At first glance into the book's discription and some scattered reviews, I thought North and South
to be simply another Price and Prejudice
, albeit a highly recommended one. But it is certainly not. Sure, it does feature romance (and in my humble opinion, a better one - I always have a little trouble liking Elizabeth Bennet). It does have some ironies and amusing moments, satirizing the upper classes. It does, ahem, talk about "pride" and "prejudice." (But come to think of it, pride and prejudice is present everywhere in every story).
However, N & S
does not have the light, domestic, & somewhat safe atmosphere as Jane Austen's works do. Unlike Austen who lived half a century before and who was quite content living and restricting her novels to the wistful rural, organized households, Gaskell's N & S
is to a great extent much more attached to the real life, specifically to the British society which was industrializing with such a lightning speed in the 19th century. Perhaps due to my quite huge ignorance of the famous nation, I grew to appreciate the cultural and scenery differences so vividly presented and discussed between, well, as the title goes, North and South of England. There is this kind of beautiful writing that captures the Milton town with all its signs of industrialization, with its power as well as its perils. And then there is the author's attention to details of business, of "masters" & "hands", of strikes & wages, of the bigger context of world trade, such as cotton price in the Continent and in America. Yes, N&S is more than a fiction, it is a journal, a report of its contemporary society, at least via a lens of a very well informed female writer. While I can not judge its accuracy, I find it particularly admirable of Gaskell to go into such lengths to write about capital, of interest, etc.
Certainly, there were some parts of the novel about business that strike me quite simplistic. And yet I found it a noble attempt to try to solve the problem, especially after considering the time it was written, the writer herself & her supposed audience, not to mention the strong, central element of "romance".
P.S: The BBC TV series is absolutely beautiful.