Throwback Thursday: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell


Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week’s pick is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

northWhat I thought:

This book has it all: class conflict, politics, religion, women’s rights and passion! It makes you think, it makes you reflect on what was and it makes you ponder how we got from there to where we are now. We smile with them, we cry with them.

North and South (originally called Margaret Hale, after the principal character, until Charles Dickens made Gaskell change it) starts with a little rose-covered cottage in the countryside in the south of England where Margaret Hale lives with her Pastor Father, her mother, and their servants. Margaret loves the outdoors; she loves to sketch nature and spends a carefree and idyllic youth milling around the land and helping neighbours with various acts of charity. Towards the end of Margaret’s teens, her father announces that he has abandoned the church and because of this the whole family is uprooted to Milton-Northern (apparently based on Gaskell’s hometown of Manchester) to start again.

Milton is an industrial town in the north of England and not only is the landscape the polar opposite of Margaret’s hometown of Helstone, with factories, smoke, noise, and pollution, but also the townsfolk are quite different from those she is used to. I found this very interesting, and this is why I think Dickens was absolutely right to make Gaskell change the title: there is still a divide even today between the north and the south in England, although not on the same scale as back in the Victorian era, no doubt. I am from the north of England (Yorkshire) and northerners, even today, have a reputation for speaking their mind and being somewhat brash. We are also known for being friendly and open, whereas southerners are thought of as being unfriendly (even rude) and looking down their noses at northerners. These are all stereotypes, you understand, but there is no smoke without fire, as they say.

The story centres around the town of Milton and, in my opinion, the actual town is the protagonist, rather than Margaret Hale. Margaret is the voice of the book and it is through her eyes that we see this new world that she inhabits; we see her eyes open to the poverty and suffering of her townsfolk, the difference between those who have and those who have not, but it is Milton who is the largest character.

Margaret quickly befriends a local man, Nicholas Higgins, who is a mill worker and struggling to bring up his two daughters, Betsy and Mary, after his wife’s death. Bessy is gravely ill from “fluff” which Margaret discovers is a result of working in one of the factories and she is appalled by the conditions that this family and others around the Higgins’ have to live in. She takes it out on John Thornton, a self-made businessman and mill owner and who is also a pupil of her father (he is studying literature with him) and when the workers start to revolt and strike against the mill-owners she believes that Mr. Thornton has done wrong by his workers. Mr. Thornton is a proud man, and although he is in love with Margaret, he knows that he will never be good enough for her and he is aware of Margaret’s dislike and contempt for him and his ways but he cannot help falling passionately in love with her. When the riots occur at the factory Margaret shields him with her own body when they start to throw things at him and afterwards he confesses his love for Margaret which horrifies her as she has acted upon charity and would have done the same for anyone.

The move to Milton and change of scenery and circumstances affect the whole family very badly, especially Margaret’s mother, Mrs. Hale, whose health is continuously failing her. Margaret, knowing that her mother doesn’t have long left to live, gets in touch with her brother Frederic (who is a family secret as Frederic is a  former officer of the Navy and is in hiding and wanted for having been the ringleader of a mutiny). His return would cost him his life, but  Margaret takes the risk for her mother’s sake and writes him a letter begging him to return as soon as possible. Frederic arrives and spends some time with his beloved family, but has to leave almost immediately as he is terrified of being discovered. Mr. Thornton sees him & his sister saying their goodbyes at the station and takes them for lovers. That is the first time that Margaret realizes she cares about the possible loss of his good opinion of her and fears that she is now falling in love with him just at the time when she believes that he is falling out of love with her.

Another sad and unforeseen event takes Margaret back to London to stay with her cousin Edith and her family, but she doesn’t relalise that Mr. Thornton is going through a financial crisis that is about to change his world too. Now you need to read it yourself to find out what happens!


I believe this book to be vitally important to understanding how far we have come today in such a short period of time; after all it was only written 160 years ago. But more than that, for me, it is also a fantastic psychological study of human nature and behaviour and shows us how little that changes over the years: we still have strikes, rebellion, politics change very little, people still love and despair and are proud and passionate – that doesn’t change.

For anyone who loves Victorian novels, social commentary, history in the making and love stories – this is for you!


Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?



Throwback Thursday: The Suspicions of Mr Witcher by Kate Summerscale


Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My pick for this week is The Suspicions of Mr. Witcher by Kate Summerscale which I remember really enjoying when I read it.

9780747596486What I thought:

What a fascinating book this was. I expected to read about the true story of one of the most shocking crimes in 19th century England but I hadn’t bargained for also getting a fantastically written and hugely interesting social commentary of Victorian times and attitudes and behaviours with regards to the emergence of Police Detectives in this country.

