How to tag this.
Know this though: if you expect a romance... well, there is romance, but it's not really the meat of the story. More like a sprinkled seasoning to give the excuse, and a happy ending I guess.
What this is about is industrialization, the theme for most characters was the failure point of their principles or what they considered their cornerstones, and the running one on interactions was misunderstandings arising from lack of enough knowledge to "wear another's shoes" (and no, I do not mean empathy), and it was masterfully done (if long-winded). So masterfully actually, that I had a raging fit and had to stop reading at one point (workers vs owners/strikes), because it is still such an on point analysis today.
The vehicle for all that is us following Margaret Hale through a three-year-long trauma conga line, through which she carries herself with so much poise and holding herself to such impossible standards that I could not help but want to shake her.
I'm a bit addled still by how packed this was, and I confess I'm downright intimidated by the prospect of her other books. I think I'll leave Wives and Daughters for another year's reading project.
I'm needing a "slow" shelf. Despite a lot happening, this one felt like it was double the length.
I'm torn. It's not a bad book. There is a thread of danger imminent running through the whole story, a masterful presentation of a world gone to waste in apathy, and many interesting commentaries on society from the point of view of a very flawed protagonist. The part where I'm torn, is where the suspense did not thrill me, and the package whole felt flat to me.
Here is another aspect of the deal: the movie is also slow (at least at first), the protagonist deeply flawed, the apathy all-encompassing and the depression caused by the setting is transmitted loudly. But it works.
I have trouble working out why the difference in impact, but I think it is the focus.
The movie is about the need to stop being detached, to feel again, to care about something enough to live and die. The pregnant woman symbolizes, above all, hope.
In the book, the pregnant woman still symbolizes hope, but that's only far away down the road. Above all, she represents power. Everyone fights ultimately to be present at the birthing, and it feels like the book is first about power, who has it, what kind of person goes after it and... something like people feeling like power is a reason unto itself when there is no reason left or meaning to find in life.
So, yeah, a though provoking book, but not one I really enjoyed.
For such a short thing, it certainly packed a punch.
Between the unreliable but scathing narrator and the creepy chorus, I found myself running the whole gamut of reactions, from laughter to shudders.
It was an interesting way of taking a stab at all the bits of the Odyssey that make you look askance and wonder.
Ok. Anne is my favourite Brontë now, hands down. Her social commentary was decades before the times opinions and all around relevant still (sadly for the most part).
There is nothing over the top or sensational here. There is a lot of spousal abuse and neglect going around, but the fact that it's not violently brutal is like the last cherry in a way. We have this mentality that abuse is really abuse only if it surpasses a certain level (good God, that sentence gives me the creeps), and this book spits in that (in a very lady like way) and calls it for what it is: unsustainable and inexcusable. There are several instances where different men try spout a variety of rationalizations, shifting of the blame or deferred promises of change. They are all classics and shudder inducing because... well, because they not only try to fool the women, but fool themselves. They actually believe they are not that bad.
"Not that bad" could actually be some kind of abusive anthem. One that this books seems to have taken arms to pulverize, and my kudos to it.
The other thing that is done marvelously is the depiction of how precarious the abused one's position is. Even beyond the context of the restrictions of the times. As the neglect started, and I could envision it getting worse, I had this terrible anxiety over how dependent these women are. It was nerve-wreaking, and it had a point: after accepting it is not right, that pride is not worth bearing it, that there are reasons to escape (oh, and there is another interesting bit: that she can not do it for herself, but raises the courage to protect her son), you need help. This is perfect. So well done, and again, so forward thinking. That one is something that still escapes many when judging an abused spouse.
Character wise, I had some issues with Helen's over-piety, but I get where that fits too: here is this paragon of virtue; she leaves her husband. In a time where that was terrible disgrace, maybe excused but not pardoned for the height of brutality, it threw in the face of everyone reading that a woman so estranged may very well be in the right. Besides, I imagine she might have the need to rely even more on religion and found solace there under her circumstances. I thought her judgmental and dismissive of others counsel too, but that works too, because not only brings her to her marriage, but carries her through it, with both proclivities magnified I imagine.
Gilbert sounded so painfully young to me the whole book. I don't quite feel the romance there, except to imagine that to her he is ultimately so harmless. Which... OK, I totally get.
Beyond the overarching theme, there a lot of things addressed to provoke thought, if all the bits I quoted as I progressed didn't make it obvious, so it's really a book to own, and savour, and take a pencil to (I'm such a savage).