Daily Prompt: Unmapped Country

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us WORDS.

51d256Yx5XL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The last book I read and finished was Chrissie Elmore’s Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues. This book starts off from the chapter-before-the-last-chapter of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, or Chapter LI (51 as 52 would be the final chapter).

Besides continuing from the book, it is also loosely based on the 2004 BBC adaptation starring Daniella Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage, without the ending the mini-series opted to use which, during that time, would have left both their reputations in ruins. Unmapped Country also uses some of the characters introduced in the series, like Mr. Latimer, the banker, and his daughter, Miss Latimer. Elmore writes the book close to the way Gaskell wrote it, which means it was written in the vein of the time. You could literally read Gaskell’s book, skip the final chapter and continue with Elmore’s book without missing a beat.

Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues follows the travails of two characters – Margaret Hale, now a wealthy heiress, and John Thornton, a mill owner who has recently been forced to shut down his own cotton mill due to the economic climate. It follows each character’s journey to certain realizations about life and each other, despite a proud mother unwilling to let go of her son to someone as spirited as the very woman who saves her son’s business, and a society stuck on how this class or that class of people should act and what rightly deserve.

Oh, the many missteps they encounter just to get to first base were so frustrating yet charming at times, but it built up the excitement as I continued to read the book.

It was also nice to read the growing awareness Margaret develops in the struggle to pair her moral ethics with the decisions she has to make regarding her investments and there were a few instances where I found myself saying, “you can’t save the world and stay wealthy at the same time!” – something I’m sure Bill and Belinda Gates are often faced with themselves (on second thought – probably not).

It is a well-researched book about the Industrial Revolution, one that got me digging into my garage for my own book on the Industrial Revolution – only to realize that I may have given it away to the local library by accident.  I like books that do give me enough background of the times, especially if I’m unfamiliar with said times.  And though the narrative often gets bogged down by the research Elmore has made, the events flow from one to the other, eventually culminating in an event that brought tears to my eyes (quite unexpectedly) and gave me goosebumps (again, unexpectedly) and finally to its charming, much-awaited conclusion.

dvd-ns-nlI discovered North and South by accident, while killing time on Youtube.   And when I watched the miniseries the first time, I could not figure out why the main characters were having so many problems. So she is from the south and he from the north? So what? I thought.

It’s not like the American mini-series North and South, which involved brothers separated by a civil war.

So she’s some clergyman’s daughter and he a mill owner? What the heck was the problem? And then there was the issue with the union dispute and the strike and the Irish workers imported in (would they be called scabs then?).

Unfortunately my knowledge of period stories was based primarily on Jane Austen, which I realized now, focused only on a certain part of society (except for Mansfield Park, but then it still focused much on the upper crust of society). So I had to watch North & South the second time to fully understand it. Not only that, I picked up the book by Gaskell and read it before I finally really understood what was at the heart of the story besides a tender love story between two fiery individuals.

Bear with me here – you see, my latest list of read books have been about fallen angels (Angelfall) and chimaeras (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) – so my mind wasn’t exactly into social and economical issues of 1800’s England and the disparity between the industrial north and class-centric south. I had to first extricate myself from the fantastic storylines I was lost in, but when I finally understood what North and South, both the book and the mini-series, were about, I was hooked.

Unmapped Country: The Story of North and South Continues was one of the many North & South themed books I found on Amazon, written mostly by fans of the BBC miniseries and Richard Armitage. While some of the books focused primarily on marital relations or as some reviewers described as “soft porn”, I picked this book because the reviewers said it was the one closest to Gaskell’s vision and way of writing – which worked for me.

Now I’m not going to be hypocritical and say that I never read soft porn (heck, I write it) or have no curiosity about the many scenarios of Margaret and John’s marital relations, or how such things happened during that time (Did they shave? Brazilian blowout? Keep their clothes on? Keep separate beds?), but after just having finished a second reading of Gaskell’s book, I was looking for something that was more loyal to her style – and I was glad I found it in Elmore’s book.

After all, if I really wanted an answer to my questions, there are other books on the list and I do plan to work my way through all of them – eventually.

For now, I’m getting ready to continue reading the saga of the chimaera, Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) and lose myself into another world so far removed from Industrial England.

