Friday, October 31, 2008

North and South vs. Pride and Prejudice - Part III

I posted on the similarities of plot lines here, and the background on Gaskell and her reputation pre-N&S here.

So the next step is to look at similarities between the two novels, beyond the plot outline.

With regards to similarity in language, when rereading N&S last month I was struck by the frequent use of words that I tend to associate with P&P—namely, the words blind, offend or offensive, shame, honour, pride, disdain and prejudice. So I did a little, crude word count of these words in both novels, and then, by way of comparison, I counted the number of times these words appear in Dickens’ novel, Hard Times, which was written at the same time and about the same topic as N&S, namely labor relations in Manchester in the 1850s. I discovered that in both P&P and N&S the words honour, shame, and either offensive or offends show up significantly more than they do in Hard Times. I wouldn’t stake any claims regarding Austen’s influence on Gaskell based on this, but it was personally interesting to me to see validated my impression that the same language was being employed in two novels with such apparently different subjects as P&P and N&S.

Now let’s look at a few out of many passages in N&S that evoke P&P.

Here’s a passage in which Mr. Thornton has called at the Hales for the umpteenth time, and he has been, according to his friend and teacher, Mr. Hale, uncharacteristically quiet and out of sorts—like Mr. Darcy, Mr. Thornton repeatedly puts himself in situations where he can encounter the woman he admires but perplexes her by talking to her in a way that provokes her into irritating him:
“…uneasy at the thought that they [Margaret’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hale] were detaining Mr. Thornton against his will, which was a mistake; for he rather liked it, as long as Margaret would talk, although what she said only irritated him.”

With regards to both gentlemen being seen to best advantage in their own home:
“Margaret's attention was thus called to her host; his whole manner as master of the house, and entertainer of his friends, was so straightforward, yet simple and modest, as to be thoroughly dignified. Margaret thought she had never seen him to so much advantage. When he had come to their house, there had been always something, either of over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed ready to pre-suppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt too proud to try and make himself better understood. But now, among his fellows, there was no uncertainty as to his position. He was regarded by them as a man of great force of character; of power in many ways. There was no need to struggle for their respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the security of this gave a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways, which Margaret had missed before.”

I think it fair to say that Margaret might answer when asked how long she has loved Mr. Thornton, that "…it has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing him in his house at Marlborough Mills."

Now on to the first proposal scenes—in P&P, it is famously in the exact center of the novel, a testament to Austen’s love of symmetry and her careful construction of the tension in the novel. In my paperback edition of N&S, there are 436 pages of novel text—the first proposal scene begins on page 193, slightly under the half way mark. Coincidence…I think not!

Another interesting point related to this is that N&S was serialized—meaning that Gaskell wrote and published chapters before completing the entire story. Although she did expand the ending when she readied it for publication in book form after the serialization, I would venture to state that her outline of the story, should we ever find it, would show the proposal smack in the middle of the outline just as P&P’s first proposal is precisely in the middle of the text.

Next time I post on the subject, I really will get into why I think N&S resembles P&P in so many ways.


  1. *Snort*

    This of course brings me to mind that scene in Miss Austen Regrets when Dr. Haden remarks that Elizabeth Bennet only realizes she loves Mr. Darcy after she has seen how big his house is. What is it about a man who seems so much more attractive when he is in his element and displays all of his wealth and power? What weak females we can be. :-)

  2. >What is it about a man who seems so much more attractive when he is in his element and displays all of his wealth and power?

    But I would think that all of us are more attractive when in our natural element--being comfortable usually makes one more confident, and confidence, but not over-confidence is attractive, at least to women, right?