I am having TOO MUCH FUN reading Mrs. Gaskell’s NORTH AND SOUTH. I must go on reading despite a (medically contained) headache. I do keep jumping up to tell Carlos things I am noticing or reading bits aloud to him.
I first discovered Elizabeth Gaskell in my mid-late 20s, in my Chicago aerie, having been given (by my doughty Mima) a VHS copy of WIVES AND DAUGHTERS, which I finally watched one day whilst dying of the flu and supping myself silly on Mrs. Shaw’s Italian sausage soup—which is full of garlic.
Later, in Rhode Island, in my early 30’s, my mama Sita and I came across the Cranford DVDs at our beloved Westerly library.
Upon learning that both of these class-spanning, intellectually curious, women-complex series were based on books by the same person—a woman!—Charlotte Brontë’s friend AND BIOGRAPHER!—I sought out the books and read them.
I know, I know. I came to this knowledge late. I am ashamed of what I never learned in school. Surely this novel must’ve come as second nature to EVERYONE ELSE I KNOW.
Reading these books, I comprehended what the TV adaptions had hinted at: that Gaskell was what I’d been wanting for years without knowing it. Someone I loved more than Austen or the Brontës! Someone who was taking a complex look at societies in her time—all levels of society—how they mingled, how technology and industry were changing everything, the sleepy habits of centuries. Her characters embody the shifting landscapes; the landscapes are characters too.
I’ve always meant to make a thorough study of Gaskell, so if any of you know any good biographies…?
Recently, I watched the NORTH AND SOUTH series, which I’d been meaning to for a long time. I knew suddenly that the hour was upon me, for it involved a factory—I surmised from the previews—and a factory plays such a large part in my current wip, I WILL MAKE A RUIN OF MYSELF. I wanted some architectural visuals, with moving parts, so I sat down to it.
It was wonderful, wonderful—or so I thought! But about halfway through the series, I read a comedic article about all the ways in which the series failed the book—which really spurred me to get the book. (Yes, from the Savoy Bookshop!)
I still loved the series though, and will revisit it.
And, really, the book is extraordinary. What a place to start from in the character of Margaret Hale: this sleepy, shallow, luminous creature—likable but SHAKEABLE!—whom pain and travel and curiosity and good sense must awaken. Childlike, and constrained to feelings of guilt and shame to find that not only is she growing up, but she’s more grown up than her parents! What an iron core she has, and doesn’t even know it yet. How I want to throttle her.