Gaskell’s North and South

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.

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2 responses to “Gaskell’s North and South

  1. Ahh I really want to read this! The only Gaskell I’ve read is MARY BARTON, which I loved when I read it though I doubt I’d be able to read passages from it now (it STARTS with a baby dying, more or less, & it’s such a good scene but SO HEART-BREAKING), but still I slurped it up in undergrad in one of my favourite courses and I am excited you have so much of her before you!

    • It’s true! I haven’t read Mary Barton, Ruth, or Sylvia’s Lovers! And I have her biography of Bronte, but I think I only read it once, back when I was going to write my ghost Brontë play: The Brontës Who Lived.

      I LOVED Wives and Daughters—the more so because it was her last one, the one she didn’t finish, and yet it is so strong: she might as well have! I must read it again.

      And also, a person on Twitter recommended her: Tales of Mystery & Macabre, which has, apparently, some very good women accused of witchcraft stories. I wonder if this collection is the same as her Gothic Tales collection; I shall have to check titles to be sure.

      You’re the SECOND person to rec Mary Barton to me; I must obviously read it next!

      But oh, Amal, I was thinking of you whilst reading this. It is the sort of thing you will love reading for pleasure—and I’d a mind to send you my copy after I was done with it.

      Also, the entire set of the Charlotte Holmes mysteries by one of my favorites: Sherry Thomas. There are four now, I think, marvelous gender-bendy stuff. But the latest—The Art of Theft—is a heist book, and it keeps ringing all my Amal-bells. THE WOMEN IN THESE BOOKS, AMAL! The SISTERS! And also the CHOSEN SISTERS! Phew!

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