At first I was very excited to find what I thought was a hidden gem in the canon of classics: like a new Jane Austen or a Bronte, just by a different author. The writing style and the initial intrigue of romance led me to believe this was what I was in for.
Alas… not really. The story was boring for the most part, filled with political discussions of strikes during what I gathered was the Industrial Revolution in England. The only way I got through the story at all was because it was audio, and I could tune out for long stretches of time and then tune back in again without missing much. Also, unfortunately the only person I consistently liked in the entire book was Mr. Thornton, who for the vast majority of the story was the rejected lover of the heroine, Margaret. For her part, I found Margaret haughty, self-righteous, and not just opinionated but disdainful of everyone else’s judgement save her own, though the author clearly admired her. Her father was weak and sweet, but impossible to respect. Her mother was negative and hypochondriacal at first, and later horribly selfish. Her cousin Edith was feather-brained and pretty but self-absorbed. Mr Thornton’s sister and mother were both also self-centered, and the sister judgmental and weak. His biggest detraction is his determined love for Margaret, when she’s done absolutely nothing to deserve it.
Why did I bother finishing the story, you ask? I almost didn’t a number of times, but there was just enough intrigue between Margaret and Mr. Thornton that I wanted to see how it ended, even though I could see it coming from a mile away. I felt like Gaskell was attempting to rewrite “Pride and Prejudice” in a sense, as Thornton was the great man with a closed mind at the beginning, while Margaret was supposed to be the cheeky poor beauty who opened his mind to the world. She eventually does become more tolerable. Can’t say I’d recommend it, though.
My rating: ** 1/2
Political content: historical only, though I find a lot of Margaret’s rationale annoying and one-sided
Sexual content: none