21/11/2009

SATURDAY NIGHT CLASSIC READING : NORTH AND SOUTH BY ELIZABETH GASKELL

"Big man as he was, he trembled at the idea of what he had to say..."

Today there has been a merry gathering of ladies coming from various parts of the world in London organized by members of  C19 . They celebrated BBC 2004 NORTH & SOUTH's  fifth birthday. It was  in fact first aired  in November 2004. Since I couldn't join them there, I thought I could take part in the celebration dedicating  my Saturday Night Classic Reading to

re-reading and re-watching Gaskell's NORTH AND SOUTH

 This novel is one of my favourite ever and its BBC adaptation is one my best-loved costume dramas. So if you have time, I've prepared this long multimedia posting ...Tomorrow is Sunday, isn't it?



When Margaret Hale arrives in Milton - in the industrial northern district of England - she is so disappointed by the bleak, smoky, noisy, grey atmosphere of the place. Her father has left the Church and decided to uproot his family from Helstone , in the beautiful countryside of the South of England. Margaret is greatly prejudiced against the people from the North and their rather direct, almost wild manners. So she starts idealizing the South.
Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe)Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe)
Mr Bell, one of Mr Hale’s former university mates, suggested them to settle in Milton where he owns a cotton mill run by his tenant, Mr John Thornton. Mr Thornton helps the Hales to find accomodation and becomes Mr Hale’s friend and pupil. He is handsome and smart, self-confident and successful in his job, greatly appreciated in Milton both as an entepreneur and a magistrate.


Margaret instead doesn’t like him at all , she doesn’t hide  her dislike of him and often argues with him when he comes round as one of Mr Hale’s private pupils. He represents everything Margaret despises in the North, especially now that she has started making new acquaintances among the working people and sympathising with their struggle against their masters. She makes friends to the Higgins, Bessy who suffers from an illness caused by her past  work  in a cotton mill, and her father, Nicholas, a strong-willed worker and one of the leaders of the Union.


Mr Thornton is attracted by Margaret’s beauty and by her firmness; her strong personality and her cold detached manners soon win him. She, perhaps, reminds him his mother to whom he has been deeply attached since his father committed suicide in a moment of financial difficulty. Young Thornton, then, had to work hard to pay back his father’s debts and to provide for his mother and sister. He is a self – made man and he is proud of his accession in society.
 But, unfortunately, he is not a gentleman in Margaret’s eyes and she continues siding with the workers. Until one day some of them  organize a riot against Mr Thornton. The workers  have been on strike for about a month to protest against their lowered wages. All the mills in Milton have stopped their activities, the workers’ families are starving, when they heard that Mr Thornton has brought in black – leg workers from Ireland. Their rage  mounts and they are ready to attack the unfortunate Irish hidden at Marlborough Mill.   Margaret is, by chance, visiting the Thorntons just on that day and she finds herself involved.
She prompts Thornton to face the  furious crowd and to defend the poor Irish workers from their violence:
“ Mr Thornton, go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save the poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don’t let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad
(E. Gaskell, North and South, chap. XXII, vol.I).

 But when she realizes she has put him in terrible danger, since some of the boys and men in the crowd have wooden clogs in their hands and  are ready to throw them at him, she puts her arms around Thornton  and makes her body a shield between him and their rage. She takes a blow on her forehead and faints, before the soldiers arrive the workers retreat and run away.



Her action  is completely misinterpreted  by John Thornton who proposes to Margaret the next morning. The girl is even offended by his proposal and rejects him firmly, expressing all her contempt: “Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous. I cannot help it … but your whole manner offends me . … You seem to fancy that my conduct of yesterday …was a personal act between you and me; and that you may come and thank me for it, instead of perceiving, as a gentleman would … that any woman, worthy of the name of woman, would come forward to shield... a man in danger from the violence of numbers”(E. Gaskell, North and South, chap. XXIV, vol. I)

NOW , TAKE SOME TIME TO WATCH AND LISTEN TO GREG WISE READING THE ENTIRE PROPOSAL SCENE FROM THE BOOK (CLICK ON THE URL BELOW  THE PICTURE ) ;  THEN, IF YOU WANT, YOU CAN COMPARE THE TEXT  WITH THE SAME SCENE IN THE BBC ADAPTATION.








