If you're like me, you first discovered Gaskell's story as a captivating drama on film. The BBC's television adaptation of North and South made Milton come to life, and brought a little known romantic hero -- John Thornton -- into glorious, palpitating presence on the world stage with a reverberating gasp.
Strangely enough, I didn't feel the impact of my first viewing like I'd been struck by lightening. I only re-watched the ending once (or maybe twice!). I didn't even realize how much I had been pulled into the power of the drama until I found myself constantly reimagining scenes and wondering about the characters's feelings. I plunged into C19 (an Internet forum) within days, because I needed to ask questions. I needed to talk to someone about this story. And I've really never stopped wanting to talk about it.
I've since fallen in love with Gaskell's book. I regularly see its relevance to all the pressing issues of our world today. Gaskell had a heart and mind that saw the human scene with hope.
North and South turned me into an author, it introduced me to a new world of friends and fanship, and it inspired me to dive into similar classic novels. I owe much to Gaskell's North and South, as it's given me so much to think about and to share with others.
So what does North and South mean to me? It means so many things that lay close to my heart, that it seems daunting to try to explain. But here (beyond the fervent appeal of the gold standard for all romantic literary heroes -- John Thornton) are some of the many hopes, ideals, and concepts found in North and South that invigorate my soul and enliven my heart:
Love. Love in all its variations: erotic and romantic love, brotherly affection, self-sacrificing duty, genuine respect, and consideration for others.
The utter necessity of individuality -- forging your own path and living your own values.
Moral courage -- the strength and determination that moves us forward in crushing circumstances.
Widening our view of the world and our sphere of caring -- interacting with and learning from those different from us.
Seeing past class, gender, religion, and economic status to the equal worthiness of every human being.
Loneliness and the desperation of being misunderstood, and the corresponding desire to cherish and to be cherished.
The overpowering yearning to do good in this world, not just exist in it.
Striving for what matters most.
The possibility of a kinder, gentler capitalism that contributes to humanity's progress.
Hope of harmony in relating to our fellow beings. Finding unity among all mankind.
Finding home, finding our purpose.
These are just some of the many themes that make North and South my favorite novel of romantic love and Elizabeth Gaskell a favorite author for her hope for humanity.
What does North and South mean to you?