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!!!
When I first watched this miniseries, I’ll admit my pervading thought was “Damn, does Richard Armitage EVER do happy?!” To that point, my only experience of him had been seeing his incredibly depressing and enraging Guy of Gisborne in the BBC Robin Hood series. I hated him because he made Jonas Armstrong suffer, and I defy anyone to watch that series and not become enamored to Armstrong’s insouciant charm! Recently, while undergoing an revising of my opinion of Armitage (and as a starting point for this overall blog project), I decided to give this one another go.
I, along with several others it seems, was struck by some strong similarities to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but not exact parallels. John Thornton, played by Kerrie’s darling Richie, is an emotional reticent rich man much like Austen’s Darcy; however, Thornton is nouveu riche who lacks the polish of even Darcy’s friend, Bingley, as he still actively “works” for his wealth. And while he does react to some situations with preconceived notions and attitudes, he is for the most part very unlike Darcy. Thornton is coming to Mr. Hale in order to learn classical languages and literature. Despite his wealth and position, he still feels the drive to better himself and acknowledges that there are areas where he is lacking. To my memory, though Darcy admits to be too inflexible in his prejudice toward others at times, he never shows any belief that he needs to improve either his education or his mind. Granted, Darcy received an excellent education in youth, but Thornton desire to do so as an adult shows him to be a life-long learner.
Margaret Hale, like Elizabeth Bennett, is part of the middle class, but that is where the similarities end. Hale’s father is a minister, and therefore, is not landed gentry like the Bennetts. While there are similarities in the continuing decline of finances in both families, the Hales are far worse off than the Bennetts. Likewise, Margaret shows none of Lizzie Bennett’s charm or good humor. She comes to Milton full of a snobbish sense of her own superiority, the superiority of her class, and the superiority of her Southern roots. She finds quickly that she knows little of use for life in Milton, yet pior to her friendship with Bessie, that only reinforces her snobbishness instead of creating a desire to make amends and learn. It is only her affection for Bessie which makes her changes not any sense of growing respect for the people around her. In fact, if not for the examples of Bessie and Nicholas and even Thornton, himself, I doubt Margaret would have grown at all.
The overall stories themselves also possess some deep differences. Gaskill’s North and South is far darker than Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While both are a send-up of the dangers of inflexible prejudice and the mistakes preconceived notions can produce, Austen’s world is much more rose-tinted. While Lydia does flirt with many of the issues that plague the lower classes in England, it is largely done off to the side of the main narrative. Margaret Hale and John Thornton are treading water in the very midst of the storm between classes. There is no hiding the ugliness and brutishness that often plagues life in Milton. This may be due to the differences in the times in which they were each written, or may be due to differences in authors themselves and their intentions for writing.
While Pride and Prejudice remains one of my favorites, I think that North and South is a far more powerful story. It examines the vast inequalities between the masters and workers, but more importantly, does not reinforce the class system of England by encouraging its divisions. It reinforces the interconnectedness of the classes, the success of each is inexorably tied to the other. It also focus on shattering the illusions the world of each class is built on and shows the actual world they live in for what it is. No one is allowed to sweep anything under the rug, like de Bourgh, or whitewash anything, as was done with Lydia. No one is allowed any comfort even at in success, like the newly wedded Darcys. Ugliness and brutishness and poverty and destruction will always be there to fight—just from a united front now with the newly wedded Thorntons.
PS. Much to Kerrie’s everlasting, giggling glee, I am now firmly a member of the Armitage fan camp.