Friday 15 February 2019

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)

After watching the BBC version of North & South multiple times and enjoying it so much, I decided it was time to read the novel.
What the movie doesn’t portray, due to obvious time constraints, is the depth of thought and exploration of character that Gaskell put into her work. Nuances, pertinent quotations at the beginning of each chapter, descriptions of landscape and people, the thought processes of the various characters etc. went by the wayside in the translation from book to movie. In some ways the movie and book were totally different experiences; almost two different stories, but in other ways they complemented each other.

If you’ve read Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell’s first book, it’s almost a foreshadowing of North & South as it takes place in an industrial town for the most part and deals with the social problems that surfaced in that setting.

Margaret Hale and her parents leave their beloved village in the south of England to live in the industrial north when her father gives up his role of vicar after struggling with a matter of conscience.
Their new life in Milton (a fictional town akin to Manchester) brings them into contact with mill owners and workers and they are caught up in the tension between the two.
The movie focuses on the relationship between Margaret and Mr. John Thornton, an abrasive, driven,  mill owner who had worked hard to rise from impoverished circumstances to his current position.
They meet when the Hales rent a house from him and over time Thornton comes to love her and declares himself. Margaret scorns him at first but over a period of time she begins to appreciate and understand him and see him differently.

The book shows a much better development of this relationship than the movie. I enjoyed this conversation between the two of them early on in their relationship after Margaret asked Thornton if he thought a certain man, Mr. Morison, was a gentleman:

‘I am not quite the person to decide on another’s gentlemanliness, Miss Hale. I mean, I don’t quite understand your application of the word. But I should say that this Morison is no true man. I don’t know who he is; I merely judge him from Mr. Horsfall’s account.’

‘I suspect my “gentleman” includes your “true man.”’

‘And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man is to me a higher and a completer being than a gentleman.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Margaret. ‘We must understand the words differently.’

‘I take it that “gentleman” is a term that only describes a person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as “a man,” we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men, but in relation to himself - to life - to time - to eternity. A cast-away lonely as Robinson Crusoe - a prisoner immured in a dungeon for life - nay, even a saint in Patmos, has his endurance, his strength, his faith, best described by being spoken of as “a man.” I am rather weary of this word “gentlemanly,” which seems to me to be often inappropriately used, and often, too, with such exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full simplicity of the noun “man,” and the adjective “manly” are unacknowledged - that I am induced to class it with the cant of the day.’

Mr. Hale tutored John, who not having had opportunity for a proper education in his youth, now sought to study the Classics. The two men became good friends and Mr. Hale thought highly of his student but realised that his daughter didn’t. In a conversation regarding this Margaret said:

‘He is a man of great strength of character — of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has had.’

And Mr. Hales very astute answer, which I think is a wonderful observation about intellect generally:

‘Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that develops one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need - he perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.’

Hard times come upon John Thornton and he is tempted to speculate. His father had done so and when his attempts failed he had committed suicide leaving his wife to bring up John and his younger sister on her own. This had left a profound mark on John. His success as a self-made man and his moral character as to how he conducted his business dealings was something he was rightly proud of.
One night he was very low as he contemplated his future. I loved this conversation he had with his mother who was not very endearing in the movie but redeemed herself here:

‘I have so worked and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late — and now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is hard, mother.’

He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.

‘I can’t think,’ said she, with gloomy defiance in her tone, ‘how it comes about. Here is my boy - good son, just man, tender heart - and he fails in all he sets his mind upon: he finds a woman to love, and she cares no more for his affection than if he had been any common man; he labours, and his labour comes to nought...
‘I sometimes have wondered where justice was gone to, and now I don’t believe there is such a thing in the world...’

‘Mother!’ said he, holding her gently in his arms, ‘who has sent me my lot in life, both of good and of evil?’

She shook her head. She would have nothing to do with religion just then.

‘Mother,’ he went on, seeing that she would not speak, ‘I, too, have been rebellious; but I am striving to be so no longer. Help me, as you helped me when I was a child. Then you said many good words - when my father died, and we were sometimes sorely short of comforts - which we shall never be now; you said brave, noble, trustful words then, mother, which I have never forgotten, though they may have lain dormant. Speak to me again in the old way, mother. Do not let us have to think that the world has too much hardened our hearts. If you would say the old good words, it would make me feel something of the pious simplicity of my childhood. I say them to myself, but they would come differently from you, remembering all the cares and trials you have had to bear.’

‘I have had a many,’ said she, sobbing, ‘but none so sore as this. To see you cast down from your rightful place! I could say it for myself, John, but not for you. Not for you! God has seen fit to be very hard on you, very.’
She shook with the sobs that come so convulsively when an old person weeps. The silence around her struck her at last; and she quieted herself to listen. No sound. She looked. Her son sat by the table, his arms thrown half across it, his head bent face downwards.

‘Oh, John!’ she said, and she lifted his face up. Such a strange, pallid look of gloom was on it, that for a moment it struck her that this look was the forerunner of death; but, as the rigidity melted out of the countenance and the natural colour returned, and she saw that he was himself once again, all worldly mortification sank to nothing before the consciousness of the great blessing that he himself by his simple existence was to her. She thanked God for this, and this alone, with a fervour that swept away all rebellious feelings from her mind.

It was passages like the one above that gave an entirely different aspect on the character of both mother and son, aspects that the movie didn't portray in any depth. In fact, John Thornton seemed to be quite an irreligious man.

Another character that the movie didn’t really show to advantage was that of Henry Lennox, Margaret’s other suitor. He is shown to be jealous and full of rivalry towards Thornton but he actually helped Margaret and John in the end by bowing out and allowing them to meet on their own. He realised that he would never win Margaret and had the decency not to begrudge another who could. I thought he got a bit of a raw deal in the film.

