How I longed for this book to end as it meandered through the sub-plots: from Margaret’s education in the home of her aunt, cousin Edith’s marriage to Captain Lennox while Margaret turned his brother down, the move from Helstone to Milton, the trials and tribulations of both mill owners (John Thornton and his family) and workers (Nicholas Higgins and his charges) during the industrial revolution. Margaret’s character was sanitised to a caricature – saintly and unworldly, incapable of an unkind thought less deed and nothing left to the readers imagination or inference as every motive and thought of every character was dissected and laid out.
Of course, saintly Margaret (who by now I almost despised) was moved by the poverty she saw and buckles down to her own genteel poverty without a murmur of objection. Then of course Margaret falls in love with John Thornton but can’t admit it and through a series of events is mortified that he thinks ill of her and so it blathers on for page after page after page until finally after endless false starts, she is the rich one and John Thornton on his uppers and so the end (blessedly) came.
I would not have read this book past the first couple of chapters had it not been a book club read (people read my choice so I feel it only fair to persevere with theirs). I can see why it was made into a mini series on television – it has that never ending, easy to follow Sunday evening cosiness – but it wasn’t my kind of literature, I am afraid. Apparently it was originally written as a series of 20 instalments and I guess if you are being paid by instalment you would want to let the story drift and stutter but, for me, it didn’t make a book.
To be fair I did learn a little about the early days of the unions but I’d want to read other factual materials to understand if it was as black and white as Gaskell paints it.