Going South in the North

From my friend Jen’s blog, here

I originally intended this to be the start of a project with a friend of mine in which we each reviewed a literary work or film, me from as US perspective and her from a British one.  However, the idea never really sparked her fancy.  Perhaps, I can persuade Malcolm to take up the Brit role.  Anyway, here is the first review.  If you haven’t seen North and South, Netflix it immediately!!!

Woe to me if I ever miss an opportunity to watch a period drama! So, here goes.

Episode One
In her blog post, Jen highlighted North and South‘s similarities and differences with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Right from the outset they are easy to see:-

  • Darcy/Thornton
  • Elizabeth Bennett/Margaret Hale
  • Unwelcome marriage proposal
  • Rich families/Poor (relatively speaking) families
  • Initial antagonism between protagonists
  • Focus on home/Focus on home and larger society

The above comes from Episode One. I have not yet seen the next three nor read the book. I daresay once I have I will be able to list more, as well as confirm that after their initial antagonism, Thornton and Margaret fell in love and married as that is generally what happens in nineteenth century novels.

But enough of the future, what about Episode One? A couple of things jumped out at me while I watched it:-

Another brooding hero. First Darcy, then Heathcliff and Rochester, now the aptly named Thornton. I wonder how many more men of this type inhabit nineteenth century books that I don’t know about? As I watched the programme it occurred to me – for the first time, ever! – that the moody hero must have been to the nineteenth century what anti-heroes were to the late twentieth (and early twenty-first). We like our men mad, bad and dangerous to know. Thanks, Byron.

The North-South Divide. Margaret and her family come from the south. Milton in the north is a grimy, factory town. Cue culture shock. It doesn’t end there; unlike Jane Austen, we see people at political rallies. Has Gaskell something to say about the condition of the working class during the Industrial Revolution? If she does, will she say something real or just give us a Guardian reading liberal’s hand-wringing rejection of what the evil Capitalist Masters are up to… while still benefitting from their work?

The reason why North and South’s N/S divide made an impression on me is that, when I was growing up in the 80s, the north/south divide was a real live issue in politics here in Britain due to the perceived or actual (I am not going to get into the argument here) bias of Margaret Thatcher’s policies towards the south. I never realised that the idea went any further back. Upon watching North and South, I smiled ruefully at how wrong I was.


Loss of Faith. Before the series starts, Mr Hale – along with the other clergy in his diocese was asked by their bishop to affirm the tenets of the Church of England’s articles of faith. Mr Hale couldn’t, so took the honourable decision to quit rather than continue in his post. Matters of conscience – especially when they affect other people as well as oneself – are extremely difficult matters to deal with. Religious ones are surely the most difficult of all. The man who asks himself if he can continue working for Company X because it trades in a potentially unethical manner only has to consider his relationship to the company. If he can’t reconcile himself to working for it, he may resign, move to another and start over. It isn’t quite so easy with religion, though. For even if one loses one’s faith completely so that one becomes an atheist, having a religious faith involves living in a certain way as well as believing certain things, so that even though one loses one’s faith in God, it might still be more natural to still live according to the old pattern with the resulting heartache that comes from that. I feel sorry for Mr Hale that he lost his faith and although the series is about Mr Thornton and Margaret I hope we see a little more of his journey. Even if we don’t, he certainly has my respect – his decision to quit was a very brave one.

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