I read this book by Elizabeth Gaskell because one of my favorite podcasts, Bonnets at Dawn, did a readalong and I didn’t want to be completely left out. As it was, I ended up participating late.
I had never read anything by Gaskell before, but I had seen the miniseries several years ago, and while I didn’t remember everything, I had a general idea of what I was getting into.
Hannah, who represents Team Austen, kept pointing out the similarities between this book and “Pride and Prejudice” by saying “So far, so Austen,” which I loved and I think was entirely appropriate.
There are a lot of similarities. This book is basically “Pride and Prejudice and Politics.”
Margaret Hale lives a simple country life with her parents. Her father is the local vicar, and while they don’t make much money, there is a lot of love and Margaret enjoys her position as a leader in her small community.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hale has recently decided that he doesn’t agree with the teachings of the church, and so he cannot, in good conscience, continue to work in the church. We never get an explanation as far as what specific aspects of the church he doesn’t agree with, which I found confusing.
One of his friends has found a position for him in Milton, which is a city based on Manchester. He’ll be working as a tutor there, which means his wife and daughter have to move as well whether they like it or not. He drove us all crazy with his selfishness and weak spine. Not only did he not consult either of them, but he put off telling Margaret until the last minute and then he made Margaret tell her mom.
So they move to the noisy, dirty, industrial city, which they don’t like much at first, but they’re determined to make the best of it.
One of Mr. Hale’s students, Mr. Thornton, turns out to be a handsome mill owner who worked his way up from nothing. As a result, he’s convinced everyone should be able to do so and anyone who remains poor has no one but themselves to blame. Having befriended one of his employees, Margaret is more concerned with workers’ rights and the responsibility employers have to their workers.
Overall, I think the book did a really good job of presenting both sides. Thornton is unforgiving when it comes to the plight of his workers, but he also has his own challenges and constraints of which the workers are unaware because they never see that side of the business.
So things go wrong, and then more things go wrong, and then they live happily ever after.
Apparently Gaskell was rushed to turn in the final chapters and a mistake was made regarding how many pages she was given for her last few chapters. As a result, the ending feels very rushed and Gaskell makes you wait until the very last page before finally bringing her characters together.
It was a lovely book, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. I can’t wait to read more of Gaskell’s work.
What did you guys read this week? Any other authors that were new to you that you found utterly delightful?