My latest discovery? North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
For those of you unfamiliar with Elizabeth Gaskell (honestly, I majored in English and had only a passing familiarity with her name until this past year), she's the author of several novels, including Mary Barton (1848), North & South (1854-5), and Cranford (1851-3), which most UK residents are familiar with, as it was turned into a beloved BBC drama starring Judi Dench (though I have to say, I don't quite get the appeal...). Gaskell was well-known in Victorian circles, entertaining Dickens and John Ruskin, the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and was apparently a good friend to Charlotte Bronte.
North & South reminds me of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, except much darker, and with a strong social justice streak. The pride in this case is an assumption that our way is the best and most moral perspective, and discounting the humanity of those we don't understand. The story revolves around the industrial town of Milton (a fictional stand-in for Manchester), and poverty, class, and the formation of manufacturing unions. And a romance between Margaret Hale, a southerner and minister's daughter, and John Thornton, a northerner and manufacturer.
|Margaret's first view of Thornton's mill|
|Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins|
And it's the movie that made me fall in love with North & South. It elucidated the themes clearly, simplified the dense descriptions, and yet hardly changed any of the plot. Plus, gorgeous cinematography! Who knew a cotton mill could be such a thing of beauty? And the acting! Richard Armitage is indeed both threatening and smoldering. And I recognized at least half the cast from other British dramas (Brendan Coyle, Mr. Bates of Downton Abbey, plays the strike leader). I'm not sure which is better; perhaps I wouldn't have loved the movie so much if I hadn't read the book.
Regardless, all of that is to say, I'm grateful to my friends for suggesting North & South (one suggested the book, another the movie), so I figure I should pass that wisdom on. And as soon as I can find the time, I'll be re-reading the book, and perhaps sneaking in a few more hours of the movie as well. Or at least, until my next new discovery.
What gems have you discovered lately? Any other North & South fans out there?
Note: Things have been pretty busy lately (no, I haven't just been watching North & South on repeat... really!), so I'm planning to take a break from the blog until at least the end of May. In the meantime, stay well and keep writing!