Monday, February 4, 2013

The Classics Club: North and South

Today, I have a confession to make.  A little one, yes, but a confession nonetheless.

I was hesitant--really, really hesitant--to join the Classics Club.

My sister went before me.  And though she's younger than me, in many ways I behave like the younger sister.  "If Anne-girl's going to do it, then I'm gonna do it too."  She put her name on the Classics Club membership roll, made a list of fifty or so titles, and started reading.  And since she did it, I took the plunge and did it too.  And then... I kinda-sorta started to regret my decision.

Don't get me wrong; I love classic literature.  Reading books is one of my passions.  It wasn't the reading that made me fidgety-- it was the reviewing.  Because I can't stand writing book reviews.  Being objective is practically impossible for me when I'm talking about a book I love, and trying to make the story sound interesting to others without spoiling it is... um.... not my strong point.  And so each and every book post I've written since joining the Club has been... well... difficult.

My dear Melody and I read North and South together during the month of November (okay, so I overlapped a wee bit into December... your point?) and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, all the time I kept thinking in the back of my mind, "I'm going to have to review this on my blog when I finish..."  Not liking the prospect, I put it off and put it off.

And then earlier this week I read a fantastic (yes, truly fantastic) post by Mabel, a fellow book blogger and Classics Clubber.  Her blog is private, so I won't link to it here, but if she's reading this I just want her to know that she made my week.  Because this fantastic post she wrote was all about writing one's thoughts about a book as opposed to writing an objective review, and how both approaches are perfectly acceptable.  
"For me," Mabel says, "expressing that beauty [of discovering people through literature] is the thing. Fumbling through it, journaling, shooting out half-baked ideas and questions about books. That’s so much more fulfilling to me than analysis, which absolutely contributes to the journey for me — but is by no means the soul of it. I know that analysis can allow us to see books from different perspectives. But the human factor, the emotion, the intuition, the visceral reaction, the journey! It’s vital. To dismiss it as unimportant to the literary conversation goes against everything I believe literature stands for.
Thank you, Mabel. That was completely what I needed to hear.  I've been trying all this time to write left-brained reviews for the Classics Club and pushing off my impressions of the books because they didn't sound focused enough to be truly good.  I mean, who wants to read my personal opinion on books?  If people are looking for a book review, they want to know the bare bones of the story (premise only, no spoilers) and how long it is and whether there are any boring parts.  Right?  Right??

Eh, maybe not.  Maybe not always.  After all, that's not the kind of review I look for.  I like to know what people think of books, what parts they liked best and which character they identified the most.  Why shouldn't I write reviews that fit that bill?

So today I bring you my thoughts and impressions of North and South.  If you haven't yet read the book and are looking for a good review to determine whether you want to read it or not, this isn't the post for you.  But if you, like me, have read N&S and enjoyed it, then please do stick around and add your two cents.

I think the most outstanding aspect of this N&S reread (and I'm using the word in the sense of "something that really stood out") was Margaret Hale's character.  I felt that I got to know her far, far better this time around than I did the first time, and certainly better than I would have if I had only seen the movie.  For though the movie's portrayal of her is excellent, there are certain wee Margaret-details that got lost in the translation from book to movie.  So little of Margaret's inner struggle during the Hales' uprooting (uprootment?) from Helstone is shown in the movie, yet the book deals with her feelings quite unflinchingly.   I felt myself identifying with Margaret so much more in the book than I ever could in the movie.

Take the hand-shaking scene, for another example.  Sure, in the movie there's a wee explanation after the fact about how Margaret wasn't accustomed to taking a gentleman's hand like that.  But it still rather looks as if she's just being haughty.  In the book, however, the real circumstances are made quite clear.  "It was the frank familiar custom of the place, but Margaret was not prepared for it.  She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention."

"Quiet strength" was the phrase that kept coming to mind when I read about Margaret.  And I think that very well may be the attribute I admire most in a heroine.  Elinor Dashwood comes to mind when I think of that phrase; so do Amy Dorrit, Esther Summerson, even Anne Shirley to a certain extent.  Because quiet doesn't necessarily mean silent.  Margaret, indeed, is pretty outspoken.  Yet she remains a lady no matter what: gracious, dependable, anything but a wimp or shrinking violet, yet feminine.  That's what a heroine ought to be.

