The time is here, my friends! It is officially the very first week of 2019. 2018 shall always ring true as one of the greatest years in my memory, and I shall never dare to forget everything it taught me. Seeing as it is the first week of 2019, I thought it fitting to write a post highlighting the very last book I read in 2018: North and South, a Victorian novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.
I first learned about North and South while searching for a good BBC show/miniseries with which to pamper myself over the winter months. When there is not much to do in winter, what else is one to do but binge BBC and ITV dramas?
Answer me that without stammering.
Anyways, I found this charming little miniseries from the BBC called North and South. The names Richard Armitage and Brendan Coyle instantly jumped out at me.
And there, I stopped.
It seemed that this little drama was based off of a book by the same name. Written by an author with the name Elizabeth Gaskell.
Well, looks like finding my next book had just gotten a lot easier, too.
I finished North and South about a week ago, and I knew, as soon as I finished it, that it would be the next and first edition to my blog in 2019. For my first post of the year, I’m going to be briefly examining, with you all, my thoughts on Gaskell’s Victorian novel.
To begin, I want to first acknowledge the obvious. This novel is an exploration of opposites, reversed gender roles, femininity, masculinity, and the changes in everyday circumstance. This novel is constantly changing, opposites are constantly clashing, and feminine sexuality and masculine sexuality are admired by characters of the opposite sex. Without being redundant, the book’s title is North and South, which are, in fact, polar opposites.
Please be wary as there may be potential spoilers ahead.
For this post, I want to mainly focus on what North and South taught me and why it showed me such beautiful truths upon which to ponder. From the fiery love of Mr. Thornton to the impoverished home of the hopeful Bessy Higgins, North and South had much to say, and it left an impact on this soul that will have a hard time being undone.
What made North and South one of my favorite stories was the fact that Gaskell uses opposites to tie things together. In the end, Gaskell shows us that the calamitous collision of negatives and positives are not all as bad as we think they are, but they seem bad to begin with.
One of the first instances we see of this in North and South is when Thornton first comes to visit the Hales. Not only do we notice a clash of opposites in the manners of Thornton as opposed to Margaret, but we also notice opposite emotions. Margaret recoils in disgust at how hard Thornton comes off, and Thornton is intrigued by Margaret’s ladylike yet outspoken opinions. Margaret’s description of Thornton is hardly decent:
“About thirty—with a face that is neither exactly plain, nor yet handsome, nothing remarkable—not quite a gentleman, but that was hardly to be expected.”
—From Chapter seven, “New Scenes and Faces”
But Thornton is smitten at first sight.
Mr Thornton was a good deal more surprised and discomfited than she. Instead of a quiet middle-aged clergyman—a young lady came forward with frank dignity,—a young lady of a different type to most of those he was in the habit of seeing…. He did not understand who she was, as he caught the simple, straight, unabashed look, which showed that his being there was of no concern to that beautiful countenance, and called up no flush of surprise to the pale ivory of the complexion. He had heard that Mr Hale had a daughter, but he imagined that she was a little girl.
—From Chapter seven, “New Scenes and Faces”
Something else worth noting is that Thornton is from the north of England, and Margaret is from the south. This further hints at how the book’s title plays in with the rest of the story.
One of the next times opposites collide is when Margaret meets the Higgins family, a poor, lower class factory man named Nicholas living with his two daughters, Bessy and Mary. Margaret is much more privileged than the Higginses, and in this scenario, it is fair to say that rich collides with poor. Margaret befriends Bessy Higgins, the oldest daughter, who has a debilitating disease caused by one of the factories she worked in. Margaret’s heart goes out to Bessy, and the two become friends.
Naturally, Margaret blames Thornton for the situations of people like the Higginses because he himself is a mill owner. This builds the tension between them.
Towards the last third of the novel, attitudes and opposites reverse.
After Thornton proposes to Margaret and she haughtily refuses him, things change.
Margaret finds herself in the middle of a dangerous lie she has told, and Thornton saves her from public humiliation. It seemed to Margaret that only Milton people could lie, but in fact, she herself has lied, and Thornton has played the role of a gentleman—one she thought would be impossible for him to assume. Margaret becomes what we never thought she would: remorseful, despondent, and hopeful that she and Thornton might become friends (or more than friends, though she debates this in her mind).
Bessy Higgins dies unexpectedly, leaving Margaret more alone than ever. Not only does Margaret suffer the loss of her only friend, but also the deaths of her father and her mother. The living go from being alive to dead. To make matters even more complicated, Margaret’s godfather also dies, leaving her alone in the world to face shame, grief, and heartache all on her own.
As in all romance novels, the resolution of the story is when the man and woman recognize their love for one another. This certainly happens in North and South, and while a marriage isn’t included at the end of the story, it is very certainly implied. Margaret and Thornton are sure to get married, and the story leaves us with no doubt that they will.
However, the fact that the story was hinged on opposites and how they came together to create a beautiful story full of romance, friendship, desire, perseverance, and steadfastness is genius. Gaskell used all the negative-postive elements to create a story that, in the end (and once the dust settles), is perfectly connects at all sides.
If North and South has taught me anything, it’s been to show me that just because things are not meshing together the way I hoped they would does not mean that they never will. Margaret’s complete detestation of Thornton turns to love in the end. Margaret goes from being the daughter of a clergyman to being an independent woman with a large fortune. The majority of changes in fortune are seen in Margaret’s character arc.
I love how the novel takes changes in circumstance and uses them to tie the story together.
One thing that stays the same, however, is the feeling of inadequacy on the parts of both Thornton and Margaret. Both feel that they are not good enough for the other. Thornton felt this from the beginning, but Margaret feels it when she realizes how good of a man she turned down and how horrible she was for thinking too good of herself. This is yet another change in Margaret’s character.
But they both kept silence. At length she murmured in a broken voice:
‘Oh, Mr Thornton, I am not good enough!’
‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’
—From chapter fifty-two, ” ‘Pack Clouds Away’ “
Margaret holds a steady faith throughout the story, praying her heart out for some kind of light to fall on her darkened circumstances. As a clergyman’s daughter, Romans 8:28 probably went through her mind once or twice.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
This new year of 2019 holds so much for me: academia, responsibility, independence, friendship, and new ambitions. I am nervous for myriads of reasons. When I find myself in positions where I am less than comfortable, I will remember what Gaskell’s novel taught me: opposites attract. Changes of fortune are always being reversed.
Without conflict, there is no story.
When I find myself in a place where everything looks against me, I can know that all things do work together for good. I can know that my story is simply going through a plot twist. It’s still being written.
As a book, I can thank North and South for showing me the importance of the opposite and the significance behind the abrupt change.
I hope you all have enjoyed this spotlight post! It was a bit different from my usual breakdowns, but I have enjoyed writing it, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. As always, please feel free to share this post, show some love, drop a like, subscribe if you haven’t already! I look forward to journeying into 2019 with all of you!
And, I did just buy the BBC miniseries since I am one of those people who don’t have a Netflix subscription. I bought a DVD copy. Call me old-fashioned, but I love a hard cover DVD case. The series looks so amazing, and I will be sure to let you all know how I like it. I can’t wait!
P.S. Here’s an interesting article on reversed gender roles in North and South