Back in 2004, BBC made a TV mini series of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North an South, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. I fell in love with the series and dashed off to the library to read the book, but ended up closing it in utter disgust. This being because I was a sixteen-year-old who was yet to appreciate the classics.
Seven years later and the second time around, North and South has become a favourtie of mine. I finished it on the weekend after having my eyes glued to every page. Goes to show what age can do to one’s reading tastes.
So here’s the general gist of Mrs Gaskell’s novel.
Margaret Hale’s father uproots them from their comfortable house in south of England and moves them to the industrial town of Milton in the north.
Compared to what she’s use to, Milton is a dirty, noisy place which appears to have a lot of hardship.
Enters Mr Thornton, a cotton manufacturer, who becomes one of her father’s pupil. John Thorton is successful and wealthy, but Margaret takes a strong dislike to him due to his industrial views and a fair amount of prejudice on her part.
The novel jumps between Margaret and Mr Thornton. As she struggles to adjust to her new home and learn Milton ways, he begins to feel a strong attraction towards her despite their continuing clashes and opposing beliefs.
There are two other main characters in the book. Mrs Thornton, John Thornton’s mother, who is very proud of her son and dislikes Margaret’s strong opinions and ways.
And the other is Mr Higgin’s, a worker at one of the mills, whose belief in the Union leads all the mill workers of Milton to go on strike for higher wages, which proves fatal for some familes.
It’s a tale of hardship, poverty and industrial change, but Elizabeth Gaskell makes it interesting by drawing you into the characters’ lives and taking you along their journey.
And best of all, it has a happy ending.
So if you make it past the first few chapters and wait until you meet Mr Thornton (be warned, you will fall in love with him), then you might be like me and want to read it all over again.
That is, unless you’re sixteen and feel that classics are a waste of paper. In which case, I suggest you wait a few years and come back to North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell with a fresh mind.
You never know, things may have changed.
xx The Girl in Trousers