North and South… again.

I finished it. Twice. It’s actually been a while since I’ve finished that, I’ve just been mulling over it for the past few days.

So, um… Real, true-to-life review:

Overall, you might have guessed, I loved it. The beginning was a little hard to get into, sometimes I was flat out bored with all the religion and strike stuff, but by the riot scene I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t. The ending… rushed. I unfortunately read the footnote that said Gaskell was meeting a deadline, and it colored my reading of the ending. I was expecting an Austen-type pay-off, where they grow old really quickly and we get to hear about all their fat babies and happiness and such. That didn’t happen. But it was still good; don’t get me wrong. My favorite part is the discord… Thornton’s jealousy is just too fun. Not a "perfect" book (whatever that is), but awesome.

Oh, I have so many things to say. I love forewords because they always give you one or two of the easier themes to think about before you start the book. This one mentioned Mr. Hale’s femininity and Margaret’s rejection of her own sexuality and blah blah Victorian ideals. I noticed particularly in the beginning that N&S has a lot to do with gender and control: enough to give any Sophmore English Major a field day. I remember only writing about those themes for years, until I moved onto… slightly different things. The two themes mentioned are a good place to start, but I’ve added a few of my own. The first time I read the book I did it so fast, that I had to do read it again. The second time I read it, I had specific things in mind. Here’s what I was just dying to explore/notice/want to know/find out WHY? WHY did they act this way??? I suppose you can call them "themes":

Everyone rebels in this book. Thornton, Margaret, Mr. Hale… Margaret’s face looks naturally high and mighty: intrinsically rebellious. Thornton rebels against his upbringing, and then his role as an uncaring manufacturer, and all the time everyone rebels against each other. There’s this great part where Mrs. Thornton mentions a riot that happened when she was still married to the late Mr. Thornton, and she picks up a rock to drop it on the crowd, should she need defend herself. In my head, she’s also pregnant and barefoot, but I’m pretty sure that’s not in the book. It makes me wonder… The foreword makes the point of restricted Victorian society, but the book makes rebellion a good thing? It’s almost a personality strength. It’s very exciting. Everyone rebels in some way, and everybody loves the rebellious streak in others. The whole book is founded by the single manly thing Mr. Hale has ever done– his rebellion against the church– and it is done in the girliest, saddest way, and no one, not even his friend Mr. Bell, really truly believes in him.

Since it’s the start of the Industrial Age, we have some very basic ideas of capitalism running against the whole British gentlemen society thing. Very interesting to watch, but wait; what was that about capitalism? At the beginning, Margaret asks why there are so many down trodden, and Thornton actually replies that their spirits and bad postion are "the natural punishment of dishonestly-enjoyed pleasure, at some former period of their lives." So a boy spends his money on doughnuts at age nine, and that’s why he never gets higher than a clerk? Might as well tell panhandlers to get a job, and support tax cuts for rich people. I really wanted to find out what exactly Mr. Thornton thinks, and I suppose what most Industrialists think, about what they were doing. I think it changes in the course of the book, not exactly because of Margaret, but Margaret at least puts him in the way of growing as a person.

The foreword mentions this. The miniseries sneaks it in, when Margaret says "I’m not ready to marry anybody." Margaret has a lot of masculine attributes, and she lives in this little sexless world where her father is more feminine than she is, but they are both alike. The foreword suggests that Margaret refuses Thornton because she doesn’t want to give up the power she has as a sexless being.

Sure, I believe that. And Thornton has his own problems with sexuality: around thirty and still married to your work is a good indication. But you know what else I think it is? I read this great essay once that said Mr. Knightley was subconciously holding back from romance until he could actually support his wife. I think there is something of that in this book. Mr. Thornton has definite obligations to his mother and family, and has dedicated himself to obtaining a respectable, comfortable position. Margaret has obligations of a different kind: she has to take care of her fragile mother and father who rely on her completely. I think Margaret rejects Mr. Thornton because she knows she can’t leave her father. She doesn’t even allow herself to think about romance, and when it comes up… it grates against her conscience. Once Thornton is awakened to the idea (and it only takes him a threat against his life and the life of his love), it’s hard, fast, and permanent. A "hand on the plow" situation, definitely. But Margaret… she’s harder to understand. I think it’s because she still has obligations to her family.

