I See Jane Austen Everywhere!

I See Jane Austen Everywhere!!!!

As much as I love Jane Austen, one of my best friends loves Elizabeth Gaskell equally as well. I admit to having read only three Gaskell pieces in my time: CranfordNorth and South, and Mary Barton. Last Christmas Season, I reread Cranford, but it has been many years since I have truly studied Gaskell’s works. However, recently, I agreed I would reread North and South, and my friend Jasmine and I would have a two-person book discussion. (Unfortunately, I’m a bit behind in my reading – working on the sequel to The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy and working on a release of Book 7 of my Realm series, A Touch of Honor.) Gaskell’s brilliance lies in her ability to negotiate the relationships between the social classes, while adding Unitarian values of freedom, reason, and tolerance.

That being said, first, permit me to clarify one major misconception regarding North and South. That delicious scene in the mini-series where Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) spies on John Thornton (Richard Armitage) at his factory, and the air is filled with the cotton fibers, is NOT in the book – at least, not in the first 20 chapters. (I have read through the scene where Margaret and her father dine with the Thorntons.) The director, Brian Percival, and screenwriter, Sandy Welch, have followed in the traditional romantic period dramas of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

So, you may ask, why discuss Gaskell’s North and South on a blog, essentially dedicated to the Regency era? Well, the problem lies in the fact I keep seeing Darcy and Elizabeth and Pride and Prejudice‘s influence in Gaskell’s passages. I am not suggesting Ms. Gaskell “borrowed” her ideas from my Miss Jane. On the contrary, the fault lies with me. I see Austen’s influence in story line after story line.

For example, in Chapter 7, “New Scenes and Faces,” I imagine Darcy realizing Elizabeth’s power over him when I read, “Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared, yet now he calmly took a seat at her bidding.”

From the same chapter, Thornton’s first meeting with Miss Hale could easily have been Darcy and Elizabeth’s. “She sat facing him and facing the light; her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve; her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden freedom. He almost said to himself that he did not like her,before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he told himself he was–a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a refinement about him. Her quiet coldness of demeanour he interpreted into contemptuousness, and resented itin his heart to the pitch of almost inclining him to get up and go away, and have nothing more to do with these Hales, and their superciliousness.”

From Chapter 10, “Wrought Iron and Gold,” Thornton and Margaret have a heated discussion over the merits of living in the North versus residing in the South. I was reminded of Darcy and Elizabeth saying, “And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied, with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”

John Thornton and Miss Hale says, “You do not know anything about the South. If there is less adventure or less progress–I suppose I must not say less excitement–from the gambling spirit of trade, which seems requisite to force out these wonderful inventions, there is less suffering also…. You do not know the South, Mr.Thornton,” she concluded, collapsing into a determined silence, and angry with herself for having said so much.
“And may I say you do not know the North?” said he.

Later on, when Thornton means to shake Margaret’s hand in farewell, but Margaret is unfamiliar with the custom, I am reminded of Elizabeth’s refusal to dance with Darcy at Sir William Lucas’s house, and of Elizabeth’s initial “first impression” of Darcy. “When Mr. Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr. and Mrs. Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr. Thornton, however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full height, walked off, muttering as he left the house– ‘A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one’s memory by her scornful ways.’”

From Chapter 9, Thornton explains to his mother that Miss Hale has not set her sights on him. “‘Well! I only say, take care. Perhaps our Milton girls have too
much spirit and good feeling to go angling after husbands; but this Miss Hale comes out of the aristocratic counties, where, if all tales be true, rich husbands are reckoned prizes.’
Mr. Thornton’s brow contracted, and he came a step forward into the room. ‘Mother’ (with a short scornful laugh), ‘you will make me confess. The only time I saw Miss Hale, she treated me with a haughty civility which had a strong flavour of contempt in it. She held herself aloof from me as if she had been a queen, and I her humble, unwashed vassal. Be easy, mother.’”

Although the situation is reversed: Thornton is rich, but of the working class, and Miss Hale is poor, but of the genteel class. Despite her poverty, the lady does not view Mr. Thornton as a possible suitor, but he is enthralled with her with his first glance. In fact, Chapter 11 is entitled “First Impressions.” Must I say more???41VLgv9qigL._SL500_AA278_PIkin4BottomRight-4622_AA300_SH20_OU01_-150x150 

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in book excerpts, British history, George IV, Great Britain, Jane Austen, language choices, political stance, real life tales, Victorian era and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to I See Jane Austen Everywhere!

  1. Suzan says:

    I never thought about comparing them. Gaskell is one of my favorites. The north and south ending in the movie is my all time favorite. Matter of fact I’m going to watch it with a friend this afternoon that has never seen it. However the ending is different in the book than the movie as well. I this rare instance I prefer the movie. Wives and daughters is also a very good one. Simple plot but very emotional as all of her works seem to be.

    • I admit, Suzan, it was a bit disheartening when I read the book. I had foolishly watched the miniseries first. “No floating cotton fibers!” LOL! The book is much grittier than the movie, but I understand the director/screenwriter softening the edges. The visual image is a powerful one.

  2. Ceri says:

    I love North and South (and also love the mini-series, although I prefer the ending in the book to the mini-series, I think it’s more realistic and it’s so, so romantic!) and really enjoyed Wives and Daughters too. I tried Cranford, but for some reason I couldn’t get into it.

