What is a novel? It's Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South!
How to review such a book? There are so many things in this novel! Come on, let's try!
I read by marking with small yellow post-it notes the interesting, poetic, humorous, beautifully thought out or positive passages. How can I put this to you? You can't see the edge of the pages anymore, it's nothing but yellow post-it notes! So I'm going to give you my thoughts in bulk!
Every human being has his own vision of what he wants in life. It is normal that these different visions diverge from one human being to another. Today, and since time immemorial, this has resulted in disputes and conflicts. Bosses against workers, scholars against manual workers, children against parents, Anglicans against Catholics, men against women, society against women, etc... Gaskell proposes discussion, knowledge of the other that lead to the understanding of the other to ease tensions. Attention! She does not say that this is the solution to all problems, or even less that we should adopt the ideas of others and blend into the same mould, no. She only says that by getting to know the other, one is more inclined to reasoned discussion than to angry conflict.
This novel is set in industrialized England in the mid-19th century. This society is full of barriers, as I just said. Gaskell subtly abolished them:
* The father of the heroine is a weak man in some ways, forcing the heroine, Margaret, to take charge of the home and family (her sick mother, her brother in difficulty, her father whom she must console and comfort). The daughter plays the role that society assigns to the father. And, oh, surprise, she's doing very well! Does this mean that women are more capable than we thought?
* The boss of the factory, represented by Thornton, is not an inhuman, ambitious and power-hungry man who only sees happiness in his turnover. Wouldn't all bosses be heartless men? Just as the worker represented by Higgins is not a man without brains and is able to understand both the workers and the boss' work.
* Thornton, the fatherless manufacturer, had to leave school early to support his family. As an adult, he decides to go back to the study of the classics and takes great pleasure in it. Wouldn't culture be the only privilege of academics?
* Margaret's cousin, Edith, is a young woman who lives as she should live a woman of her time and class: she is only interested in adornment, dinners and social standing. But another model of woman is possible: Margaret, who has a head and uses it, who is independent and will eventually impose it on everyone, with heart and grace.
Society locks human beings into patterns of life and thought. Gaskell, free as a bird, takes them out:
* Mr. Higgins, the gruff worker, is very maternal,
* Margaret organizes Helstone's departure as a man would do,
* Mr. Thornton is tender with his mother, as a daughter would be.
Oh, that I like, like Gaskell, to take each individual for what he is and not for the box in which society wants to put him!
And then there are the countless bonds between human beings, those bonds that unite us and tear us apart so often. These links are complex and would require much more attention than men have given them so far. These links require all the attention Gaskell and his female fellow authors such as George Sand or Betty Smith give them...
And then there are the institutions by which we must not let ourselves be blindly guided, whether they are:
* religious, Mr. Hale, the pastor, will take the path dictated by his conscience,
* states, Frederick disobeys the Navy when superiors are inhuman,
* or even academics: some professors forget that intelligence can be found elsewhere than at university, just as they forget humility.
And then there is power. This power so coveted by so many men. This power that Margaret innocently takes when, from the moment she first met Thornton, she frankly tells her what she thinks and forces her to question herself. This is a power well used.
There is all this and much more in this novel.
There are essential things: humility, love, strength, intelligence. There is elegance. Not an elegance related to fashion, no. There is elegance of heart, of behaviour. There's everything I aspire to… the way is long!
But that's not all! There is also a beautiful and good story, some humour here and there, a beautiful writing. Gaskell, I love you!
Link towards Amazon