Today I would like to recommend one of my favorite classic novels, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. First published in 1855, this story follows Margaret Hale as she is uprooted from her comfortable home in the South of England when her father leaves his employment as a minister. They find themselves in Milton, and Northern industrial mill town where Margaret is initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings. She feels like an outcast, with no sense of purpose until she becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.
I was absolutely blown away with this book. Gaskell had a superb way of capturing human nature and relationships that rang true, transcending time. There was such a wide array of personality types and points of view in this novel. The conversations were powerful as characters debated about class, unions, masters, the meaning behind work, and how everyone deserves civility regardless of their station in life. I was struck time and again of how civil these discourses were, and how two diametrically differing viewpoints were spoken with passion and both parties were willing to stop and meditate on what was said. Some could argue that is a lost art these days.
And then there is the love story that is the thread throughout. In my opinion, this love story is up there with those of Jane Austen. I am a sucker for a slow burn, and this fits the bill beautifully. Headstrong and proud Margaret, and steadfast and longsuffering Mr. Thornton. I am a big fan of the BBC adaptation of the novel (which the library also has), and I could watch Richard Armitage in that role every day of the week, but the Mr. Thornton of the book was even more of a romantic lead. The anguish Mr. Thornton went through in the book for his love for Margaret was only hinted at in the miniseries, because so much of what was happening was internal and Mr. Thornton’s demeanor was that of a stoic man. Being able to read what he was thinking helped develop the love story so much. For me, Mr. Thornton is up there in the pantheon of swoon worthy literary male figures such as Capt. Wentworth or Mr. Rochester. I was all on board with a happily ever after between the two.
Visit the Sioux City Public Library and check out North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell or one of our many other classic novels.
Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.