Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is a book that you can only read if you have time to spare. The book is a short one, and it takes time to read it. It is not easy to read that you can read in a couple of days. However, once you get past the initial resistance, the book is interesting and worth spending time reading. Reading North and South is kind of like reading a biography of a person who had an incredibly interesting life, but who didn’t have much time left to live. Even though you know this, you still want to know everything about that person, so you read all the books you can get your hands on.  If you’ve read anything about Gaskell, you probably know that her life was not a happy one. She married a man she didn’t love and had a difficult marriage. Her husband died at a young age, leaving her with a teenage daughter to grow up and support. She struggled with finances and writing, and the book North and South is her only novel.

What’s so good about this book?

North and South is a fascinating look at 19th century England and the difficulties of life during that time. Gaskell paints a picture of the everyday life of the lower classes, and she shows how the minimum changes of the Industrial Revolution affected those people. In the early chapters of the book, Gaskell introduces the reader to the character of Joanna Greenwood. Joanna is a young woman who is ambitious and determined to get ahead in life. Joanna loves books, and as the story progresses, she becomes a teacher, hoping to make enough money to support herself and her daughter. Gaskell uses Joanna as a lens through which to show the lives of many other characters. For example, Joanna’s brother Arthur lives with his wife Ada in the town of Market Well. Arthur is not a happy man, and he blames his wife for his unhappiness.

Not so good

Even though I really enjoyed reading North and South, I had some issues with the book. There are some pages of the book that I just don’t know what Gaskell was trying to say, and some of the characters are unlikeable. Joanna is ambitious and determined to succeed, but she is selfish and sometimes mean to people. I don’t like people who are mean, so I found her hard to like. During the course of the book, Joanna works herself to the bone, and she expects other people to be generous with them. She is not a person who identify deservingness, and as a result, she often gets into arguments with people.

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What you should know before you read North and South

Gaskell was born in 1810, which puts her in the upper end of the age range of the characters in this book. The book is set in the 1800s, so if you can’t accept the idea of people being described as being “old,” then this may bother you. You will get some issues with the language in the book. Gaskell uses a lot of “he got” and “she got” construction, which I find overused. However, since this is what is expected of 19th century English speakers, this didn’t bother me as much as it would have if the book had been written in my time.

Bottom line

I enjoyed reading North and South, but I can’t say it is a book I will recommend to people. The book is very long and detailed, which is good if you want to learn about 19th century England, but it took me a long time to read. If you can spare the time to read this book, I think you will enjoy it. It is a historical novel that is not very far removed from modern times, and the characters are unlikeable in some ways.

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