North and South, Chapters 1-26 (Spoiler Thread)
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This thread is for discussion of the first half of North and South, Chapters 1-26. Keep in mind this is a spoiler thread, so if you haven’t yet completed the first half of the novel, beware!
Other North and South threads:
North and South (Non-Spoiler Thread)
North and South, Chapters 27-52 (Spoiler Thread)
Yay! Nothing to spoil yet, so Ill return when I have some news :)
It must be in the writing, because I can't say I find the characters very likeable. I've got some questions, but maybe they will be answered within the next chapters, so I'll wait till I'm through the first half.
"Now that, the General being gone, she had every good of life, with as few drawbacks as possible, she had been rather perplexed to find an anxiety, if not a sorrow. She had, however, of late settled upon her own health as a source of apprehension; she had a nervous little cough whenever she thought about it and some complaisant doctor ordered her just what she desired - a winter in Italy."
L.-C. You chose the quote that made me chuckle! Of course too, the bite in that it is the recog. that I do a little of that myself..... when something seems like a bit of an indulgence it's hard to resist making it seem like an imperative!
I remember the quoted bit, it also made me smile.
I like that there's clear character development - my sympathies have changed a bit since the beginning, and the chatacters are obviously able to reflect and learn. Maybe that's the reason why some of Margarete's ideas seemed a bit drastic at first - there's room for improvement.
I'm not yet so sure about the whole "critical view on industrialism and capitalism" thing. Will it remain just the background for the character interaction or will it really get serious at some point? I haven't read Hard Times yet, but I expect Dickens to be more detailed in his descriptions of the workers' situation.
One thing I haven't fully understood is the reason for Mr Hale's decision. Did I miss something or was that not fully explained?
#11 Lucy, I think you're right that he means books - leather bindings is my guess.
I wonder what Mr Hale would say about my collection of cheap paperbacks? I've never even touched a leather-bound book in my life....
I'm now in chapter 20 and getting some real action. But it still feels like a romance novel in an industrial setting.
I feel bad about the Irish 'hands' (an expression just as demeaning as 'resource' nowadays) and I'm wondering what will happen to them after the strike. They were desperate enough to come to England certainly for lower wages than the already shamefully low ones the English workers had been earning, and I am sure they will quickly be sent home again.
The book was published shortly after the great famine in Ireland, and Mrs Thornton's remark ("poor starvelings")sounds just arrogant.
Apart from that, the novel now has become Pride and Prejudice northernized.
It does seem amazing to us now that something like this would so shatter a person's life, doesn't it. I'm a bit further along and the same sort of obfuscation is going on with Mrs. Hale's illness.
The social commentary side of the plot, management vs union is both stilted and poignant, dated and alarmingly contemporary....... Dickens does do it wayyyyyy better! What is admirable is the Gaskell was plunging right in to the emerging conflict that arose from the new economic situation - the emerging class of rich 'Masters' - industrialists and mass producers of various items that a growing population needs. Margaret's experiences feel genuine -- her shock at the boldness of the men and women from the factory, and then an emerging understanding and almost even a liking of it. Also her observance that poor as the workers were they had more 'things' in their houses, they had much higher expectations too and why not? On these smaller details I think Gaskell brings the feeling of the time, bewilderment and excitement at the changing social landscape.
You're right, this seemed an important observation! And didn't even Thornton say quite early in the story that theoretically every worker had the chance to make a career? In a society where people believe they can get ahead, they are much more likely to spend their money instead of saving it for bad times.
I hope Maragaret will have the opportunity to see that her view on the South and the peasants is quite romanticized. In the beginning I found her arrogance towards 'trade people' way over the top, but now I expect it was done just to leave room for learning.
Re Mr Hale's reasons for leaving, so far nothing more has been revealed than that he has doubts - it seems that both he and Margaret are reluctant to talk about exactly what these were. He did assure Margaret the doubts were not to do with faith itself, I assume it was rather to do with the nature and authority of the church, ie specifically the Church of England. He mentions that it was when the Bishop was talking of offering him another post he began to be troubled by this. This is because whenever a vicar was placed in a new post ("living") in the Church of England, he would be brought face-to-face with these questions of authority etc: he would have had to swear oaths of allegiance to the Queen and to the Bishop of his diocese, and also swear to follow the '39 Articles of Religion' and only to use those forms of service authorised by the church. So he realised he could not in conscience do this - but if he had a less well-developed conscience he could quite easily have stayed where he was in his parish in the New Forest all his life, keeping his doubts to himself and avoiding having to swear those oaths again. But his conscience won't let him rest easy where he is, although he knows it will cause his wife and daughter pain to be forced to move.
