Friday, November 09, 2007

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

It is time to turn from the Regency period to the mid-nineteenth century, where breeches make way for long dark trousers but there is no lack of romantic heroes to fantasise over.

Now we all loved Mr Thornton as played by Richard Armitage in the adaptaion of North and South on BBC One a few years ago. In homage to the adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford that will soon be hitting our screens, a moment by moment guide will soon be appearing to his movements in that series. But first some background to North and South.

North and South was published in instalments in 1853-4. The main setting of the industrial north follows Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel Mary Barton in 1848, which was also set in an industrial mill town. Mary Barton was immensely popular but also attracted wide criticism as it was felt that Gaskell was too hard on the mill owners. Gaskell tried to counter that criticism in North and South through the character of hardworking and tough mill owner John Thornton. The relationship between John Thornton and Margaret Hale represents the meeting of the industrial north and rural south but is also a feisty story of the awakening of love for each other in both. In some ways it is another version of Pride and Prejudice with both attracted to each other and both having excessive pride and, Margaret in particular, having a great number of prejudices. Unusually, unlike Jane Austen with Darcy or Charlotte Bronte with Mr Rochester, Gaskell presents Thornton's emotions in the relationship as much as Margaret's.

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65) famously began writing at the suggestion of her husband after the death of her only son. Her novels are all set in the north of England, mainly in the industrial northwest, and they explore complex social issues, family relationships and love affairs.

Watch this space for the 'pulsating passages' from the novel . . .


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