North and South, which Rodelinda lent to me when I went to visit her in Oxford, got shoved by the wayside when I got annoyed by the endless descriptions of the heroine’s cold and proud yet human and lovable beauty that was appreciable to all in moments of clarity but most appreciable to people of innate grace and brave-heartedness who typically had manly builds – that kind of thing. But in my current state of intense chemical rage, it’s been the only thing that my mind wraps around, besides Dorothy Sayers novels and how much I hate things.
I had wondered why Rodelinda would like this honking great sentimental monster so much when I had a feeling she was averse to the honking great sentimental monsters written by the Bronte sisters which are tidier, less conventional and far more subtle. (Yes, subtle. ALL the Bronte sisters could be subtle. You wanna fight about it?) I was able to conclude at the time Rodelinda’d probably have naturally preferred this because she’s a historian. North and South has more meaning as a historical document than Wuthering Heights or any of Charlotte’s, though I think The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is interesting as a historical document about the temperance movement and I've never read Agnes Grey, though I shall. . . Anne’s so earnest, I love her. . . FUCK, MARVELLON IS MAKING ME WRITE MONSTER SENTENCES.
Anyways, North and South is the only thing that has distracted me from kicking things since I finished The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club on Sunday. I am not a historian and everything annoys me right now, so even as I read breathlessly through to the conclusion, I had to wonder what the fuck I was doing reading the book instead of throwing it at someone. Some things became clear:
1. It was a newspaper serial. Hence some of the rush towards the end and some of the long, meandering passages in other bits; must have been Gaskell respectively trying to mollify and fleece her publisher. The way it ended - smrack boom! – was a shock after the languidly painted portraits filling up so much of the rest.
2. I engaged when I could imagine her writing it like that, and then got swept up in the book’s journalistic quality, remembering Gaskell was a famous biographer and apreciating the cold, unsubtle way she described her characters. There was just enough style and historical context that I got semi-James-Ellroy-style swept up. Sure, it lacked the subtlety of showing you Jane Eyre’s whole state of adolescent mind from a wander on the roof of Thornfield Hall, but it’s a good style to read when you’re literal-minded because of fake PMT.
3. I started to love it the way I love Gone With the Wind, another book where I have little goodwill towards any of the characters or of the author’s point of view on the historical events described. I loved how it was written, what it was written about, and that it made me think about what it was written about. For a variety of simply fascinating reasons journalism has been close to my heart lately. I love this book right now because it wants to communicate something and it does, and then a bunch of other things as well, which is just what I want journalism to do.