I'm looking out for any reference to whether Mr Hale having left the Church of England is seeking to connect with any other Christian group, whether Unitarians or any other dissenters. No mention so far. At one level the 'leaving the Church' thing is simply a plot device to catapult the Hales into their new situation in the North. But the contrasts between Church and Chapel may be significant as part of the South:North contrast which is also a rural:urban and pre-industrial:industrial contrast. Margaret remains thus far a Churchwoman, unlike her father, and takes for granted the old way of relationships which belong to the life of a parish clergy household: the benevolent paternalism of pre-industrial rural life where it was the duty not only of the vicar but of his wife and daughter to visit and know everyone in the parish and to care as best they could for the sick and help the poor - but without expecting anyone to change their station in life.
In Milton (is that the name of the town?) which is a thinly veiled depiction of Manchester, everything is different, the old values do not hold sway, any more than the Church does (in these industrial cities which grew so fast from originally very small settlements, the Church was not a strong presence, and Dissenting groups like the Unitarians and the Quakers were very much more influential). Lucy, I agree that Gaskell uses Margaret's perspective and experience to convey the shock of this new and fast-changing social situation, so very different from the old world she knew not least because it is fast-changing rather than static, and there are extremes of poverty and suffering but also wealth and opportunities opening up...
Looking up a bit about Gaskell, I discovered that her own father, who was a Unitarian minister, himself resigned from the ministry on conscientious grounds (though before she was born). She was raised by an aunt rather than by her mother, and her one surviving brother joined the merchant navy and was lost at sea. So she clearly drew on some autobiographical elements in writing this.
I've just passed the spot where Margaret meets Nicholas and Bessy Higgins and invites herself to their home. Clearly, she is acting as the vicar's daughter here, drawing on her role as it was expected at Helstone - the "benevolent paternalism" Genny writes about above. Higgins' response is much different, of course, than Margaret would be accustomed to; Nicholas is clear that he does not care for visitors, certainly not people dropping in. But Gaskell makes it clear that Milton is instantaneously not so dreary to Margaret because she has found a human interest there.
Which is to say -- Gaskell could have been thinking of this?
Better get on reading. Feel I'm behind already....
There's a good explanation of all this in John Sutherland's book, Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?, where one of the essays is entitled, "What are Mr Hale's doubts?"
And another thing: The Warden was published in the same year as N&S which deals with a lot of church issues and conflicts.....Strange...
Trollope was firmly on the side of "the establishment", even though he sometimes laughed at it. Gaskell was a Unitarian writing about a man leaving the Anglican church on conscience. There's a lot of distance between those two positions.
And, of course, Trollope was a man, so he automatically had a lot more latitude. And he didn't have to deal with having Dickens as an editor, which - given his attitude to "Mr Popular Sentiment" in The Warden - is probably just as well. :)
Good point -- that the readers knew enough to read betw. the lines.
To be fair, though, the central relationship in North And South is better integrated into the novel's themes, which don't recede as Mary Barton's do.
I also noticed in this rejection scene all the (barely) sublimated sexuality -- and in general a physicality not present in some of the writing of the other 'big names'. None of the rollicking naughtiness of the previous century, this is all offered subtle with rounded forearms, curved lips etc. Verges of course, on melodrama here and there.
I do think Margaret's rejection of Thornton, her repulsion at his interest, as well as previously, Henry's is a bit overdone. She seems such a passionate person. And this insistence that 'she would have done the same' for anyone..... I don't really buy it. But none of that matters, I'm enjoying it, noting these things, that's all.
I will have to have another look on Project Gutenberg and see if there is a Part II which I've missed, or perhaps I should pay a little to have a complete copy that is free from annoying typos too. There is one available from Kindle for only 86 pence, that's not too bad, though thus far I have never paid for any e-book.
Agree with Lucy that Margaret's rejection of Henry and subsequently Thornton is a bit overdone. But I'm thoroughly enjoying the read and the sexual tension (what, bare arms!).
I'm presently reading the chapters where Margaret is educating herself regarding the strike, and I think these are well done. She's just witnessed Boucher pleading with Higgins regarding lost wages - his children are hungry. Of course, the union cannot bend, solidarity and all that. But Bessy makes the point to Margaret that if she could catch the union leaders one-on-one, they would each tell Boucher to go ahead and work in order that his children not go hungry. I'm not detecting bias that union is good, management bad nonsense; I think Gaskell succeeds with the human face of the strike. And I think some of this dialogue applies to labour strife even today, and I always appreciate this connect in classic literature.
- The blessing of God be upon thee, my child!
- And may He restore you to His Church, responded she, out of the fullness of her heart. The next moment she feared lest this answer to his blessing might be irreverent, wrong - might hurt him as coming from his daughter, and she threw her arms round his neck. He held her to him for a minute or two. She heard him murmur to himself: The martyrs and confessors had even more pain to bear. I will not shrink.