I think it affects a lot of areas of the novel, especially how Margaret feels and acts, but I also think that Hale is the perfect mediator for the debates between the North and South. He is part of the South, but also part of God as a clergyman, and his feminine-male perspective makes him just sort of neutral. He’s the perfect person to erradicate animosity when the debates become to heated, and he looks at the industrial age favorably from a romantic/educated perspective. He likens the mill to a genie from Arabian Nights.

But mostly, what I set out to do was find out, once and for all,
I mentioned before that Margaret in the mini-series is hard to read. I couldn’t figure out what her face was saying: does she like him before he proposes? Who knows? I got the book to find out why, and read it… and still didn’t know. I had to go back, read it again, and then map out the whole proposal scene and afterwards. I still can’t say for sure, but what I think is this:

As I said before, Margaret doesn’t allow herself to even think about romance when she needs to take care of her family. But I think the same sort of awakening that happens to Thornton could have happened to Margaret before the proposal at the riot scene, perhaps even despite her obligations, if there wasn’t interference from outside parties before she even had time to think. In the book, Margaret is concious but unable to speak when Thornton’s sister gossips about Margaret throwing herself at Thornton. She hears it all, and is immediately acquainted with the harsh, outsider’s opinion of her deeds that puts her conduct to shame. Of course she has to react against that, and therefore takes up the view that she did it for purely altruistic reasons. Poor Thornton’s proposal, though it comes from his heart, only sounds like a confirmation of what she heard from his sister.

When she finally gets to think it over, she says "I could not have been so brave for any one else, just because he is so indifferent to me — if, indeed, I do not positively dislike him." It kind of kills me that I can’t quite figure out what kind of tone she says that last part. Should we take from that sentence that she is in denial of her own feelings? Either way, it is at least suspect that she changes her tune when Thornton shows up, and says that she could do it for any man in the crowd. That’s pretty much all the evidence I have in the way of "does she like him before he proposes," besides the fact that she cries harder at one point when she thinks of him. I know that I cry harder when there’s something I really care about mentioned. It’s kind of a litmus test.

After the proposal, the first indication is a throwback to Pride and Prejudice. "I just can’t stand the thought that he thinks ill of me." What is with that? It hard for me to wrap my head around that idea everytime I come across it, and these women are always loving men because they don’t want to be thought ill of. What is up with that? Rejection as reason to gain respect/love? Reputation as mask for actually caring? I don’t get it.

Meanwhile, Thornton is going through his whole up-in-his-head jealousy phase, which I totally love and totally relate with. I love it when you get so in the character’s head, you feel the thoughts whirl around. It feels so much like your own head, with own thoughts whirling around… I suppose it’s comforting. Also, Thornton challenges himself to not only keep on loving her, but to test his willpower by returning to the house when he can, even though he wants to avoid her. I understand that, and I understand when the author calls it a "stinging pleasure" to see Margaret. I feel like a lot of my life is centered around those two motivations: forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do, and the "stinging pleasure" they create.

If I had time, I would also want someone to explain to me the whole STRIKE, and RELIGION thing, and the gist of the DEBATES WITH BESSY since I don’t care enough to figure it out for myself. But I love one last thing and that is:

