Dear Ms. Gaskell,
I finally finished your novel, North and South. I was dubious as to whether I would indeed, do that, and I was completely unsure as to how I would feel about said novel when I turned off my iPhone. Since I listened to the audio and all. I did finish it on the “liking” it side, but that is no thanks to your stellar writing, lovely and engaging characters, or tendency to being a windbag.
No, you have our own Iris, to thank for that.
So, tell her thank you, Ms. Gaskell. Oh, that’s right. You’re dead.
Yes, Iris did a much MUCH better job of explaining ole Mags than you did. That Iris, she’s brilliant, I tell you. You could learn a few things from her, you know, if you ever get over that “being dead” thing. There has been talk your novel needed zombies, so this may be something you want to consider.
So, yes, let me get on tangent, if we’re lucky, and talk about ole Mags. Mags is a hard character to like. She’s stoic. She’s emotional. She’s resilient. She’s…I don’t know how to put it other than Stuck in a Rut. To me, she seems to have little purpose in this story, at least for 99.5% of the book, other than to take care of her sick mother, then look after her despondent father, and worry about her traitorous brother. For most of the book, I was like, but what about Margaret? What does she want to do? Does she want to get married (kind of obviously not!)? Does she want to… well… what can she do? A woman of her social standing can’t work, right? It’s marry or be a spinster. (Aside…is it ever told how old she is?) But then, lo and behold, she gets purpose! Kindly (yet slightly creepy) Mr. Bell leaves her his fortune! Happy days, Mags has something to do with herself! Oh, wait, no, let’s just give it to Mr. Thornton. Because you know that’s what she’s going to do, right? Give it to Mr. Thornton? Because he’s teh man?
See, this is normally where I go WTF Mrs. Gaskell? WTF!
But then Iris, dear, sweet Iris, chimes in and breaks Margaret on down. Margaret is a rebel. All of that above? The “what she’s supposed to be doing”-ness of her? She’s not doing it. She wants no part it in, if her heart isn’t in it. Yes, she’s a bit brutal in her rejections, but she recognizes that these men (at least at the time) are not for her. She gives them the whatever and goes on about her business. And y’all. For a woman of her situation, age (if it’s young, which I think it is), that takes balls. She is, in her own subtle way, subverting her roll in life. Props to Mags. She is going to be honest and if that makes her a bitch? Well, so be it.
I’ve seen some say that Margaret’s devastation after the death of her father was out of character. After all, she was the rock when Mrs. Hale died. I actually don’t think this is the case. Who was Margaret being a rock for? Her father. Take her father away and who’s left? Who does Margaret need to be “the rock” for? No one. Freddy’s in Spain getting it on with his young Spanish Lolita. Mr. Thornton is off…being Mr. Thornton. Loving her, yes, but he’s not around. The only people around are Edith, her Captain Lennox, and the babies. Who needs to be a rock for Edith? She’d just call you ugly and toss you out in the drive. So Mags reaction to her father’s death didn’t bother me in the least.
What bothered me is that it took almost TWO YEARS for her to realize (if you can call it that) that she loved Mr. Thornton. There were intimations, but no AH HA! moment. I wanted an AH HA! moment Mrs. Gaskell. Really. And while your “delicious silence” was, well, delicious, ending it right there was just cruel and unusual punishment. I listened to over 30 hours of audio. That was very little payout in the end.
It’s probably hard to tell I liked it. If I gave it a rating, on a scale of 0-5, I’d probably give it at 3.5. Gaskell is a windy old bag, but I like her heart. And yeah, I’ll probably read another Gaskell someday. Maybe Mary Barton. It looks positively tiny next to North and South. Wives and Daughters too, for that matter. I can’t wait to watch the miniseries. I’m hoping they used an editor. I wish you had had one.
So, thanks for going on this journey with Andi and I. You guys made this all the fun in the world. And N&S needed all the help it could get. See you in September for The Little Stranger?