Quote from my - perhaps - spoiled and incomplete Kindle free version.....sigh!
I'm moving on now into the next section, next thread. I'm reading it faster than I expected to.
A water bed was exactly that - it was effectively a tank of water that rubber and then other bedding could be placed over. It was designed for the support of invalids, presumably for comfort but also to prevent pressure ulcers etc. during long-term care.
It is over the top -- it is also striking how Margaret alternates being so bold and so 'proper'.
Very bold she is indeed, both in challenging Thornton to face the crowd and in rushing out herself to try to protect him - and then so very agitated not about what she'd done but about how the women at Thorntons were interpreting what she'd done...
Well, yes, of course, it would be quite a production to get the thing installed, but I just felt Gaskell wrote about it as if it was no different from collecting a fruit basket.....
Here is wikipedia on the history -- it mentions North and South! here
35-36: I'm not quite as far as you guys, but I agree that they rely on their daughter a lot. If I had been Mrs. Hale I would have been furious that my own husband couldn't tell me we were moving within two weeks. But, I suppose it was a different time back then and husbands could do that sort of thing as "heads of the house".
Also, I did not know that about waterbeds. Interesting!
"Was he bewitched by those beautiful eyes, that soft, half-open, sighing mouth which lay so close upon his shoulder only yesterday? He could not even shake off the recollection that she had been there, that her arms had been round him, once - if never again."
Thornton's fluffy romantic notions aside, I am thoroughly enjoying North and South, and the discussion here. At the conclusion of this chapter, I'll be moving on to the next thread.
The waterbed cracks me up. I suppose she would have had to have it brought by a servant or something. So funny.
It is remarkable how much sexual tension is in this book in comparison to its contemporaries. Dickens seems like the obvious comparison. In terms of social consciousness, maybe similar, but in terms of real portrayal of a relationship between men and women, very different.
Will join in on the next thread after the weekend.
I like Margaret most of the time, more as the book goes on. She has a lot to put up with - her parents are both so good at loading her up with difficult tasks. Her mother would drive me mad (until she got really sick) and her Dad is so clueless!
Genny, I think the 86p edition is the one I bought. It comes with a history of England. Lucy, does yours have this? Because mine too has jumbled cut and pastes every few chapters, like this one, right in the middle of Mr Thornton's declaration of love:
"and kissed the hem of her wounded pride fell hot and fast. He waited awhile, longing for garment. She did not speak; she did not move. The tears of her to say something, even a taunt, to which he might reply."
I like Gaskell's commentary on the strike, especially her analysis of the unions instead of it just being a commentary on the factory owners, and laughed at the bit where Higgins gets given what is probably Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Higgins' quote that "it went on about capital and labour, and labour and capital, till it fair sent me off to sleep" would've been a good one for my first year economics students when I was teaching!
I've just realised that through my public library membership here I have full access to the Times' database going right back to 1799. I typed in " Dissenters" but wasn't sure what year to choose - I got about 2000 hits. I'm going to see if I can find anything interesting on there later on today.
I have 22 chapters left and want to find out what happens to Frederick. (I can already guess about Margaret and Thornton!)
Interesting that you can(probably) identify the text given to Higgins. I've never attempted to read any Adam Smith...
What in particular about Dissenters were you hoping to discover?
Thanks for all the good points in posts 19-30. It does encapsulate what Ive read up to that point, and some of the questions I had in my head have been asked and answered.
I agree with you Nancy when you say how you are horrified at the level of the duties expected of Margaret, her father whimped out in making her tell her mother they were leaving. I couldnt quite imagine that would happen, but who knows!?
Oh dear, that is rather a bad copy and paste! I spotted a kindle version of the Oxford World's Classics edition on amazon.co.uk for £1.89 and ended up reading that version rather than the gutenberg version.
Having said that, I just downloaded the kindle version direct from project gutenberg and it doesn't have that copy and paste error and seems to have the correct version so maybe they've updated it?
"But, for all that—for all his savage words, he could have thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her garment. She did not speak; she did not move. The tears of wounded pride fell hot and fast. He waited awhile, longing for her to say something, even a taunt, to which he might reply. But she was silent. He took up his hat."
I think the cheap ebook versions available generally just use the gutenberg text and add some kind of introduction to get around the fact that you're not supposed to sell the gutenberg version (not sure if this works legally or not). Unless they're from a publisher I recognise like the Oxford World's Classics edition or a Vintage Classics then I don't think those cheap kindle versions are worth paying for (ebooks need a new phrase to replace 'not worth the paper they're printed on')