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The girls huddle around the computer, watching the last scene of BBC’s adaptation of North and South. While comparing the film’s theme and character development with the book, they critiqued the actors’ kissing and appreciated the lead male’s very attractive throat. Over all, it was quite educational.

Though the Club has read mostly modern texts for the past year, we broke our streak and read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell this month. Many compare Gaskell’s work to Jane Austen because it is a British historical text, but Gaskell published in the 1850s and 60s, approximately fifty years after Austen. Romance is present in the book, but the story focuses on the heavier themes of family grief and industrialization. Published in 1854, North and South faces tough subjects head on, never letting go of the glimmer of hope that comes through faith.

Liz and her book

“Book club increased my appreciation for North and South because I was able to air my complains by playing devil’s advocate against the people who genuinely liked the novel and could heartily defend the characters.” – Elizabeth Kobayashi

The story begins with Margaret Hale as she leaves a luxurious life with her Aunt’s London home to live with her parents in the English countryside. Though she is ready to rest and reestablish relationships, she is quickly forced to emotionally support both her mother and her father when they move to a smoky northern town. Margaret finds social values challenged by the manufacturer, Mr. Thornton, and her faith tested as she stares death in the face. If you are a fan of British literature, immerse yourself in industrial England through the eyes of Gaskell’s rich and relatable characters.

What is North and South about? Though the title points out one of the main themes, many others are woven into the text. Often people will read a text differently based on what they’re experiencing in their lives at the time, and so you may find people pulling out themes that you hadn’t even considered, such as perseverance, filial duty, religious differences, and acting out of conscience.

“With plot, I just devour books and with this one I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to take the time and sit in the writing, in the scenery, and in the feeling of the book.” – Jennifer Northway

“With plot, I just devour books and with this one I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to take the time and sit in the writing, in the scenery, and in the feeling of the book.” – Jennifer Northway

How do Mr. Lennox and Mr. Thornton compare? Gaskell directly contrasts these characters values and lifestyles.

When Margaret goes back to Harley Street, how has she changed? Her experiences have altered her views of society, and even of the men in her life.

Examine and contrast the family dynamics of the Hales and Thorntons—from their example, what makes for a healthy family unit

Gaskell forms a fully rounded cast, with both strong and weak characters of both genders. How does Gaskell challenge gender roles? What character traits does she uphold, and what traits does she condemn?

 

See StoryForge’s article “Pick Your Own Adventure: Start a Book Club” to build your own bookish community, and drop by again to keep up with the Club’s monthly picks!