Margaret has got a brother,Frederick, a navy officer who lives in  forced exile since he led a mutiny against a violent unfair captain. He can be hanged as a traitor if caught. Since Mrs Hale’s delicate health and her “low spirits”, have brought her to serious illness, Margaret has written to him, and he risks his life in order to see their dying mother once again. He secretly arrives and as secretly leaves the house at night before the funeral .But he and Margaret are seen that night by Mr Thornton   at the station while departing.  Thornton thinks they are lovers and doubts  Margaret’s honourability since she is out alone with a man at night. Moreover, an old acquaintance of the family recognizes Frederick, the two men fights, young Hale succeeds in leaving Milton safe but … the next morning the man, named Leonard is found dead in the street and. even worse, someone witnessed the whole scene the previous night and told the police.
 A police inspector visits Margaret and asks her if the night of Leonard’s death she was out with a young man, because someone- one of the porters at the station - watched a beautiful young lady with a handsome young man , the same person  saw the  two men fighting  and would swear the lady was Margaret, he is sure. She denies as convincingly as she can: she has to protect her brother. The inpector leaves saying  that the case will be followed by Milton magistrate, John Thornton.
Mr Thornton, though doubting Margaret’s morality and truthfulness, decides there will be no further enquiry due to lack of evidence. Thornton wants to spare his friend, Mr Hale, from any involvement in the case: he has just lost his wife and is so depressed! But he, of course, wants also  to save Margaret from shame. The girl’s reaction is confused and troubled:
Mr Thornton had seen her close to Outwood station on the fatal Thursday night, and had been told of her denial that she was there. She stood as a liar in his eyes.…Oh, had anyone such just a cause to feel contempt for her? Mr Thornton, above all people, on whom she had looked down from her imaginary heights till now! She suddenly found herself at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall.”(E. Gaskell, North and South, vol.II , chap. X)
Margaret’s troubles have not ended, unfortunately. Her father ,too , dies. She is completely alone and has no reason to stay in Milton. Now she has started changing her attitude towards the north and its inhabitants, especially Mr Thornton, she has to leave. She is going to move to London with her aunt, Mrs Shaw, her cousin Edith and her husband Captain Lennox. She also discovers that Mr Bell, her father’s friend who owns Marlborough Mill , wishes  to make her his heiress: she will inherit his patrimony when he dies.
Mr Bell suddenly dies and Margaret becomes rich just when , Mr Thornton, now her tenant, is in great financial difficulties and has to leave his position at Marlborough Mill. When Margaret hears about Thornton’s disgraced situation decides to help him…She meets him in London … she has a business proposition for him : she receives very little interest for the money she has in the bank. She offers him a great sum  he can dispose of to run  Marlborough Mill. He will run the mill for her , she is sure he will give her a much higher interest.
It is the start of a different relationship between them….


 The TV version reflects Gaskell's atmospheres and characterizations but it has taken its liberties from the book, for instance ... the final scene... Margaret and John meet again at a train station, halfway between  Helstone and Milton. It is a really effective, romantic, moving finale but totally different from the ending pages of the novel which take place in Margaret's cousin's house in London. The protagonists  in the book hug in the sitting-room, hidden from indiscreet looks. Instead, quite unbelievable for mid-19th century Victorian England, in the movie the two ...  well ... have a look at this CLIP ....





 


10 comments:

phylly3 said...

