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ABOUT THIS AUDIO RECORDING
Juliet Stevenson, where you you been? This is one of the most difficult books for reading I've listened to (several different English accents, northern cockney, southern low and high)--many different voices required, and Stevenson is master of all of them. I think she is the best reader I've ever heard, bar none. Really, the best.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Think of Elizabeth Gaskell as Jane Austen with teeth. This is a thoughtful period piece, describing the social upheaval resulting from the industrial revolution, and Gaskell (herself a lady) makes a great effort see all sides, the workers' and the mill owners'.
You may be browsing for a North and South audiobook because you've lately swooned over the BBC's recent miniseries by that title. (Thank you, Richard Armitage.) If so, you won't be disappointed in the original. It's as good as the movie (a strange compliment for a book, I know).
Margaret Hale is a gentlewoman from the south of England, lately displaced to the northern manufacturing town of Milton (fictional), where she meets the focused and brooding Mr. Thornton, cotton manufacturer extraordinaire. We love Margaret from the outset, and it's such a pleasure to come to understand and love Mr. Thornton.
NOTE: beware the ending
For all the greatness of the story, the ending is wimpy--400 pages of romantic angst, and it resolves in few passionate repititions of "Margaret!Margaret! Margaret!" and a paltry embrace. Those Regency and Victorian writers just don't know how to end a story. I recommend listening to the audiobook until the last 5 minutes. Then turn on the BBC video (also available on Netflix "watch instantly"), and sate yourself in a real ending. (Again, thank you Richard Armitage.)
I loved this book! It is "Pride and Prejudice" for the Victorian era, and I fell in love with all the characters just as deeply. The advantage over Austen's book is that it has a bit of a social conscience, but I felt it flowed very well with the story. The story telling was lovely, and the discussion of Victorian attitudes to industry were very interesting. The author discusses weighty things without being tedious or overbearing, and I loved that both my brain and my heart were engaged.
The narrator Juliet Stevenson did a magnificent job, especially with the Northern accents. It is sometimes hard for women to read men's voices well, but she made John Thornton much more sexy than I've heard anyone portray Mr. Darcy. I will definitely look for more books read by her, as well as more books by Elizabeth Gaskell, whom I've only just discovered after years of reading "classics." I also enjoyed that every chapter began with a relevant quote from a poem or song. Another of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart, also does that (perhaps Gaskell was her inspiration for this?). It really added a whole extra layer of description and meaning.
Narrative makes the world go round.
I previously listened to the Charton Griffin narrated version - and he was so wrong for the novel (the train whistles inserted between sections didn't help the listen either).
I gave the novel a second chance because this version was on sale - and am very glad that I did. It's some of Gaskill's better prose, and she did have a good grasp of the problems of industrialization as well as a good narrative in which to frame them.
The story is a bit like a Jane Austen book, but with more social philosophy which was enlightening. And I have a weak spot for romance these days-- that was in there too, with the steadfast heroine etc. There was also a Christianity motif that would have been unbearable for me (an atheist) to read without being flung out of the story but above all of this, there is Juliet Stevenson who casts it all into perfect balance with astonishing skill. Cannot praise her enough.
This is one of my favorite books, and Juliet Stephenson does a great job reading it. She renders the thick northern dialect understandable, and gives character to all the voices. Loved it.
An easy test of whether you'll like this book is whether you like Gaskell's contemporaries: George Eliot and Charles Dickens are the most obvious, though the plot borrows a bit of Jane Eyre and a bit of Pride and Prejudice. Gaskell writes closer to Eliot's style, but with a bit of Dickens's social consciousness. In the end, North and South ends up a romance, but the romantic obstacle course navigated by the romantic leads is not the most compelling element.
North and South features as the protagonist 19-year-old Margaret Hale, whose father, upon having a crisis of conscience, quits his job as a country parson in idyllic southern England and moves his wife and daughter north to the industrial cotton-mill town of Milton. To say Margaret and her mother don't like their new home is an understatement — they hate it, and Margaret is certainly not enamored of the wealthy industrialist Mr. Thornton, who, undaunted by either her mannerly disdain or his mother's cold mercenary disapproval, is struck with love at first sight. (I felt this was one of the weakest parts of the book, as it's never explained just what made this prissy southern girl so irresistible to him.) He then spends the rest of the novel being in love with her despite resigning himself to not having a chance with her, and Margaret spends the rest of the novel denying that she feels anything but disdain for him, while constantly worrying about what he thinks of her.
This thread winds it way through much more compelling and illustrative social dramas: workers' strikes and grinding poverty, the bustling but harrowing rise of English industry that made many people rich and many more people soot-covered beggars. Here, Gaskell stays more refined and less comical than Dickens; her poor are not grotesque caricatures, but hard and not always sympathetic people.
Margaret is a well-educated country girl, and her mother is a typical upper-class housewife. The Hales aren't used to these northerners who speak bluntly, tell you exactly what they think of you, ask personal questions, and talk openly about money.
