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One more word though. From a more scholarly point of view, however, I think so far the 'best' biography on the Brontes should be Juliet Barker's 'The Brontes'. If, after reading this biography written by Mrs. Gaskell, you still want to know more about the Brontes, then I will say: go and buy this other book by Juliet Barker and you definitely will never regret it!
WIVES AND DAUGHTERS is frequently compared to Austen, but it is very different; the comedy and social observation is marvelous, but there's a greater sense of despair here more akin to MIDDLEMARCH. Hyacinth is without question the single most complex and engrossing character Gaskell ever created, and despite her menadacity and her manipulativeness you can't help but feel fond of her in spite of her less attractive qualities. Her daughter Cynthia is nearly as fine a character, and the others are also topnotch. A delightful read.
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In fact, the murder of the young mill owner, Mr. Henry Carson - he too an admirer of Miss Barton - is not well developed and is not the central point of the novel because the reader knows all the time who is the real murderer. So, it's not a surprise at all the ending of the trial and the revelation of the real murderer in the last chapters.
Miss Gaskell has a simple and an almost näive vision of the social problems that harassed the working class in England when the Industrial Revolution started. Even though, we must recognize that she made a good work trying to denounce the insensibility of the English government about the problems of the workers and their families and the inflexibility of the mill owners and other high economic classes to negociate with their subordinates.
Mary Barton is a book that will hold the attencion of the readers, men or women, because Miss Gaskell has an elegant style and really knows how to tell a good story. Another great vintage of this novel are some great characters portrayed with flavour and undeniable charm, like the old and friendly Mr. Job Legh and the hard and anger John Barton, Mary's father.
Worth reading, particularly if you're a fan of the novel (or history) of the period.
The back cover describes North and South's heroine, Margaret Hale, as one of the "finest heroines of Victorian literature." Lies, I say. Lies. While Margaret does possess some independence of spirit, her self-sacrificing Christian character nevertheless humbles herself in love before a "benign" capitalist individualist, Mr. Thornton. Though people have spoken of North and South being a feminist novel, one need only read the first page of Bronte's earlier work, Jane Eyre, to find the former description flat.
Barton's characters are hopelessly vacuous, her storylines inane and inspid, her understanding of the world hopelessly shortsighted. One thinks of Virginia Woolf, who once said that the greatest female writers needed only a room of their own to perfect their writing. Elizabeth Barton, however, needed far, far more.
One of the things that particularly impresses me about "North and South" is that Elizabeth Gaskell actually concentrates as much, if not more, on the principal male character's (John Thornton's) sexual and romantic desires and inner life rather than on the main female character (Margaret Hale). This is somewhat unusual to find in a book by female writer of the Victorian era. I feel that it makes the character of John Thornton one of the most interesting and attractive in 19th century literature.
His passionate love and desire for Margaret border on the obsessive at times. However, Elizabeth Gaskell details his torturous struggles with his emotions in such a empathethic way that you feel immensely drawn to Thornton from the first time you meet him. The scenes where Margaret rebuffs his attempts at a marriage proposal and the aftermath where he dazedly goes off into the countryside to calm down are vividly written.
I thoroughly disagree with some of the other reviewer's comments below, especially the person on 17 March 2003 who cannot even get the author's name right. It makes you wonder if they have read the same book as I did. I have no respect for people who impose inappropriate and modern notions on a work from this era and give their opinions, with such a sneering tone, in a trite and dismissive critique.
I know that there are many "North and South" fans out there who, like me, can appreciate the novel for what it is, not what they think it should be.
It is simply a beautifully written, engaging and satisfying book.
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