against the soft, indolent aristocrat. The lack of understanding that caused all the suffering. The arguments in favor of the labor movement and the strikes, of people despairing, trying to feed their families, and the arguments in favor of the employer’s right to use the money of the business he built through trials, blood and sweat the way he sees fit. I dangled between the two sides, admiring their tenacity, their belief in the righteousness of their cause. I mourned the losses holding Bessy’s hand and wept at Thornton’s anguish. In the end, North and South is a hymn to humankind. And since Elizabeth Gaskell masterfully depicts the beliefs of both sides of every clash, it is impossible to pick one. So, you take the side of love. The love of an ignorant young woman for a sick girl. Of a mother for her disgraced son. Of a proud man for the woman who can’t hide her distaste of him.
❝ I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of ever calling her mine. ❞
A poem, a lament, a lullaby, a war song, North and South is a literary phenomenon, a sublime novel, a poignant and spirited story which deserves its place amongst classics.