The more I read Gaskell’s work, the more I appreciate her literary skill and her ability to craft a rich & satisfying story, as may be seen if you compare even two of her books, say Cranford and North & South.
In North and South Elizabeth Gaskell’s Christian beliefs were woven into the story very naturally along with some very thoughtful themes on the nature of man and character traits: rich and poor, masters and workers, men and women, social problems, class structure, trade unions, family life, pride and humility, prejudice and understanding...this is an excellent read and the movie is lovely even if it only deals with a small portion of the whole. I totally recommend both!

Ebooks Adelaide has a free, well done Kindle version.

North & South is my choice for no. 8) A Novel with a Christian Theme in the 2019 Christian Greats Challenge.


Tuesday 5 February 2019

Summer Smorgasborg: Nature Study, Notebooks & Mother Culture

It's summer in our part of the world and it's been pretty intense weather-wise. Bush/nature walks have been non-existent except for the occasional park early in the morning but we have had some nature finds around our garden.
Birdlife has been raucous with a few new visitors some of which I'm still trying to identify. We hear the birds here but getting a good look at them through the trees isn't easy.
I was excited to spot a lyrebird in a tree as I was sitting outside. That's a first for me.

A very brief spell of rain was most welcome - that was one time I got to go out walking:

“That best portion of a good man’s life, 
His little, nameless, unremembered acts 
Of kindness and of love.”


'There are always two ways of understanding other people's words, acts, and motives; and human nature is so contradictory that both ways may be equally right; the difference is in the construction we put upon other people's thoughts...
Of all the causes of unhappiness, perhaps few bring about more distress in the world than the habit, which even good people allow themselves in, of putting an ungentle construction upon the ways and words of the people they live with...
Kindness which is simple thinks none of these things, nor does it put evil constructions upon the thoughts that others may think in the given circumstances.'

Ourselves: Kindness in Construction.

I think, if for no other reason, this is something we need to nip in the bud so that our children don't pick up our habit in this area. Or if we don't have that inclination ourselves, it stills helps to point it out as something to be avoided.

Moozle's Nature Notebook:

These two book are our mainstays. Australian Nature Studies is used as a reference while Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies is a book Moozle reads each week.

Lots of these around at the moment: Eastern Water Dragon

Stick Insect (Phasmatodea)

Architecture Notebook & LEGO model of the Eiffel Tower - Moozle did this in the holidays. So good when their 'lessons' extend into their free time just because that's what they love to do.

Christmas bush leaves and flowers ravaged by the native birds and dropped on the sandstone capping on our verandah:

Summer Sunset from upstairs looking out over the bush:

Some cuttings left to grow roots on our laundry window sill: Nodding violet & fuchsia:

A late afternoon trip to the beach for dinner after a stinking hot day:

And this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us...

Our Natural History book by James Herriot is the second book in this series of memoirs and contains 'Let Sleeping Vets Lie' and 'Vet in Harness.' 
Called out at 2 a.m. on a freezing Yorkshire night to look at a ewe that had given birth earlier in the day, he has to strip off his overcoat & jacket to examine her:

‘There’s another lamb in here,’ I said. ‘It’s laid wrong or it would have been born with its mate this afternoon. ‘ Even as I spoke my fingers had righted the presentation and I drew the little creature gently out and deposited him on the grass. I hadn’t expected him to be alive after his delayed entry but as he made contact with the cold ground his limbs gave a convulsive twitch and almost immediately I felt his ribs heaving under my hand.
For a moment I forgot the knife-like wind in the thrill which I always found in new life, the thrill that was always fresh, warm.

Herriot's memoirs are a delightful  mix of humour, nature study, relationships, and life as a young vet. I've been reading them aloud and they are a lovely way to include some natural history.

Eastern Coast of Australia, Sydney area:

Friday 1 February 2019

The Classics Club: A New List

I joined The Classics Club five years ago with the intention of reading 50 books in five years. I managed to read and review 71 books in that time so now I'm starting again.
So here we go with some of the books I'd like to read in the next five years. I'm adding some 'modern classics' in - books that were written in the last 25 years and including some that I've already read years ago and want to re-visit.


Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (1927)
Strong Poison (1930) re-read
Have His Carcase (1932)
Gaudy Night (1935) re-read
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
The Nine Tailors (1934)
Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (1945)
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (1946)

A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (1963)
Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge (1960)
The Scent of Water  (1963)
Pilgrim's Inn (1948)
Gentian Hill (1949)
The White Witch (1958)

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956)
Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
Perelandra (1943)
That Hideous Strength

Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien (1937-1949)

War & Peace
by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1866)

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957-8)

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878) 

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848)
Ruth (1853)
North & South  (1855) 
The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857)
Wives & Daughters (1864)

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1852) re-read
Hard Times (1854) re-read
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4)

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton (1922)

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson (1917-1929)

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume (1886)

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811) re-read

John Macnab by John Buchan (1924)

Germinal by Emile Zola (1885)

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)

Under the Yoke by Ivan Vazov (1888)

Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar by Jules Verne (1876)

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-1872)
Daniel Deronda (1876)
The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)

Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute (1955)
What Happened to the Corbetts (1939)
No Highway (1948)

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (1945)

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1901)

William - An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton (1919)

All the Green Year by Don Charlwood (1965)


In the Steps of the Master by H.V. Morton (1934)

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (1952)
The Four Loves (1960)

The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer (1968)

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (1908)

Come, tell me How You Live by Agatha Mallowan Christie (1946)

Modern Classics

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (1974)

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (1993)

Educational Classics

Towards a Philosophy of  Education by Charlotte Mason (1925) re-read
Ourselves (in progress)

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (1984)