Mr. Whicher, the Detective called into this particular case, was one of the first ever Scotland Yard Detectives which came with its own share of suspicion and mistrust. The case in question was the murder of a 3-year-old boy, one of the several children of a well-to-do family in a country house in Wiltshire. In June 1860, the young boy was found to be missing from his cot in the morning and later that day his body was discovered (with his throat slit and a stab wound to his chest) down the servant’s toilet outside in the grounds. It soon became apparent that the perpetrator was one of the people inside the house on that night (which consisted of the boys family, the nursemaid, and housemaid). Whicher was called in to find out which one of the family murdered the three-year-old while the whole of England became obsessed with the drama, writing into the newspapers in their thousands offering their opinion on who committed the crime.

While I found the unravelling of this story fascinating in itself, I was also delighted to see so many references to some great Victorian authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 1860 was also the year that the first victorian “sensational” novel was published and this appeared to feed the frenzy of the public. This particular case has also been reported to have been the basis for subsequent rather famous novels such as Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Collins’ The Moonstone and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret all of which contain themes from this particular story. Dickens (who was also an aquaintance of Mr Whicher) even wrote letters to Collins offering his theory on what took place that night.

This book is completely non-ficiton to point that only recorded conversations and facts are included (which seems to be the reason there are alot of negative reviews about it – perhaps it seemed too dry for some). And while this is more of a why-dunnit than a who-dunnit , there are still a few surprises along the way that caught me off-guard.


I thoroughtly enjoyed this book; infact I could barely put it down. Summerscale stuck to the facts without trying to sensationalise the story any more than it already was by putting words in peoples mouths and the result was a hugely enjoyable novel about a shocking crime and its repercussions in Victorian society. Highly recommended.



Have you read this? Do you like crime non-fiction and could you recommend any others?

Throwback Thursday: Villette by Charlotte Bronte


Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

villetteI am a huge fan of all the Brontë sisters and Jane Eyre is actually one of my favourite books of all time. However, I wanted to share one of her lesser known books instead – Villette. Funnily enough when I first picked it up, I reached page 100 and put it down for a while but something kept pulling me back and it ended up being in my Top 20 ever books.

This review is taken from my original review in 2009

What I thought:

Reader, I heart Ms. Brontë! Reading Villette was like reading a huge epic that I was so immersed in that I walked in Lucy Snowe’s shoes, I felt what she felt. How many authors can do that to you?

Lucy Snowe is difficult to get to know at first. In fact, she is difficult to like. This is deliberate; she tells you about other people, what they think, what they feel, but precious little about herself, of whom she appears fiercely private. Only as the story unfolds does she start to let you in – I remember being surprised when she showed such tender, gentle thoughts and actions towards the sick daughter of her employer; that, I believe, was the first glimpse of emotion from Lucy and it really endeared me to her. Lucy Snowe’s name was not an accident – Brontë toyed with Lucy Frost for a while before settling on Snowe. She also allows us to see her as others do: “Crabbed and crusty” said Ginevra, a pupil at the school, and “unfeeling thing that I was” written to her in a letter. The point is, she isn’t unfeeling at all. She is lonely and trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. Lucy’s past is only hinted at but it appears to have been an unhappy one.

Brontë’s prose is gorgeous, Villette is such a richly embroidered account of a young woman trying to make a life for herself in a foreign country and fighting for independence and friendship. This book isn’t a romance in the same way that Jane Eyre is. I wasn’t sure for a long time who the leading man would be (in fact he doesn’t even appear until the second half of the book). And it isn’t love at first sight, we watch it grow.

I absolutely adored this book and it is now a firm favourtie of mine.  I finally closed the book in a daze. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was not expecting what happened at the end at all. That came completely out of the blue for me.

Go ahead, indulge and enjoy!

Have you read any books by the Brontë’s? Which ones are your favourites?


Review: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

uneeingWhat I thought:

This book sounded right up my street. And it was. Based on an historical true crime, The Unseeing follows the incarceration of Sarah Gale in Newgate Gaol for the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of Hannah’s wedding to James Greenacre (Sarah’s lover, who is also convicted and sentenced to hang).

The sense of time and place was brilliantly done; I could really feel the cold and squalid conditions of the gaol and picture the London chaos and fog and horseshit.

