Yes, I have finally finished reading this. I started it way back in February, even though I'd meant to finish reading Middlemarch first, but I just couldn't make myself wait. You see, I first saw the 2004 miniseries in February, and after that, I simply had to get a copy of the book right away and begin reading it. Because I finally understood the awesomeness that is this story, and I wanted more and more and more. (I reviewed the miniseries here today too.)
This book focuses on Margaret Hale, a lady whose whole life is entirely disrupted when her minister father leaves his church because he has a crisis of conscience and moves his family from England's pastoral south to the industrial north. They move to Milton, a town where everyone is entirely consumed with the making of cotton fabric. A mill owner named John Thornton befriends the family, falls in love with Margaret, and finds his life changed by them as much as theirs have been changed by moving there.
This is the first Elizabeth Gaskell book I've ever read in its entirety -- I did try reading Cousin Phillis and Other Tales a couple of years ago, but never finished it. I'm not sure I'm exactly a fan of her writing style yet -- she gets melodramatic at times, with more heightened emotions than I generally care for... and yet, there's no denying the power of this story. She also loves her double-meaning names (Milton = Mill town, Thornton = North town, etc), though she's not as cutesy about them as her friend Charles Dickens, so I don't mind much.
I almost wonder if Gaskell got the idea for this by reading Pride and Prejudice and thinking, "Oh, but that's not how I'd have written it." I know sometimes I get story ideas that way, and there are some marked similarities here -- a woman who thinks badly of a man because she misunderstands him, a man who loves the woman who continually rebuffs him, a botched proposal scene. Anyone know if Gaskell ever revealed her inspiration for this?
Anyway, this is not my most coherent book review ever, and I'm sorry about that. I've got so many things to say, I'm kind of overwhelmed. I'm also trying not to compare it too much to the 2004 miniseries because I'm doing a review of that too, and I'd rather talk about this on its own merits, but it keeps getting tangled up with the movie in my head. So maybe I should just go ahead and talk about some things I was expecting from this book after having seen the miniseries first.
I wanted to know more of what was going on in Mr. Thornton's head and heart. I felt like after the miniseries, I understood Margaret Hale pretty well, but John Thornton was still a bit of a cipher. Here, I was very happily rewarded -- there's quite a bit of time spent in Mr. Thornton's head, and I was pleased.
I also wanted more wonderful scenes between Nicholas Higgins and Mr. Thornton. Here, I was disappointed, because the miniseries actually played that up more than the book does. Nuts. Of course, Higgins was wonderful all the way through the book; I just wanted more of him, is all.
However, I was very pleased by how much nicer Mr. Henry Lennox is in the book. He doesn't creepily sneak up on Margaret while she's napping in the meadow, he doesn't stand around glowering at everyone all the time, and he's generally helpful and nice. I felt quite sorry for him in the miniseries and wanted to like him better, so I'm glad he's more likable here.
And I was happy that Mrs. Thornton was equally as awesome in the book as the movie. I love how "she walked proudly among women for his sake" (p. 95). Some people might think she's a bit oddly devoted to John, but I think it's pretty natural for a mother to be proud of the son who has made up for his father's mistakes and then raised himself up into a position of distinction. I loved her. Especially since, well, she's shy. It says so! "Mrs. Thornton was shy" (p. 96). I'm shy too. And I really liked how straight-forward she was, always speaking the truth even if people didn't want to hear it. Like when she told Margaret, "If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale" (p. 116). She sees to the core of things and dispenses with the frivolous niceties other people would insist on blanketing truth in.
And I can't forget Mr. Bell! He cracked me up continually! He had some of the funniest moments in the whole book, and I wish he could have been in it more. Same goes for Frederick Hale -- he was sweet and brave and kind and wonderful. I love how quickly he and Margaret understood each other and became sympatico.
One of the things that fascinates me the most about this book is the way both Margaret and Thornton had to realize they were not just wrong about each other, but that they needed to open their minds and hearts to new ideas and ways of doing things. But at the same time, they don't become new and different people by the end, they've just improved who they already were. And the same could be said of Nicholas Higgins -- he went through the same sort of transformation they did, which is quite remarkable for a side character. Mr. and Mrs. Hale, on the other hand, could or would not open themselves up to change, but tried to remain steadfastly the same, and so were broken.
Basically, I loved the contrast between what we are born versus what we make of ourselves, I guess.
I want to reread this again before too terribly long, maybe later this year, to see what more I glean from it. And maybe then I could write a better review. We'll see if I manage either of those or not.
Particularly Good Bits:
But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it (p. 20).
...Susan Lightfoot had been seen with artificial flowers in her bonnet, thereby giving evidence of a vain and giddy character (p. 34).
As she realized what might have been, she grew thankful for what was (p. 68).
...small, keen, bright little spots of positive enjoyment having come sparkling into the very middle of sorrows (p. 104).
"Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used -- not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless" (p. 109).
Margaret had always dreaded lest her courage should fail her in any emergency, and she should be proved to be, what she dreaded lest she was -- a coward (p. 173).
He had not loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her. Her soul would walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win back her love (p. 264).
"I don't want to be more liberal-minded, thank you," said Mr. Bell (p. 323)
He had the greatest mind in the world to get up and go out of the room that very instant, and never set foot in the house again (p. 324). (For some reason, that line made me slam the book closed and clasp it to my heart, and I couldn't read any more for hours.)
"...I doubt this smart captain is no great man of business. Nevertheless, his mustachios are splendid" (p. 356).
"I must not think so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment, or a hopeful trustful heart" (p. 391).
If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some violence and people dying all the time.
This is my 20th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club.