    I see where you’re going with the P&P themes in North and South, there is definitely arrogance, pride, and misconstrued views aplenty, and a Hunsford-style scene where it becomes clear that he feels very differently towards Margaret than she does towards him. Plus you can imagine Margaret Hale’s background as being similar to the type of village Elizabeth was from. I think John Thornton has more than a touch of Darcy about him as well, and that is partly why I love him so much. I hope you enjoy the rest of your read!

    • Ceri, you are one of the few I have heard who says she prefers the book over the mini-series.
      Cranford is in the vein of “Lark Rise,” and it takes a bit of time to get into the characters. The “drama” is more intense and not so “terrifying.”
      In N&S, it is Margaret who holds the family connections. Thornton has the money but not the social status.

      • Ceri says:

        It’s partly the clothing, I know in modern terms he looks sexy and dishevelled, but by his standards it’s like us going to the local shop wearing our pyjamas, unlikely and not classy! This is also something I didn’t like about 2005 P&P ending.

        Also, the mini-series ending is in public and public displays of affection like that make other people uncomfortable in the uk even today, I thought it was over the top by Victorian standards, less is more!

  3. Your criticisms make sense, but not to an overly romantic viewing audience. For years, I have served as a consultant to media literacy – teaching children (mostly) how to “read” a film or documentary as they might learn to read a book.
    Look what they did to Darcy in the 1995 film. Andrew Davies understood his viewing audience. He makes Darcy into a “sex symbol” by including scenes not in the book – the bath scene where he climbs from the tub to watch Elizabeth outside with the dog, the wet shirt scene, the scenes with his sword fighting, etc. – each creates an image of Darcy as very masculine.
    The kissing scene at the end of the 2005 film was only made for American audience. We have embraced the “Cinderella ending” most whole-heartedly in the States. We would feel cheated without at least a kiss to seal the deal. LOL!

  4. Loved this post, Regina!
    Funnily enough, out of the blue 2 weeks ago I decided to re-read North and South (and then spent most of the night watching the miniseries 😀 ). ‘Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience’ is the blurb on my DVD, and they couldn’t have put it better! If anything, the gritty social realities only made it better.

    It’s without a doubt my favourite film after P&P 95, the drama and the poignancy of unrequitted love followed by so many misunderstandings is just too exquisite for words, especially as Gaskell, unlike our dear Jane, goes in at the deep end in describing the gentleman’s thoughts and emotions. This is what I loved best about the novel, and I think the film does a pretty fantastic job in conveying it too.

    In some respects, the book was a bit too Victorian for me – the strong moralising streaks for instance, and Bessie’s religious fervour, which the film makers had the good sense to tone down for a modern audience. Having said that, it’s perfectly in tune with their age, just not so much with out heathen ways :). The other thing I had little patience with was with how much a victim of adverse circumstances Margaret was, and how submissive to all her family (parents, aunt, cousin) until the end, when she becomes her own woman at last. Again, as expected of the time but, as I said too Victorian for me. In this respect I much prefer the Regency & Austen. Nobody puts Elizabeth in the corner 🙂

    I loved the way the film smoothed over all these differences in mores and mentality between us and them. Admittedly some were smoothed too much 🙂 I agree with Ceri re. wandering about without the coat would have been like walking out in your jammies and shock horror, smooching in public on a Victorian platform??? Perish the thought!!!

    On that note I highly recommend a North and South variation I came across in the last couple of weeks: ‘Unmapped Country’ by Chrissie Elmore. It spins off from the time when Margaret offered John the funds to keep trading, but unlike the book and film, it takes a LONG time till this leads to marriage. It’s not a book for angst lovers, sometimes the angst and misunderstandings are too much, but it’s beautifully written, with fabulous historical knowledge and superbly romantic scenes, so if you can put up with a long and bumpy ride till their ‘better understanding’, I highly recommend it – not least, to get back to the original point – that it makes John in shirtsleeves believable and more than a little acceptable, even by Victorian standards [and now my lips are sealed 🙂 ]

    I could ramble on for ages about the things I adored about the film: hands touching when she gives him his cup of tea (used that myself, too moving to leave alone!!); the ‘flying cotton’ scene and the “hell is white” comment, again, not Gaskell, but perfect; the way Margaret and Thornton meet for the first time; the fact that they meet again at the Great exhibition and last but not least the FANTASTIC ‘Look back! Look back to me!” which is on the par with ‘The Look’ in P&P95 in my book. Just beautiful!

    • Late night posts are always a bad idea! Of course, I meant that ‘Unmapped Country’ IS a book for angst-lovers. It’s angst-wimps that should approach with caution! But even angst wimps should just get some smelling salts and a fortifying cordial and go for it, it’s well worth it 🙂

  5. I read “Unmapped Country.” The author certainly knows her history lessons. Sometimes I was distracted by the history – writing historical history requires a balance between the plot and the research behind the scenes.

    • That being said, I enjoyed Unmapped Country. I have read several others of the N&S rewrites, which were purely an exercise in writing eroticism. The writers obviously had never heard of the “suppressed” attitudes of the Victorian period.

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