The murder of Hannah Brown was a particularly brutal one and came to be known as the Edgeware Road Murder on account of it being where her torso was found (her head was later found in the Thames and her legs were found sticking out of a sack by a labourer). It was alleged that James and Sarah murdered Hannah and then disposed of the various body parts but there were questions around Sarah Gale’s part in the proceedings due to her reluctance to say anything during the trial.

In The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola has tried to fill in the gaps of what could possibly have happened back on that fateful Christmas Day in 1836. Why did Sarah Gale not defend herself (especially when she had a 4-year-old son)? Was she afraid of Greenacre or was it something else? I sometimes have a problem with books based on true stories but take the artistic license too far or the plot meanders so far away from what is more likely to have happened. But although many of the characters in The Unseeing are fictional, they are necessary as a device with which to explore what could have really happened (Edmund Fleetwood in this case, who is a young lawyer trying to make his name on a big case like this and tries to get Sarah to tell him what really happened). Despite the fact, that much of this book is fiction, it felt perfectly plausible to me and also added a bit more drama to a grisly tale that relatively little is now known about. I was glad that I didn’t look up what ultimately happened to Sarah Gale, as although so little is known about her, I found that the book really pulled me along, chapter by chapter, in my quest to find out what might really have happened. We’ll never know, of course, but Mazzola certainly gives us a damn good yarn to mull over.


I really enjoyed this book. Not only was there the fabulously authentic Edwardian/Victorian society, but I also loved how Mazzola brought to the fore the plight of women in those times – their lack of rights, lack of a voice, lack of dignity, and Elizabeth Fry’s social and prison reforms to help them (I would actually like to read more about this now). An incredibly atmospheric book and one I highly recommend.


Throwback Thursday: The Mayor of Casterbridge


Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

mayorTaken from my review in 2012:

When I began this book I have to admit that I didn’t think the three words I’d be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it’s the worst book she’s ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the “don’t bother” part of my brain. But then I saw or heard something about this book (I forget where and what) and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did – The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!

Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make inquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.

The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modeled on Dorchester in Dorset). It’s difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don’t want to give it away – this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around – Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.

Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy’s understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.

What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far – they’re like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all – love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentance. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians – and those before them – used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.

I just had to share this quote with you too as it made me laugh:

“The present room was much humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying everywhere. The number and quality made the meagre furniture that supported them seem absurdly disproportionate.”

Sound familiar? 😉


I loved the fact that there were pictures too



I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your preconceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature – this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point.

Have you read it? If so, what did you think?



The Classics Club

5 years to read the classics

A blog I love (and only discovered a few months ago) called A Room of One’s Own has decided to start a Classics Club and I am LOVING this idea!

The rules are pretty flexible but basically you have to list 50 or 75 or 100 classic books that you want to read in the next 5 years (these can be changed at any time – which is great for me ‘cos I am fickle ;)) and you have 5 years to read them. There are so many classics that I really want to read and I am loving the timeframe as it means I don’t have to panic-read them all this year (or fall off the wagon as I don’t think it will be do-able).

Jillian (A Room of One’s Own) has also set up a private group on Goodreads for all those who are joining in the Classics Club to share links and posts and reviews etc.

So after much thought and deliberation, here is my (initial) list of books I want to read. I have gone for sixty as that equals one per month for the next 5 years which I think should be more than do-able.



  1700’s (4)

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe



  1800’s (31)

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

The Beth Book by Sarah Grand

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac

Germinal by Emile Zola

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

Can you Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Esther Waters by George Moore

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Complete Short Fiction by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde



  1900’s (25)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E M Forster

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

The Mad Ache by Francoise Sagan

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

The Distance Between Us by Dorothy Whipple

Mariana by Monica Dickens

Justine by Lawrence Durrell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

Daniel Martin by John Fowles

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

  Will you be joining us?

  Any of the ones above an absolute mus-read-right-now?

A winner and “A bientot”

And the winner is…

Thank you for all of you who entered the latest Literary Giveaway Blog Hop; I hope that, even though you haven’t won, I may have convinced you to give either The Mayor of Casterbridge, Little Women or North and South a read.

Anyway, as always, there can only be one winner so congratulations to:



From Wordsmithonia

Ryan has chosen North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and said in his comment that his friend has been trying to get him to read it for years, so I really hope you enjoy it, Ryan 🙂


And now I’ll say goodbye until next week as I am about to jump on a plane to Paris for 4 days. I cannot WAIT! It was part of my 40th birthday present from last year from Mr Whisperer and he has also given me permission to spend as long as I like in Shakespeare & Co (probably my favourite bookshop in the whole world) and have a little (ahem) spending spree. See you next week with my brand new purchases 🙂


Au revoir!