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Review: "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog

North and SouthNorth and South is one of those tasty novels you'll want to set aside an entire weekend to gobble up. And then follow it up not long after by watching the excellent 2004 adaptation (although you may do these two things in reverse order--which is what I did, and it by no means lessens the enjoyment of either).

On the broad scale of literary history, Elizabeth Gaskell is probably best known for her biography of Charlotte Brontë. However, due to recent popular adaptations of her work for television includng this book plus Cranford and Wives and Daughters, she has been enjoying a well-deserved comeback.

North and South takes place in fictional Milton, presumed to be Manchester around the mid 1850s. The tale is told from the perspective of young Margaret Hale from the south of England who moves with her parents to Milton, in the north. She is immediately struck by not only the dreariness of the weather but also of the people, the city, and its surroundings. She longs for warmth, sunshine, wild roses, and the carefree days of idleness she enjoyed in the south. Everyone she meets in Milton, including her father's favorite pupil Mr Thornton, seems to grate against her southern values, seeming to care only about time and money wasted.

As the story progresses, we see Margaret suffer through many changes, both circumstantial and psychological. Her experiences with the poor and the industrial ruling classes make her rethink her preconceived ideas about Milton and its people. Many call it a social novel, providing insight to ideas at the time on religion, class, and gender. However, at heart North and South is a romance, and straight to your heart it will go. The characters are beautifully portrayed and the story hums along at a nice rate for a book of its length. Now my only regret is not having discovered this gem earlier.

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