Saturday, 5 July 2014

North and South by Mrs Gaskell: Part 3

published 1855









Those hours by the sea-side were not lost, as anyone might have seen who had had the perception to read, or the care to understand, the look that Margaret's face was gradually acquiring. Mr Henry Lennox was excessively struck by the change. 'The sea has done Miss Hale an immense deal of good, I should fancy,' said he, when she first left the room after his arrival in their family circle. 'She looks ten years younger than she did in Harley Street.'

'That's the bonnet I got her!' said Edith, triumphantly. 'I knew it would suit her the moment I saw it.'

'I beg your pardon,' said Mr. Lennox, in the half-contemptuous, half-indulgent tone he generally used to Edith. 'But I believe I know the difference between the charms of a dress and the charms of a woman. No mere bonnet would have made Miss Hale's eyes so lustrous and yet so soft, or her lips so ripe and red— and her face altogether so full of peace and light.— She is like, and yet more,'— he dropped his voice,—' like the Margaret Hale of Helstone.'



observations: For earlier entries on this book, explaining the plot, see here and here.

Edith, Margaret’s cousin, is there to provide contrast. She is girlish and shallow -  at one point:
‘And then, having nothing else particular to do, she cried…’

But she is good-hearted, and does have a real affection for Margaret – friendship between women is one of Mrs Gaskell’s strengths, and the sisterly regard between Cynthia and Molly in Wives and Daughters is particularly well done. And Edith has no patience with Mr Hale and his religious Doubts – she writes to Margaret:
I’m rather afraid of any one who has done something for conscience sake. You never did, I hope.
- is meant to be evidence of her flighty nature, but this reader is tempted to agree. I was reminded of the Iris Murdoch novel, The Time of the Angels, in which the vicar loses his religion and thinks that means he can stay in his vicarage and draw his stipend, but also sleep with young women and behave extremely badly. Detestable and despicable, but much more fun.

And Edith isn’t as bad as Thornton’s spoilt, lazy sister Fanny. ‘I am so tired!’ she says when she doesn’t want to do something. ‘With what?’ her clear-eyed mother replies.

So good for Edith – she is kind and generous, and chose Margaret a lovely bonnet, and does not deserve the clever ‘contempt’ of Mr Lennox.

The picture is an 1855 fashion plate of ‘The New Bonnet’, and came from the NY Public Library.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - What I like about this snippet you've shared is that it shows so clearly the social attitudes of the day. Mr. Lennox's condescension is done quite well and is probably quite reflective of the times. And there's such a solid thread of clear-eyed wit in this novel too. Little wonder you've featured it a couple of times here.

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    1. Thanks Margot, I'm glad you've enjoyed hearing about this one. I like the book because it tells us a lot about the time it is set, but it is also in some places very modern in feel and attitudes.

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  2. I love Elizabeth Gaskell. Especially the northern connection. The picture to accompany the post is great. On one hand, dressing has become much less stylised but, on the other, don't friends still chat while we get ourselves dressed?

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    1. Thanks Sarah - that's exactly what I thought about the picture, that it was simultaneously of its time and very modern. And yes, love Gaskell: I love most of the classic Victorians, but as I get older she's the one I get the most pleasure from.

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  3. One of my favourite books, I love the way you've explained the characters in this scene

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    1. Thanks Erica - every time I read Mrs G I find something new to like.

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  4. I'm not sharing your enthusiasm I'm afraid.

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    1. I'll try to find something more to your taste soon!

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  5. This is one you are reading so I don't have to, but the more I read about it, the more appealing it seems. Yet, I will never find the time. Who knows, maybe someday.

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    1. Too many books, Tracy, and too little time - I think we all have the same problem.

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