A footnote said that Gaskell met Nightingale and said, (not real quote) "it’s great that she like’s humanity, but I’m not sure that she likes people." Gaskell was a big advocate for the individual compassion over common-good love, and that makes Mr. Thornton a really interesting character. I don’t think he thinks in societal terms at all: he doesn’t notice that he’s reached a high station in his town, and when Margaret disgraces herself, he instantly skips over the whole social-disgrace part and makes it about her love for someone else. The greatest part where this comes into play is when Thornton starts talking about his "experiments": ie, the helpful things he does for his workers because he recently made friends with one and then many of them, and hides his love by tentatively setting out business proposals. He’s telling Mr. Bell about the soup kitchen he made, and Mr. Bell is wants to give him some money for the cause. Thornton is supremely uninterested. Thornton says, he doesn’t want any charity, he doesn’t want it talked about, he doesn’t want an institution made and obligations to form because it will get all blown out of proportion and stop being about the individuals. He just wants to practice his "experiments" to better form relationships between master and workers. Really, he just loves his new friends and wants to meet more of them.

There’s this great part that explains Thornton so perfectly. "He had tenderness in his heart — a ‘soft place’ as Nicholas Higgins called it; but he had some pride in concealing it; he kept it very sacred and safe, and was jealous of every circumstance that tried to gain admission. But if he dreaded exposure of his tenderness, he was equally desirous that all men should recognize his justice…"

Fantastic! Justice as a veil for tenderness! It totally works that way.

Austen men are always so independent, with no parents to look after. But Thornton is always making friends with the subordinates. First his mother– a very strong relationship there — then Mr. Hale, then Margaret, and even after Margaret, Mr. Higgins. It’s interesting that he surrounds himself with womanly and ultimately subordinate characters. I mean, doesn’t Mr. Thornton have any male friends? Most of it is play-acting for a successful marriage, but I think also Mr. Thornton must have someone to love. He seems a little starved for affection, poor boy. And he looks for it in an effeminate clergyman, his stuck up daughter, and the strike-leader working man of his mill. There’s something in that.

Elizabeth Gaskell is also an anomly as the newest member of my group of favorite women writers: she was married. Ooh, a writing career AND a husband? Is it indeed possible? It makes me wonder how that affects her writing. I’m not sure if I see much of a difference, except for Thornton’s yearning for the "gentle, restrictive" womanly love. Sexual, anyone?

North and South

I’m so high from the six hour angstfest that has been reading North and South the novel non-stop, and I don’t really know how to come down from it. I thought I’d blow off some steam by relaying a few scenes.

First of all,


Oh my god. This Thornton dude is intense. You know how we never really get to know what Darcy is thinking except for those few precious, blinding moments where he says things like Elizabeth’s eyes are bright, and her face is pleasing though not particularly symmetrical? North and South has all the pithy lovers-discord that P&P has, but you get to hear exactly what they are thinking. Imagine P&P if Darcy had an inner monologue of:

"Oh my GOD, I hate that Wickham bitch. She likes him better than me, I hate his face. It’s probably because he’s more open than me, oh my god, what is wrong with me? I have to be so fucking droll all the time. She’s so lively and I don’t deserve her, but neither does he. I hate her, I hate him, I LOVE her, oh man, I hate that guy so freaking much."

Thornton is a big rough man, who plays rough, works rough and thinks rough. You get to see every flaw, every petty turn of emotion, and yet his pride is just massive, and takes a huge hit when he finds he has faults. Nothing is worse than him thinking that she prefers another, because you watch it go round and round in his head, and he feels so violently that you feel it, too. "Violent" is the correct phrase for his passion for her. He hates her one minute and tenderly loves her the next; he wills himself to face her, and bitterly throws past grievances in her face. Also real violence is often alluded to, like in this part: 

So, he tries really hard to be a gentleman, cuz he’s all insecure about his shop-boy background, but after they have their big disagreement, and they are both bitter and loving each other from afar, he says this one "OH SNAP" thing to her in front of other people, and he feels SOOO BAD for outing her in a very ungentlmenly way. He wants her to look at him, so he can at least say sorry, but she won’t. Before he leaves he thinks:

"He could have struck her before he left, in order that by some strange overt act of rudeness, he might earn the priviledge of tell her the remorse that gnawed at his heart." (328)

I like that:

"Hey, you!"
*SMACK!* Huge backhand.
"I am sooooo sorry."