Mostly we see Milton and its northern ways through Margaret's eyes, and Gaskell invokes some of the social issues of the time, as when a poor family Margaret befriends gets caught up in a millworkers' strike. At first, Mr. Thornton seems like your basic hard-hearted capitalist oppressing his workers, but Gaskell slowly draws out more nuanced arguments: Thornton is a hard, proud, mercenary man, but he's upright and honorable and he's earned his fortune the hard way. And the millworkers, while legitimately oppressed, are not exactly angels and they believe some really stupid things. The tone swings back and forth between pro-capitalist parochialism and a more humanitarian saga; Gaskell writes about economics and class warfare more convincingly than most of her peers. She doesn't have Dickens's sharp edge, but she isn't writing social satire.
Honestly, I could have done without the obligatory Jane Eyre-ish happy ending altogether. And Margaret Hale, while she certainly has a voice and a personality, was a little too simpering at times (though not as bad as Fanny Price). I thought the social issues and the secondary characters were more interesting than the Lovestruck Capitalist and the almost-perfect protagonist. This was a fine novel - I'm only dinging it a star because Gaskell's writing didn't quite stand out enough to distinguish it from all the other books I've been comparing it to.
Juliet Stevenson, who does many of these classic British novels, was fantastic in this one. She handled the male characters as adeptly as the females, and her accents were perfect: she spoke with the northern burr of the Milton characters, and the southern country accent of the Hales, making the different parts of England distinct.
Very reminiscent of Jane Austen's writing, although with much more emphasis on social issues ( industrialization and workers strikes are a large part of the story ). As always, Juliet Stevenson is perfectection.
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I think one word says it all "wonderful". I can't add much more to that!!
Awesome narration. Felt like there was a full cast of characters at the mike. Story is not incredibly exciting but interesting.
"Romance and Finance"
In many ways this story of boom and bust is relevant now as it was when written.I loved the story of how a girl brought up in the country adapted to the life in the Northern town. She is a strong comple heroine and I found this book really got me thinking about what is fair and not fair in daily working life. If this sounds dreary it's not at all, the love story and the family dramas are compelling and it is an uplifting book well read with a great story.
"A definite winner!"
Dont' be put off by Audible's somewhat dry academic description of this book. Yes, it is "set in the context of Victorian social debate" but it is primarily a wonderful and powerful story, superbly written by Elizabeth Gaskell and excellently read by Juliet Stevenson.
It contrasts southern city life and southern and rural life with the hardship and grime of life in a northern mill town. It paints a vivid picture of the struggle between poverty-striken mill workers and prosperous mill owners. It includes action, tragedy and passion as well as romance and gentleness. Who can forget the many memorable and believable characters who demand your sympathy. A powerful book I could not put down. I highly recommend it to you.
"an interesting novel made special by the reading"
North and South must be on many people's list of 'books I ought to read but never have' - in book form, its length is rather daunting! Juliet Stevenson's reading, which truly deserves to be described as beautiful, made listening to it a matter of complete enjoyment. There are so many characters to enjoy, scenes to remember, and the well-known depiction of various social classes and contrasts in Victorian Britain, and Juliet Stevenson brings them all out to the full, never missing a single element in her faultless performance. Perhaps credible plot is not Mrs Gaskell's strongest point, but I was surprised at how exciting the story often is. Altogether I have spent several days hooked up to my iPod at every available minute, and this is one of the best audiobooks I have had so far. Strongly recommended.
"North and South (Unabridged)"
Never having been top at the class at english lit., I often find that the pleasant but flowery language of many classics distracts me from the plot. More often than not I feel that I 'should' read or listen to a classic but cannot honestly say I really enjoyed it. North and South however is now in my top five books I love. I got a real sense of the time and place, the characters were vivid and interesting but most of all it was a lovely romance. The sex and violence of modern novels replaced with gentle sensuality against a sometimes brutal backdrop of poverty and untimely death. The narrator was perfect and added to the experience and now I'm off to buy the book to read it myself.
"An epic love adventure"
This story has a lovely atmosphere. It's about the contrasts of the landscapes and the contrasts in the people who live, in the North and in the South of England. In Margaret Hale's journey from one end of the country to the other she sees these differences. Then she meets Mr Thornton, a mill owner, and an epic love adventure begins.
I wasn't sure I would enjoy this at first but I absolutely did. The portrayal of life, social culture, relationships, the breaking down of the stereotypes of north and south, are absolutely fascinating. A must read.
This is one of my favourite books, and like all the other audio books that Julliet Stevenson has recorded she has done both the book and characters proud.
Wonderfully narrated. The interesting prose about life during this age intermingled with the personal lives of the characters kept me coming back to this audio book whenever I could.
"I love this story even more now"
I already liked North and South from a previous reading and the BBC TV adaptation. Now I love it even more, largely due to Juliet Stevenson's fantastically evocative reading. She brings all of the characters alive and gives them their own voices. I have already listened to it three times and I sense it will be pulled out again and again... I have now bought another classic read by Juliet Stevenson as I enjoyed this one so much!
"North and South"
Brilliant book beautifully read by Juliet Stevenson who gives life to all the characters. It is an interesting tale of class and industrial history. It never drags but keeps you fascinated until the final tantalising ending,leaving you wanting more and more of Mrs Gaskell.
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