Monday, May 12, 2008

North and South, by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Alright, alright - so. Leaving aside the fact that Cleghorn is a most unfortunate name, let's go on...
This, actually, was a really enjoyable read! Not that I mean to sound shocked, mind you, I mean, it was originally published as a serial by Charles Dickens. You know, like Charles Dickens. So, it can't be THAT bad. But it was really an enjoyable read, and felt like England in a way that I, an uneducated, inexperienced Yank, loved.
Now, understand, oh gentle reader -

Wait, quick aside. I was talking about this with Amanda the other day. Don't you love books where they use the old 'O Gentle Reader' thing? To wit, this quote from Wordsworth:

61My gentle Reader, I perceive,
62How patiently you've waited,
63And now I fear that you expect
64Some tale will be related.

65O Reader! had you in your mind
66Such stores as silent thought can bring,
67O gentle Reader! you would find
68A tale in every thing.

Doesn't that just have a charming, outdated mixture of paternal superiority and generic love? It's like Ward Cleaver reading a poem. Only... with coattails, and foppish curly hair. Anyway, I told Amanda I think I should write an entire book of letters written to 'Dear O Gentle Reader'. Love letters, sort of. Anyway, take that for what it's worth. So, back to Ms. Gaskell.

Now understand, O gentle reader (Don't worry, June, I'll have a talk with the Beaver...), I am not saying that our friend Ms Gaskell is entirely perfect in her sense of the realistic and genuine - to be entirely fair, any honest soul who has read anything by Charles Dickens might be forced to admit that he wasn't neccesarily so worried about having characters that actually acted like REAL human beings. Only, that's the charm of this book! When you read, say, Oliver Twist, there is a bit of a twinge of guilt, as you realize that all this 'good guy, bad guy' black and white world is really designed to make it easier for us mere mortals to pretend that we can make decisions without pricking at our conscience. It's sadly the sort of thing that makes men, say, think of Jews as all 'Dirty hook-nosed Fagans', and that will make us all ashamed (as a side note, Mr. Dickens felt extremely bad, later in life, about the anti-semitic tone of this particular chatacter). It's ugly business, even if it's well written, sometimes.

But that's just what's so wonderful about this book - it has the caricatured humanity of a Dickens novel, the ardent search for truth in worlds where there isn't neccesarily truth to be found, mixed with the a bit of almost Austen-like sensitivity to the impartial humanity of everyone in the whole wide book. The poor and the rich, the petty and the overly grave, everybody in this book is really a human being, even if they are a caricatured human being, and nobody is entirely bad. Even people who are bad. I love, for instance, poor Boucher, who's really, indeed, a putz without much moral courage, or really, brains, who really does want to feed his family more than anything, and loves his kids like his own life, then *SPOILER* drowns himself *END SPOILER*.

Anyway, it really was an interesting book, and particularly because it ties in with some of what I've been writing. The contrast between the country and the factory town is, if a bit confused, extremely poignant, and I love that, in the end, Ms Gaskell can out and out admit that really, there is no perfection, that progress crushes some under it's wheels, but that tradition is irresistably linked to stagnancy asmuch as it's linked to stability.


Amanda said...

Okay, so who's the creepy guy in the picture? The O Gentle Reader?

Anonymous said...

That's what I want to know.

Byron said...

Jason didn't exactly hide the guy's identity. Sleuth a little... I found him. (hint: link in picture)

What I want to know is, what's the book about? I got England, some guy with a family, and struggling to survive. Is it basically just a book about some people trying to get by in hard times?

Amanda said...

Well, it's apparently about unions and socialism, by his tags, not that those are mentioned anywhere in the review...

Unknown said...

Just an FYI, all - if you wanted a plot synopsis, sensible coherent thoughts, or any of the other earmarks of a good review, I'm not sure my reviews are the places to look for these things...

That's William Cleghorn, by the way. I think he's a professor.

Amanda said...

Here's a link to the summary at Wikipedia:

North and South

Anonymous said...

I think I like the O Gentle Reader explanation better. I'll stick with that one in my head.

Byron said...

Jason, I wasn't trying to put down your review. The thoughts you offer us are always insightful, hyper-creative, and open up pathways to ideas that would otherwise never be opened.

My reviews, on the other hand, probably explain far too much and come across as dull as sandstone.

I'm very new to book reviews, and I'm sure I don't know what to expect from one nor what to put into one. Time for some research, IMO. Everyone else, carry on, and pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard.

Amanda said...

Oh, you're fine Byron, your reviews are just fine. We all have our different styles. And I pretty much have done nothing but complain for the most part in mine, so I guess I'm the moody, depressing one. :)

Amanda said...

Byron - the picture's back, only it's updated! Jason and I didn't change it - I just came to look at the X's you were telling me back and it looks like the website was just updating his profile pick. We still have our O Gentle Reader!