Bravo Maria, for this very complete retelling and review of both the series and the book. Those lucky ladies at C19 must be having a wonderful time celebrating!
This is my favourite period drama of all time, and I am so glad that it inspired me to read the book and discover a long-neglected Victorian author who definitely outshines anything that Dickens wrote! I will endeavor to get my hands on the rest of the works of Elizabeth Gaskell.
Likewise, this adaptation of the book can never be surpassed, as even when it veers from the actual story, it does so for good reason and makes a better "visual" story.
There can never be a better ensemble cast than this one, and even the soundtrack is magical!
Thank you again for this posting...I only wish I hadn't lent out my DVD to a friend or I would go and watch it right now. Thank goodness for Youtube!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@phyllys3
I bet they are having a unforgettable time! Re-watching N&S all together on the huge screen of a cinema in London! Lucky ladies! We must be satisfied with what we have: DVDs, Utube, blogging ... Thanks for passing by and commenting! Have a good weekend!

Ana T. said...

What a wonderful post Maria Grazia, I'll have to re-watch it soon now. ;-)

Luciana said...

The ladies of C19 are definitely having a wonderful time! Imagine to see it in the cinema's big screen! You wrote a fabulous review of the book here. N&S is one of my favourite books and the series is probably my favourite period drama. For more that the ending scene is really different from the book and that would never have been acceptable, I couldn't feel outraged. It is so perfect and moving! Margaret is a fantastic character. I really like the way she grows throughout the book, how much she learns from life. And Mr Thornton is just my favourite "hero", if we can call him that, of all time. He overruled Mr Darcy in my opinion. His life is truly admirable. But what has fascinated me the most is how Elizabeth Gaskell has really shown how was England at those times. Soon after I finished N&S I read Eric Hobsbawm's "The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848" and it was almost like re-reading N&S. Its pages are all covered with my handwriting saying something about Gaskell's book. I hope people would study more of Elizabeth Gaskell. I was completely astonished to find out that the faculty of languages in my university has only one copy of N&S! We're in the top 40 universities in the world with the best collection of books, come on! I'll try to watch a bit of N&S to celebrate, but I really have to go back to my study, so it cannot be all I really wanted! Have a nice weekend!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@ANA T.
I've watched it "several" times and I also use it - just bits of it - in my lessons when we read and analyze Gaskell's N&S at school. I only discovered it last yea, anyhow. Enjoy your re-watching then! A wonderful Sunday time to you!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Luciana
Yeah! Can you imagine JT/RA's blue eyes on a huge screen?!? I'm sure all those ladies were sighing all the time! I know Gaskell is very useful to better understand the social context of the Victorian age and I love to teach about her and her novels. I also know that, unfortunately she is not so well-known adn even underestimated. I personally love her na dher work! Have a great Sunday, Lu. , and thanks for being always so ready to give your precious contributions to my blog! Big hug.

Charleybrown said...

Thanks for this post Maria!! As soon as I read it, I ran off to post it also! I was having a day where I needed to get work done and shouldn't have been online at all but the 5th anniversary of this beloved drama could not go without marking it in some way!! I would have LOVED to have been at the gathering last night! I can't even imagine what it would be like to watch North and South on a large screen gathered with others who treasure it as much as we do! There is definitely something special about this drama that has woven itself into our hearts. I'd like to think that it's NOT just the presence of the TDHCMO!
Great post!

Mulubinba said...

Thank you for this wonderful post Maria. It never fails to amaze me how much N&S means to so many people. I'm captivated by the fact that it facilitated a large group of people to form lasting friendships. I wish I had been around when it was released and I had been a part of the BBC message board all those years ago. I was deeply moved by the series (loved both endings - the book and the BBC rendition), and I was equally moved by the fellowship created between lovers of the series.

collarcitybrownstone said...

I am late in discovering Richard Armitage. I saw North & South for the very first time this past January and now I am a North & South movie addict and Richard Armitage fan. So much so that now I have a Richard Armitage page on my blog. Sometimes I wish I lived in England...LOL

I read A Heart for Milton and love Judy Brasure's take on what happens afterwards. It even had my tearing up at the end.

Your blog is very nice and informative.

Thank you

Xenia

Tia ShadowRealm said...

I absolutely love this miniseries and it encouraged me to buy the book and read it. It also got me into my Richard Armitage film-following phase :P He was adorable in the Vicar of Dibley and when he appeared in Captain America I was the only one who knew who he was.