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, " that beauty [of discovering people through literature] 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
Just go read it.