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So.... Nicky?

Pretty much all books, history, science, civil rights, anime, travel, or, you know, baby animals.

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell, Alan Shelston So, in clearing the decks for NaNoWriMo, I tried to crash-read NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell, and, no surprise, it didn't work. Gaskell’s writing demands a slow read, tasting all her clear phrases and cogent observations. And I know I said this earlier about MARY BARTON, but it reads so darn modern, I can’t stop marvelling over it. Here’s 19-year-old Margaret turning down a surprise offer of marriage:

“I was startled. I did not know that you cared for me in that way. I have always thought of you as a friend; and, please, I would rather go on thinking of you so. I don’t like to be spoken to as you have been doing. I cannot answer as you want me to do, and yet I should feel so sorry if I vexed you.” (From NORTH AND SOUTH (1855) Norton critical edition 2005, p. 58)

She is just as direct about what she as a southern stranger sees in the northern town of Manchester, as the city girds for a factory-workers’ strike:

“You think it [Manchester society] strange. Why?”

“I don’t know—I suppose becaue, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.” (NORTH AND SOUTH, p. 109)

While “vexed” may date the first extract, there’s nothing in the wording that would make you think it was written more than 150 years ago. And it’s just as true now, feels just as impossible, and just as sad.

This story wasn’t deep history to Gaskell; hers is a “contemporary novel.” Reading it challenges me to see if I can write such a clear commentary on my own times.