Mr. Thornton, too, was more likable in the book-- NO NO STOP THROWING ROCKS.  I DO NOT MEAN THAT HE IS NOT LIKABLE IN THE MOVIE.  I only meant that I got to know him better in the book, that I understood where he was coming from, so to speak.  I liked how Mrs. Gaskell shows us things from his point of view now and again.  I tend to get annoyed with narrative in contemporary fiction that switches back and forth between the hero and the heroine, but in this case it didn't annoy me at all.  (Though I must say, things that annoy me in "modern books" almost never seem to annoy me when it comes to older books.  Either I'm a snob or they Just Don't Write the Way They Used To.  Take your choice.)  I think I may write a post entirely about Mr. Thornton sometime soon-- I seem to have a great deal to say about him, and not much space for it today.

Henry Lennox is also dealt with more gently in the book than in the movie.  I abhor his character in the movie.  One gets the feeling that if he really HAD helped Margaret to explain her business proposition, it might have been "explained" a wee bit differently and with, perhaps, some more violence than she had bargained for.  (Um. Sorry. Inside joke.)  In the book, he's a genuinely nice young man who is interested in Margaret because he likes her, not because... well, in the movie there really isn't any reason for him to like Margaret because their relationship is too rushed.  (Why is this post suddenly becoming a book-to-movie comparison?  Maybe because my entire life is made up of book-to-movie comparisons.  I need to find a new hobby.)  The Henry Lennox who appeared in my head when I read about him looks somewhat like Benedict Cumberbatch in a top hat, not a scowling koala with caterpillar sideburns.   I want the Henry Lennox of the book to have a happy ending with some other nice girl (not Margaret.  Obviously).  I want the Henry Lennox of the book to end up with Ann Latimer.  Evidently, something was lost in the translation from book to movie.

However, I do prefer Mrs. Thornton's characterization in the movie.  In the book, she's too stern, too unbending, too proud and prejudiced.  I have a grudging respect for her in the book, I suppose, but we see too little of her tender relationship with her son for me to truly like her the way I do in the movie.   In the movie you get the feeling that she will eventually love and accept Margaret for John's sake-- in the book, Margaret's last line does not exactly convey that idea.  "Hush, or I shall try and show you your mother's indignant tones as she says, 'That woman!'"

All in all, though, I have to return to my broken recording recurring theme-- the book is always better.  Always.

Just go read it.


Tayler said...

Miss Dashwoood, you've convinced me. I am an incurable bibliophile and adore the movie, so there isn't any real reason why I haven't read this book yet. This type of "review" - the delightfully personal kind - is just the thing that prompts me to actually pick up a book and start reading, instead of merely adding it to my miles long to-be-read list. :-) Thank you!

Btw, I've been a silent reader here for quite awhile, but I recently decided to actually pop out and comment here and there on some of the blogs that I really enjoy. I'm a homeschool grad, oldest daughter of six kids, and total bookworm. :-)


Emily Coleman said...

I've been going through the same sort of thing on my blog--I don't like writing reviews, either. I think what it comes down to is that classics don't need the bare-bones reviews because chances are, if people are reading what you have to say about it, they have already read it or are going to read it no matter whether you say it's boring or funny or what. I try to just write my opinions, questions, ponderings, etc. about the classics I read.

BatZion said...

I have the book coming in the mail... I can't wait to read it! :)

Melody said...

Haha, I didn't know you'd been hesitant to join the Classics Club. Actually, I didn't know you had done so until afterwards anyways. :P But I was hesitant for exactly the same reason. I have such trouble with reviews! But you know, it didn't really say we had to REVIEW each book... it just said 'post about it'. ;) So that's why I decided that for the ones I didn't want to write whole posts about, I would just post each 5 books and write a paragraph or two about what I thought of each. There, I posted about them.
Of course, I haven't nearly gotten to five books of that description yet, because I ended up posting about many of them separately (if they were JA, for instance, or part of some other blogging project).

