Thursday, November 8, 2012
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell
narrated by Juliet Stevenson
AudioGO Ltd., 2009
18 hours and 18 minutes
source: audio purchased from audible.com, e-book free from Girlebooks.com
North and South tells a tale of contrast between the way of life in the industrial north of England and the wealthier south. First published in 1854, the story centers around young Margaret Hale from the South who moves with her parents to a fictional industrial town in the North. The move brings about many changes, as her experiences with the poor and the industrial ruling classes make her rethink her preconceived ideas on class, gender, and romance. (from amazon)
Elizabeth Gaskell, where have you been all my life? I've read few of Mrs. Gaskell's short stories, but can't figure out why it has taken me so long to read one of her novels. North and South, often referred to as her masterpiece, seemed to be a good starting point.
The story and themes were reminiscent of Jane Austen from the outset - first impressions, pride, class difference - and I settled in for what I hoped might turn out to be a very pleasant reading experience. Gaskell did not disappoint. I LOVED everything about this book - plot, characters, settings, and themes. The read/listen combination worked especially well with this novel and lead to my total immersion in the story. It will certainly be a favorite this year.
Although Gaskell wrote just a few decades after Jane Austen (and I consider myself a Janeite), I found Mrs. Gaskell much more accessible and easier to read. She also seems to write on a grander canvas, dealing with larger issues and the world outside the parlor and ballroom. I know those are sweeping generalizations to make based on a single novel - I'll just have to read more.
A note on the audio production:
Juliet Stevenson's narration of North and South is sheer perfection. Her range of voices and accents is astonishing. From the harsh northern speech of Mr. Thornton, his family, and workers to the refined London voices of Margaret and her relatives, it was always easy to differentiate between characters. I have just discovered that Stevenson also narrates Mary Barton. That makes the selection of my next Gaskell novel an easy task.