I'm always excited to see more people fall in love with North and South and John Thornton! Today, I'm pleased to introduce my readers to someone who has just recently published her second N&S variation: author Nicole Clarkston.
But before you dash off to purchase it! -- find out a little more about Nicole's thoughts about Gaskell's story in my brief interview with her:
When did you fall in love with N&S?
I found it on Netflix in 2011, and at first I confused it with the Civil War drama by the same name. I was skeptical because the descriptions did the miniseries a terrible disservice, but I had watched Pride and Prejudice enough for one week, so I gave it a go. I had decided to rip up my carpets and refinish my wood floors while my husband was out of town for a week. Since my kids were at that time aged 3-6, I did most of my work at night, with them sleeping in a tent in the yard away from the fumes.
To keep me awake, I dragged my laptop, streaming the movie, around the house as I hand-finished my floors. North & South had me hooked within minutes, and I watched it more times than I could count in that week! I would be embarrassed to confess how many times I re-watched The Kiss. I even took a break from my floor sanding to drive all the way across Portland to get my hands on the only book on the shelf in the whole city. As always, the movie, while excellent, cannot hold a candle to the book. The cover is about to fall off, and my favorite passages have permanent bookmarks stuck in them, but Elizabeth Gaskell’s prose never fails to delight. The story is everything raw and authentic; a picture of immortal romance in the midst of regular human struggles.
As an aside and a compliment to you, Trudy, I must say that very soon after reading North & South, I found In Consequence and A Heart For Milton. I truly enjoyed both. It salved my poor angst-ridden obsession to see poor John and Margaret find the courage to trust in one another a little earlier. Thank you for leading the way!
You're welcome, it was my pleasure and intention to give readers pages upon pages of what Gaskell had denied us until the very end: John's trembling joy in finding love. John Thornton is such an amazing character, repressing his passion for Margaret through the events of two years and several hundred pages (or almost four hours of film time). Tell me, do you envision Richard Armitage as your John Thornton?
It would be impossible not to! I have never seen another actor who can so masterfully relay such deep emotions with nothing more than a single movement of his eye or a flinch of his cheek. Wow, absolutely breathtaking performance! It is true that I saw the miniseries first, so my view was somewhat prejudiced, but he perfectly presents the reserved man of mild expression and torrential emotion. He truly captured the essence of Thornton the titan, while tastefully portraying the vulnerabilities inherent to his character.
The scene where she is serving him tea was just priceless. The awkward hope in his eyes, desperate to prove himself worthy of her approval, is matched only by the growing passion that takes him completely by surprise. I absolutely love the double take that Richard does when Daniella first walks into her father’s study, and he is properly introduced to her. I envision Gaskell’s first meeting in the book starting off something like that.
What do you love about Gaskell's story?
It is so rich, it would be difficult to distill my response to a few sentences. We all love the pie-in-the-sky romances, but the world is not like that. This is how true love plays out; the exquisite revealing itself to us right in the middle of the prosaic. Another thing I adore is Thornton’s sacrificial love for Margaret. He is willing to put his own honor on the line for a woman he “knows” will never return his affections. He loves her despite her unloveliness, and somehow manages to see perfection while not being blinded to her faults. Gaskell had very strong notions of honor, and they shine through brilliantly. It is painful yet delicious how both eventually come to the defense of the other; neither expecting reciprocation. They simply do so because it is right, and their faithfulness is rewarded in the end.
You've written a Pride & Prejudice variation as well. What have you found to be similar or especially different in writing N&S stories?
As a reader, I am thoroughly charmed by tasteful humor in a love story. So much of life works better if we can laugh at ourselves. As a writer, I hope to capture a little of that as well. With Pride and Prejudice, lightness comes so easily, and I think that is one reason we can point to for the dominance of P&P variations. Elizabeth “dearly loves to laugh” and some of Austen’s characters are her own tongue-in-cheek impressions of other people whom she found amusing. The setting in rural England is gentle, and in the end, our dear couple goes to live in a castle of sorts. We are free to imagine them living out their days in almost perfect harmony.
In North & South, we do not have those luxuries. Gaskell immerses the reader deep into hardship and suffering. Thornton lives and breathes it every day, and Margaret is almost a lifeline to everything he has long been denied, but believes exists somewhere in the world. Gaskell speaks of his sense of humor and how guileless he was in everything he enjoyed, but those moments are sparing. We do not see Margaret really laughing at all, so overcome is she by the harshness of her surroundings. The last glimpse we have of the couple is of a gentle tease, a tender moment, and then we drop the book wondering “What now?”
Even at the end of the story, Gaskell does not tie everything up in a neat little bow for us, setting the world perfectly to rights and ensuring that our dear couple will never face hardship. In fact, we are practically assured that they will. They go back to live and work among squalor, and if we know our couple well, they will feel burdened to do something about it. The confidence that we do have is that they will no longer struggle alone. In that, I believe Gaskell’s tale is so much more attainable. The union of a co-laborer and a partner is the essence of an equal marriage. Perhaps one might say that North & South is the more mature love story of the two, being written by a wife and mother who was intimately acquainted with loss, as opposed to the hopeful, whimsical tale of a woman who never married. (And here I put up my umbrella to fend of the flying vegetables from the audience.)
Tell us a bit about you new variation. What is the premise?
There are so many points in the original where I personally was screaming at one or the other of them to say something! One of the most painful was in the aftermath of the train station debacle. Thornton thinks Margaret has a lover and is willing to lie to conceal her disgrace, and Margaret thinks (accurately) that she has lost whatever respect Thornton ever had for her. She is finally starting to regret that.
In Northern Rain, we see Margaret feeling a little sorry for Thornton after she witnesses him in a moment of genuine, unguarded vulnerability. It gives her the courage to try, in some measure, to explain herself. She is still unwilling to betray Frederick, but she is desperate to improve Thornton’s opinion of her. As they slowly build something of a working friendship, Thornton’s continued closeness to the family at a time when, in the original, he had begun to pull away, reveals Mr Hale’s failing health to him. How might matters have changed for all if Thornton made some intervention? During this time, however, Thornton was facing hardships of his own. At a time when he most wants propose again and is most sure of his reception, he truly has no business offering marriage to anyone. Poor Thornton, it is so delightful to torment him!
I have to agree, tormenting Thornton is a delicious pleasure! Thanks to Nicole for giving us some great insights into her perspective of North and South.
Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask).
Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.