By Blodwyn Pigs Might Fly
I've just watched the last episode of BBC1's excellent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South. I was wondering if anyone on here has read the book and, if so, how much was lost for the TV version? I sensed quite a lot, as time passed in a flash at times: one minute Mr Hale was happy in Oxford, the next he was dead, then Margaret was leaving Milton, then she was in London, then she was in Helston, then she was back in Milton. There were four deaths of significant characters in Episode 3 alone - they were dropping like flies towards the end.
Also, does anyone know if the fact that Manchester was renamed Milton was Mrs G's little joke? The phrase "Dark Satanic Mills" comes from William Blake's poem, usually called Jerusalem when sung, but whose real name is Milton.
This novel is set in 1830s Manchester, at the time when the Trades Union movement was just starting.
Mary Barton is the motherless daughter of a mill worker who has been 'laid off' after a fire at the mill. He is involved in fighting for workers rights.
Mary has her head turned by the mill owners son, and turns her back on her honest working-man sweetheart. Following a confrontation between the two men over Mary, the mill owners son is murdered. Mary's suitor is arrested, as circumstantial evidence points to his guilt.
Mary now realises that she loves him, and although she discovers who the killer is, a greater loyalty means that she must prove Jem's innocence without betraying the real perpetrator.
The plot veers towards the melodramatic, and the writing is a little heavy going, but as a sample of a classic Northern "trouble at t'mill" 19th century social commentary, you can't get more typical!
This book sat on my bookshelf for years, and I am so grateful to the BBC's serialisation for prompting me to read it at last.
Originally published in parts for Dicken's Household Worlds it describes the personalities and doings of a small market town through the eyes of Mary Smith, a one-time resident and frequent visitor.
The social elite of the town are a group of middle aged women. Men are few, being either dead or away on business, so that any that do make an appearance are subject to much interest and speculation. Cranford and its inhabitants are a bit behind the times, genteel and, if a little censorious, well-meaning and kindly.
Mary's anecdotes of the small concerns of the main characters (Miss Jenkyns, Miss Matty, Miss Pole) and their friends and acquaintances are mainly amusing, and sometimes downright funny, so that when the occasional disaster or small tragedy occurs the contrast is quite moving.
There is a huge coincidence, so loved of many Victorian writers, which helps bring a satisfactory conclusion to the story. It is a convention I enjoy quite as much as the original readers, and it in no way spoils a story from this period for me.
Cranford has been one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year.
Elizabeth Gaskell's last, and unfinished, novel centres on Molly Gibson, a doctor's daughter living in the country town of Hollingford, whose life changes dramatically when she learns she is to have a new stepmother in the beautiful but affected Mrs Kirkpatrick. Molly's anguish is partially relieved when she is introduced to her new stepsister Cynthia, but her love for the beautiful Cynthia soon causes problems for her, particularly when she gets entangled in Cynthia's secrets and when Molly's friend Roger Hamley falls for Cynthia's charms.
Like North and South, morality and secrets play a part in this novel, though it's far less didactic and preachy. There's a lot of charm here, and the characters are well drawn and interesting. Aside from the sweet-natured yet passionate Molly, Squire Hamley, who has a good heart for all his bluster, is also wonderful. I also enjoyed Mr Gibson, whose dislike of sentimentality conceals a tender devotion to his daughter, and who also has a wonderfully sarcastic wit. Steady, dependable Roger is also very interesting, where he might have been dull, and even the willful Cynthia has surprising depth to her character.
While the book is unfinished, it's almost there. Gaskell had only a chapter to write before her death and we know how it's meant to end. Even though it's not technically finished, it's still a very satisfying read indeed. Excellent stuff.
Ruth is a typical Victorian moral tale in which the eponymous heroine, as an innocent, beautiful young girl, orphaned and without a guiding influence, is seduced by a handsome and wealthy young man.
Owing to the force of circumstances, but without much of a fight, he abandons her far from her home. She is rescued in her moment of deepest despair by Thurston Benson, a Dissenting minister, who is much older, and crippled, therefore cannot be suspected by the reader of improper motives, He takes her to his home far from the scenes of her disgrace where, as Ruth has now discovered that she is pregnant, he and his sister tell people that she is recently widowed, and let them assume she is a distant relative - much to the disapproval of their elderly and forthright housekeeper, Sally. (Quite my favourite character).
Ruth’s sweet nature, modesty and natural beauty of both form and spirit win hearts within the household and the congregation. All adore the babe when he arrives, and from then on Ruth devotes her life to his welfare .
In spite of the virtuous life she leads after her one youthful fall, once her story comes out she is rejected by her so-called friends, as is Mr Benson for lying about her past, and deceiving righteous folk into receiving into their homes a sinner who should be cast out of decent society.
The child, too is grievously affected by the revelations.
The family struggle through times of hardship and disgrace, and eventually Ruth’s selfless devotion to the sick and poor bring her respect and admiration - and to a sad end.
The book was considered quite indecent when it was first published. Not only does the immoral behaviour of the heroine go unpunished, but when parted from her lover she clearly intends to take her own life. Also shocking is the deception practiced on his congregation by a Christian Minister.
The religious content might put a number of readers off, but it is a feature of many novels of the period, as is the heightened emotion which pervades the book. Much of it is harrowing (but I am happy to be harrowed), and it is a real tear-jerker. If you have any tenderness in your soul you will not be able to finish the book with dry eyes.
Although I quite like a book to bring a tear to the eye, it did seem at times that Ruth herself would never stop crying, and the first half of the book was particularly tear-sodden. Fortunately the plain-speaking Sally often gave them her welcome and amusing common-sense opinion of the proceedings.