Monday, May 13, 2013

North and South; A Refreshing Romance

And why, you ask, is it refreshing? What is the difference between this and any other romance? Let me begin...

Elizabeth Gaskell, author of this novel, was born in 1810 and died in 1865. North and South is one of the many novels that she wrote in her life time, and appeared in 20 weekly episodes from September 1854 to January 1855 in Household Words. (A Charles Dickens' Magazine) It is said that since it was being featured in a magazine it had to move quickly in order for people to keep peoples interest alive and that it was possibly rushed. I, however, think it was just right! It was not rushed nor to slow.

 This type of book is called a Industrial Novel. An Industrial Novel, or sometimes called a Social Novel, is a "work of fiction in which a prevailing social problem, such as gender, race, or class prejudice, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel".

However, the question I'm suppose to be answering is why is it refreshing? Upon reading many a romance novels, I have come upon the sad realization that half the time (I said half the time, not all the time) romance novels are simply that. Wait, what? That doesn't make sense...! Of course a romance novel is a romance. Bur really, admit it, isn't it nice to read a novel that has enough romance to make the story sweet, but enough story line to make it interesting? One of the reasons I love this book is the character depth. I used to read Elsie Dinsmore and don't get my wrong I love these books. If you say anything against them I will defend them. There are things I don't like, but I will give a
Margaret Hale
reason why I don't like them and then tell you what I do like about them. =) (And if your thought is 'Elsie is a perfect angel and I can't stand that' well then....lets just say that that just makes one more person in the crowd of people who thinks that.) Anyway, back to the point of bringing this up: At one point in the series there are frivolous love stories, people getting married left and right. There's no character depth in these people, just the top layer. Just the 'I love this person' emotion, or 'I love him, but he doesn't love me' emotion. (Though my favorite character does have depth, at least, as much as she can. Hehe, I wonder why she's my favorite?) So when you read Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell, you're amazed at the depth of the character, of the hardships they go through, and realistic circumstances. Ok, well Jane Austen's isn't really realistic. I heard someone say once that her characters lived in 'Austen Fairyland'. lol.

In North and South, Margaret Hale (The heroine and main character of the story) goes through a lot of hard times. Her father all of a sudden tears his family from Helstone, a paradise-like town, to live in the smoky, dirty, manufacturing city, Milton. With this sudden move Margret is forced to mature and grow up in only a few short weeks. In this book you get a taste of the miserable circumstances of the
Margaret, in one of the cotton factories
poverty stricken workers of the mills. You get to know these workers, really know them. Know that they were people, not some dirty creature to be kicked around as the masters pleased. Ah, and you also get to see what the Masters were like, what their thoughts were. Margaret was forced into this city with no idea of how the mills worked. She was shocked and appalled at the strife that was between the masters and workers, surprised that they didn't work together but seemed to work against each other instead. She becomes friends with a family of workers, as well as one of the masters. Hearing both sides of the argument she tries to figure things out, but this is no petty argument for her to dissolve like any other. Instead of fading in time, it only grows larger. She was once a peacemaker in her small country town... but this argument is to big to be solved by herself. Everyone needs to work together, but that looks like it'll never happen.

I think that this book does a very good job on combining realistic circumstances with a sweet romance. Yet these 'realistic circumstances' aren't simply showing death, or war, or one of those often 'show reality' subjects (though I'm not denying that they aren't unrealistic, or not sad), but showing the harsh side of life back then. Showing the contrast between the rich people who live far from the smokey mills, yet get the profit of theme, and Margaret's in this dreadful city. Her cousin Edith lives a 
John Thorton, master of a large cotton mill
spoiled life of luxury and is constantly telling her cousin that she should come and visit her, that 'she had no idea what Uncle (Margret's father) was thinking of when he moved them to that horrid, horrid place.' You're shown the downside to all these new inventions, the struggles of men, woman and children trying to survive in these miserable circumstances.

I heard someone once say that North and South was a mix between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. And that is exactly what it is. You've got the romance, yet you've got the realistic circumstances. Just like Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell pushes aside the known facts of that time and shows you the harshness that many people shrink from...

So why is it refreshing? Because it is realistic.

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“I wish I could tell you how lonely I am. How cold and harsh it is here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I think God has forsaken this place. I believe I have seen hell and it's white, it's snow-white.” 
-Margaret Hale, describing Milton and the terrible cotton factories that run there.


3 comments:

  1. N&S is a splendid mini-series! Not one I could watch too many times in a row, but very good. :)

    I've tagged you here...
    http://www.regencydelight-janeaustenetc.blogspot.com/2013/05/another-elevensies-tag.html

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  2. Dearest Evelyn,

    Now, you make me really want to read it! ;D I am fairly into the book I am currently reading, so when I am done, I will definitely start on N&S! ;D

    Elinor

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    1. Dearest Elinor,

      Indeed, you must! It is so good! I haven't decided which book I'm reading next... I thinking about a Dickens though. x)

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