Though I suppose for Thornton it would be more *Smack!* "Gnar! Embittered, inadequate unloading of my soul to make you seem the blame."

GAH! It kills!

So Margaret disgraces herself by lying, and Thornton knows it, and they spend at least twenty pages each worrying about what the other thinks of them. They say, "If I could just talk to them, just look at them — who knows what they’ll say or I’ll say or if anything will come of it — but it will be better than waiting, not knowing what they think of me." They both pray for a meeting. And then they meet in almost pleasant circumstances— Thornton gives their mutual friend a job that Margaret suggested in the first place — and Thornton races up to meet up with her, and triumphantly says something to the gist of:

Thornton: Um, hi.
Margaret: Hi.
T: So, um, you don’t mean anything to me.
M: Right.
T: And I don’t mean anything to you.
M: Yes…?
T: Oh. Well, then, I don’t really know why we are standing here. *Abruptly leaves*
M: *Blinks.* Everything there went WRONG!!!

It kills it kills it kills. There is many a time where he storms off to his window yelling, "I DO NOT CARE FOR HER!", and thinking, I soooooooo carrreeeee…. in a deep gravelly voice. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst is that he knows he cares, and, evidently, SHE cares for another. Yowch. Cold, hard let down. Blinding defeat. And jealousy, oh so much jealousy. It’s delicious to read, but let me tell you, I don’t think I took a full breath the entire six hours I was reading.

North and South

North and South

I am sad to say I had absolutely no idea of the existence of this mini series and book before a few weeks ago. Imagine my surprise, when tooling around Netflix, to find a movie manifestation of the logical equation Pride and Prejudice + Bronteesque North Country + Cotton Mills and Industrial Age = everything that I love wrapped into one.

What an awesome show. Middle Class girl from sunny, Austenesque Southern England, leaves with her family to go to Milton, a Northern Industrialized town whose main profit is factory work. She meets John Thornton, an mill owner, who is a hard working, no frills, self-made man. Their difference of opinion creates an electric atmosphere, and is fuel for many drawing room debates. Of course, he loves her.

This guy Thornton, though, is a little intense. The first moment we see him, he is running full speed to catch an employee who was breaking the rule of not smoking. He beats up the employee right in front of sweet, sheltered female love interest. Hilarious! Meet your love interest, sir! She will never love you for this. You are an asshole!

It doesn’t help that the guy who plays Thornton later goes on to play someone not only quiet, sullen, and emoingly loving from a far, but actually evil. It’s Guy of Gisbourne from Robin Hood. Oh, Guy! I’m so surprised to see you here, or anywhere, and you are so severe looking. Sneering is definitely a professional sport to this guy. And yet he is the main guy. Here he is sneering and loving.

I have become very admiring of his nose. It is just so interesting from so many angles: straight profile, bumpy forward, long and thin, and a great sneering droop at the end. Thems British gots good noses. I will add him to my list of favorite noses, which include Mark Strong, and Julian Sands from Room with a View.
This is Mark Strong from Stardust and RocknRolla. The second one is not that flattering, but I love the nose/bridge/eyebrow combination.

There’s also Julian Sands, whose nose is better than the creepy people he plays.

  Oh, the sneering that man Thornton is capable of! The story is textbook P&P. We have our pride, our prejudice, our misunderstandings. Every time I say things like, "this is the part they go to the Lakes" they do! Poor bitch proposes at the end of episode two, with two episodes to spare. They have a heated tet e tet, and he storms out, very much like tape one of P&P A&E. We even have the motley crew of side characters, mostly living with Thornton instead of the girl. We have our silly Miss Bingley, our Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Mrs. Bennet wrapped into one. The mom, Mrs. Thornton, is the best: she’s this singleminded, old-world Northern woman; Mrs. Bennet if she were made of wrought iron and eats small children for breakfast. She has this one track mind of making her son into a tradesman, and judges everyone else accordingly. She’s clinging, and unfeeling, and scary as hell, but also she cares deeply for her son, and expresses true emotion when she possibly can spare it. You learn to love their relationship.

