Desert Isle Keeper
North and South
Audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson
This review is somewhat of a triple threat. I read the book, listened to the audiobook, and watched the BBC miniseries all together and all contributed to my enjoyment in their own way. First of all, let me gush. I loved this book. I adored this book. I want to tuck this book in next to me when I go to bed so I can cuddle it. By book, I mean the hero, Mr. Thornton, and by Mr. Thornton, I of course mean the dashing Richard Armitage playing the role in the BBC series.
My review also comes with a disclaimer: I am not a reader of classic fiction. I easily get bored by reading the classics and I tend to avoid them. I had seen and enjoyed the mini-series of North and South awhile back, but it didn’t enter my mind to actually read it, thanks to my distaste for classics. However, when my thesis for my Victorian Literature course in graduate school fell through, I decided to give North and South a chance. Not only did it fix the bind I was in for my term paper, I found a new favorite book.
North and South is, at its heart, two things: a social novel and a romance. Gaskell was inspired by her own youth spent in Manchester during the labor strikes that heavily affected mills. She sets this story in the fictional northern town of Milton, a crucial area in textile manufacturing. When Margaret Hale moves from the idyllic south with her family to the cold, hardworking north, she is exposed to the struggles between laborers and factory masters. The resulting story about strikes, workers unions, imported Irish labor, and the strain of class inequity is very true to the Victorian period.
Margaret befriends the ill daughter of one worker and begins to see how difficult it is to be the working-poor in society. Through her father’s tutoring business, she is also brought into contact with the factory owner, John Thornton. Margaret and John initially clash. She is very set in her nostalgia and preference for the south, while John, who has brought himself up from draper’s assistant to master, has a better understanding of commerce. Margaret is such a strong character, especially for the time in which this was written. She takes over management of most of her family affairs has her mother’s health declines and her father becomes more dependent on her. John admires her for her mind and tenacity.
John is reluctant to admit any affection for Margaret until she is injured protecting him from a riot. Once he does finally admit his feelings, it broke my heart. His devotion and own sense of inadequacy with Margaret absolutely touches your emotions. With lines like, “I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love,” it is nearly impossible not to fall head-over-heels for Mr. Thornton. Even once she rejects him, John does so much behind the scenes for Margaret. He brings her sick mother fresh fruit, gives her father companionship, and helps with a legal dispute. He just loves her so much.
Gaskell created a splendid supporting cast. Margaret befriends Bessy and Nicholas Higgins, from the working class of the town. It is through Higgins that we learn much of the unions and struggles faced by the poor. There is also the practical and cold Mrs. Thornton, whose devotion to her son and dislike of Margaret adds interest. Additionally, there is a secondary storyline with Margaret’s brother Frederick who is avoiding the law.
Although I read much of the book, I listened to the first quarter on audiobook. The version I had was narrated by Juliet Stevenson and it was fantastic. Stevenson does such a great job of differentiating the character voices and doing the accent of Milton. I sometimes feel odd hearing women read men’s dialogue, especially in romance, but there was no awkwardness in the portrayal of Mr. Thornton.
The BBC miniseries starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Densby-Ashe is remarkably close to the original text and is visually stunning. I’ve now watched it about three times. Both lead actors are perfect for their roles and they have the most amazing chemistry. Of course, Richard Armitage smolders and makes you want to swoon. The music paired with stark, cold atmosphere of Milton is so well-done.
For those that are like me and prefer to avoid classics, I can assure the readability of North and South. I didn’t feel as bogged down by dry language, as I have with other books I’ve tried. For fans of Pride and Prejudice, the love/hate relationship between Margaret and John will be right up your alley.
What more can I say? Get the book and read it. The audiobook is solid if you prefer to listen instead of read. Get it on Netflix or Amazon, or go to your local library and track down the BBC mini-series. I think you won’t be disappointed, no matter how you approach this classic romance.