It is difficult to roam the world-wide web with any interest in North & South without coming across comparisons to Pride & Prejudice. Though it can frustrate me, it’s an element that I’ve come to expect. In most circumstances, the comparison is being conducted by a loyal Austen fan. Therefore, it is no surprise that North & South is painted an imitation.
I, myself, am a fan of Austen. Ever since I was a child, I’ve gravitated toward period stories, loving to read about women in beautiful dresses and men with gentlemanly manners. Of course not all stories that I read fit this mold but you get the idea. Interestingly enough, Austen was not in the required reading list in school, so it wasn’t until college that I discovered Austen. I remember my initial struggle to adjust to her writing style which was true to her day. Terms such as “four and twenty” or “hither and thither” had to be added to my vocabulary! lol Once I adjusted, I devoured all that I could read and watched as many adaptations that I could find. So I can fully understand those that passionately flock to Austen’s banner.
I confess, when I first saw North & South, I also immediately saw the similarities in story lines. The failed proposal and the hero coming to the heroines rescue are hard to miss. Yet, at the same time, I saw the much deeper message that was contained in North & South. It is this deeper message that separates the stories and gives them their uniqueness.
What I’ve come to notice more recently, is that these comparisons inevitably lead to the authors. Which in turn brings us to the title of today’s topic, inspired by the popular saying, ”it’s like apples and oranges!” Though they are both fruit, they are very different. In the same manner, Gaskell and Austen are just that, writers but completely different. They lived in different eras, had different goals and have completely different writing styles.
While preparing to read Wives & Daughters by Gaskell, Trudy read a forward written by Amy Kind, Harvard grad, St John’s Univ. NYC professor.
“You will notice that the narrator (Gaskell) is not particularly intrusive, and especially not declarative. You might contrast this narrative style with Jane Austen’s; Austen’s narrative voice has a considerably more authoritative tact, and her arguments are achieved via narrative assertions or Socratic-like debates between characters. The ideas that the reader takes in when reading Gaskell are unfolded rather than stated, as they are more likely to be in the novels of George Eliot. Gaskell’s narrative style is subtle, one in which important facts unfold quietly in the form of self-reflexive analysis by characters.“
Though I am a layman when it comes to literary expertise, Ms. Kind lays out plainly what I’ve come to understand and love about Gaskell’s style of writing. Thornton’s love for Margaret is never explained in formal words, but revealed to the reader in the course of his inner thoughts. This is even more true of Margaret. Though I’ve debated this fact many times over, I am still convinced that Margaret’s attraction to Thornton began way back when she first noticed his smile in her parents drawing room. Her attraction and eventual love for him grew ever so slowly, so much so that even Margaret herself does not grasp it until after he had rescued her from the inquest. Even the moment when she finally embraces her love for him, is missed by most readers. We ourselves discussed this very thing recently.
It is also why SO many modern readers mischaracterize the characters and the happenings in this amazing story. I’ve read endless reviews where the reviewer will lament the sudden ending. How so many of your average readers will completely miss the growing romance between these two lovers. They never identify Margaret’s love, because it is never declared in clear terms. Therefore the sudden reconciliation at the ending of the book feels out of character and abrupt.
As Ms. Kind so beautifully states, “…ideas that the reader takes in when reading Gaskell are unfolded rather than stated”. So many modern readers can’t cope with this style of writing. They expect things to be stated plainly, either in direct narration or through the course of dialogue between characters.
It is truly a shame to consider that so many come away from this amazing story either completely missing the beauty of it or missing the characters that Gaskell created and developed.
One of the things that I love the most about Gaskell, is the fact that each time I read her work, I get something new from it. Some new element that I had not caught before. Her perfection in weaving her characters to be real and not fairytale like, always leaves the door open for new discovery. Her characters were filled with faults and weaknesses. They presumed things and selfishly misunderstood. All the while also displaying amazing strengths and an eventual willingness to mature and grow. With this in mind, it is no wonder that we discover new things with every read.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I adore Austen, Bronte and have even read a bit of Elliot. I appreciate them all for how differently they are.
I’m glad that there are apples and oranges and bananas and grapes and ooh a personal favorite, watermelon! LOL
Needless to say, though my appreciation for classic stories is as wide as my love for fruit, North & South will always be the watermelon! LOL
Get 3 used Books for JUST $21 at goHastings.com! Use promo code: PLAYONWORDS. Valid 8/11/13-8/24/13. Shop Now!