A typical cheery mother-son talk. I would be really scared to, but I extra want to be her friend.

Even though the stories so similar, I laugh to think of Elizabeth looking out of the Thornton household, which sits right in the middle of the bustling, ugly, loud cotton mill, and thinking "and of all this, I could be mistress!" Surely, the expression would take a different meaning.

Thornton does all the typical Darcy things, but with a degree of marked disdain. He looks out windows, rests on mantles, judges wrongly, and also helps her selflessly from social ridicule. But you learn that the sneer he always has is strangely without pretention like Darcy’s is. You get the idea that is just how his face is made. Out of everyone in the show, he is the easiest to read. Just imagine his sneer as an expression of ever-enduring love, and you’ve pretty much got it. At one point someone asks, "have you heard what they are saying about Margeret?" and he says pointedly, "I don’t care, and neither should you." Then he walks upstairs, looks out the window and goes:

"Grrrrrr. I sooo care……"

He so cares a lot.

And his squishiness abounds! Not only is it a story about strikes, but it is the most congenial strike story ever told. The strike ends badly, and people are hurt, but when do you hear about the boss ever later making friends with the strike ringleader, teaching the man’s son to read, and building a helpful stew house together? Hilarious! Pretty soon, he’s sitting down with his workers in a lets-all-hold-hands communist way. Oh, the things men do for women. Like grow hearts and make friends with poor people.

I have to put the Thornton/Margaret relationship side by side with Darcy/Elizabeth. Though I feel great allegiance to the second, I find this version refreshing. When Thornton proposes, he is not blinded by his own self-conceit; he doesn’t put forth his feelings in that horrible, demeaning way that Darcy does. And Margaret is not quite so mean as Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Darcy are both masters of the drawing room debate, they are incredibly intelligent and witty, and it’s fantastic to watch them spar. But they are also consumed with themselves, and unaware of outside circumstances to a fault. It’s nice to see two people who actually see a bit of the other side, no matter how little. It feels more… real.

I’ve decided to buy the book first chance I get. I’m excited about it most of all because the one thing I couldn’t understand in this movie is what Margaret is thinking. Isn’t that strange? She’s only the protagonist. But the woman who plays her has this damn blank expression, so when she looks at Thornton, I think "she must like him. No, wait, that can’t be right. Is she angry? Sad? Sleepy?" until I finally give up and settle on nothing.

And why is Thornton always in a state of undress? He’s always undoing his bowtie, rolling up his sleeves, even in the prescence of ladies. He’s the only one walking around outside hatless. One time he picks his hat up, and then puts it back down. They probably think he looks stupid in his hat, which is a top hat, and sadly, I have to concur. Not that I’m complaining. Mmm, glimpses of arms and throat are possibly the closest to sex we’ll get in a period drama. Here he is emoing it out while Mr. Bell tries to tell him not to be a dick about Margaret. The stance he is in is either "I don’t want to speak to you" or "I shall dance away my troubles in a box similar to a go-go cage."

You know that part in P&P where they are getting married, and Darcy smiles big for the first time, and it kind of ruins the whole movie for you? That doesn’t happen here. Severe Thornton has at most small sheepish smile throughout the movie, and at the end his smile progresses to a little bigger and a little sleepy with contentedness. At the end she’s all "I am trying to keep face and be civil," and he’s all "shut up already." It is so cute.

This movie makes me love it, and also makes me consider rewatching Robin Hood with more reverance. He’s incredibly sexy here, not bogged down with too much leather, long hair, and eye liner as he is in the British series. Though I’m not used to the Victorian garb. Every once in a while I look at his bowtie and remember that quote I heard first from a Woody Allen film.

"It’s the truth that you should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. Cravat’s supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why’d you wanna trust somebody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?"