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Sunday, 6 January 2019

Catcalling in the 19th century

Look at this passage from chapter 8 of North and South
“… But she alternately dreaded and fired up against the workmen, who commented not on her dress, but on her looks, in the same open fearless manner. She, who had hitherto felt that even the most refined remark on her personal appearance was an impertinence, had to endure undisguised admiration from these outspoken men. But the very out-spokenness marked their innocence of any intention to hurt her delicacy, as she would have perceived if she had been less frightened by the disorderly tumult. Out of her fright came a flash of indignation which made her face scarlet, and her dark eyes gather flame, as she heard some of their speeches. Yet there were other sayings of theirs, which, when she reached the quiet safety of home, amused her even while they irritated her.
For instance, one day, after she had passed a number of men, several of whom had paid her the not unusual compliment of wishing she was their sweetheart, one of the lingerers added, 'Your bonny face, my lass, makes the day look brighter.' And another day, as she was unconsciously smiling at some passing thought, she was addressed by a poorly-dressed, middle-aged workman, with 'You may well smile, my lass; many a one would smile to have such a bonny face.'…” 
That, ladies and gentlemen, is catcalling. I don’t remember coming across anything like that in a 19th century novel before—that is interesting. People have always been the same. 





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There isn’t much else for me to write about North and South at the moment. 
The scene of our heroine Margaret Hale meeting Mr Thornton the 1st time has a sentence that got my attention:  
“He almost said to himself that he did not like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he told himself he was—a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a refinement about him.” (Ch.7) 
That looks like a James sentence. 
Otherwise, Elizabeth Gaskell’s style is rather plain, full of clichés. Earlier I saw the praise for North and South, and Elizabeth Gaskell in general, and wondered why she wasn’t counted among the greatest female writers of British literature, together with Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and George Eliot. Now I can see why.

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