But I totally agree. It's much nicer just to write what you thought about a book rather than what it's about. You know how I am--I don't usually even read reviews of things I haven't seen/watched, unless I'm actually trying to find out information about it... but I usually just Ask People to do that. :D

Yep yep, I agree, Margaret is better and Mr. Thornton is better. Actually, I like Mr. Thornton a lot better. I won't throw rocks at you. :P He seemed so much less cold and harsh, y'know? And I felt more on his side. AND he gave Margaret more of a chance. And Margaret was also more anxious for him to find out the truth about things, and it was very rude of Mr. Bell not to take it upon himself to tell him.

Oh, I nevah did answer your last email about N&S, did I? Hmm... I should.


Marie said...

I very much liked that bit about expressing one's thoughts and impressions. I prefer that way as well, but hadn't thought of it as being so official.
Reading your review...Margaret, agree...Mr. Thornton, I don't quite understand why the Henry of the movie gets such a bad beating. I liked him a lot and felt very sorry for him, but maybe that's just me. The only thing that much against him in the movie, I think, is the way he triumphs over Mr. Thornton in that brilliant exhibition scene. (Anyone who hasn't done this: your N&S fandom will not be complete until you have watched this scene in slow motion. The expressions--especially Fanny's--are very funny.)
Haha yes, it think it might have been more violent...although I have no idea where I could have gotten such an impression.... :D

Margaret Hale said...

I loved your review! And I agree completely with what you said about reviewing books. The more emotional, involved sort is soooo much more interesting than the analytical kind.

I think almost all the characters are more likeable in the book. Mr.Thornton, too, is more likeable early on in the story. In the movie you don't really like him at all until about halfway through, but in the book you at least sympathize with him almost from the beginning. Unfortunately Anne Latimer is not in the book so the reason for her lack of speech will remain forever a mystery.
It is a pity about Henry. I really like him in the book, and almost none of his good qualities come out in the movie.
I wonder what would have happened if Henry had helped explain in the way you describe? Or maybe Margaret wouldn't have bothered to get out of the train in the first place and would just sit there twiddling her thumbs until the northbound train passes by and they can resume their journey ;)

Analiese said...

Love this book - just bought it the other day. :D You do get to know the characters very well, and I love how Margaret is portrayed - a lot different than the movie portrays her, I think. And I'm going to read Wives and Daughters soon, too. :D Have a lovely day!

Stephanie said...

Oh, this post is perfect! Well, very nearly so... I am afraid I must disagree with your evaluation of Mrs. Hannah Thornton. I absolutely love her in the book. . . But, I'm going to stop there and do my own post about it because I have so much to say and so little room.

Miss Margaret Dashwood said...

Hi, I love your blog and I've chosen to award you @ An Accomplished Young Lady, please check it out!

wxroz said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for awhile, but I finally decided to comment!

I'm glad you decided to throw out the idea of writing a "standard" review, in favor of just sharing your thoughts and feelings about what you've read. I find objective reviews really boring. And if I've read the book in question, I usually have no interest in hearing someone's watered down synopsis! Especially when it comes to classic literature, usually the story is well known anyway.

I have to disagree with you and the others who commented. I've read North & South twice, and I didn't like it at all. I found it extremely boring except for the Margaret and Mr. Thornton interactions. I thought the movie was better! However, I'm one that liked the Mr. Thornton of both the movie and the book right from the start.

Even though I don't agree with all of your assessments, I think this is a great review! I liked to hear how you related to the characters.

I'm in the Classics Club as well, and I look forward to reading more of your classics reviews! (Sorry this comment is so long...)

Indigo Montoya said...

I've got my copy of 'North and South' on my bed and I'm about to give it a re-read : ) I LOVE this book but I haven't read it in about 3 or 4 years. Believe it or not this book review is a really well-written post and you put your views across extremely well. And it's long! I love long book reviews : ) I DO disagree with you about books always being better though. Sure 99% of the time that's true but not always. Ever heard of 'The Prestige'? The film is SOOO much better than the book! It's the only film I've read where all of the characters are actually better-developed and more likeable than they are in the book! And the book has a really boring and unnecessary subplot in the modern-day which the film scrapped.