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Daily Prompt

Sparkhouse Character Study: Andrew Lawton

It’s only been a month since I’ve first seen the BBC miniseries Sparkhouse, courtesy of some wonderful people on Youtube who have posted all the episodes online, and my first viewing left me confused.  Andrew Lawton’s character was such a whiny coward that I was tempted to fast forward past many of his scenes just to get to the parts where Richard Armitage’s character John Standring dominated the screen.

My first viewing was a bit haphazard, I admit.  I missed a few segments and probably never really saw the entire thing from beginning to end, and proceeded to the conclusion that Andrew was a complete ass.  How could he be married and still want Carol at the same time?  How could he be so selfish as to ruin Carol and John’s big day by announcing that Lisa was Carol’s daughter and that he was the father.  And really, the biggest question of all, how could he leave her at the altar after he’d promised her that they’d get married?

By the third viewing, my point of view started to shift a bit.  By the fourth viewing, it completely shifted.

Andrew, I’ve discovered, was a gentleman through and through.  Albeit a cowardly gentleman, but a gentleman just the same – at least in his mind.

Now before you stone me, hear me out.

He knew Carol since they were little children, and though he never noticed that she was pregnant at twelve (only that she wasn’t allowed out of the house to play with him that one summer), they were both devoted to each other like best friends usually are.  So they loved each other and snogged like crazy up in that ruined farmhouse on stormy nights, but as he told Becky, his wife, when she was about to break the news about Lisa’s parentage on Carol and John’s wedding day, he and Carol never had sex because “she couldn’t.”  Not after what her father had done to her.

Now, any man who actually respects a woman’s choice to say no to something she’s not comfortable doing for whatever reason – I’m on my period.  I don’t like you that way.  I’m feeling a bit bloated. I’ve got a headache.  My father raped me when I was twelve and I got pregnant so no, no sex at all because it grosses me out – is, in my book, a saint.  And Andrew respected her decision for years, it seems.

Who knows?  Did he feel the urge at sixteen?  Seventeen?  Eighteen? And yet he never pushed her all that time.  He respected her decision to say no.  He loved her so much to put his own needs aside to make sure she was alright.

When he learns that Carol is marrying John for his money so that she can fix up the farm and avoid losing tenancy, he suggests helping her out by getting a loan.  He is distressed to learn that she will be having sex with John, knowing just how she feels about sex.  Remember that they’ve never had sex together, ever.  He respected her decision then when they were teen-agers, and believe me, with hormones raging, that must have meant a LOT of self-control.  No wonder he told John that bit about making Carol into a prostitute and “what does that make you?”

And it’s actually a valid question.

When you trade money (whether it’s for lease payments, repairs to the farm, or a pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes) for sex, partnership, the prospect of having kids (though “not right away, but eventually”) or being with someone you-honestly-don’t-really-care-for-in-that-way-other-than-what-he-brings-to-the-table, it’s actually called…wait for it…prostitution.

And Andrew was actually right.

At The Fleece a few years earlier, when Carol asks John if he’d like to “shag,” he says yes, albeit a bit in shock, though this was their first “date”.  If anyone ever asked me if I wanted to shag him on the first date while his ex-girlfriend frolicked about in the dance floor close by, no matter how much I liked him, I’d probably look around and make sure I wasn’t being punked.  Sure, given a few glasses of wine or bottles of beer, I would have done it, but it wouldn’t have been something I’d base a long-term relationship on.

Now I know John does not know anything about the abuse Carol’s father had inflicted on her, but his immediate “yes” to her ‘shag’ question puts his own character into question.

The one scene that finally put Andrew Lawton in a much better light (at least to me, at this moment) than John Standring was the scene outside the registry office in Hallifax, where Andrew tells Carol that Lisa knew who her real mother was, for she’d seen her birth certificate, and that Lisa had also figured out that he, Andrew, was her father.  This was something he actually told Becky earlier that Lisa would be better off believing this fabrication rather than the truth that her own grandfather, Richard Bolton, was her real father.  Ewww…

Andrew didn’t have to do what he did, but probably remembering the horror he had felt when he first learned that Lisa was Carol’s daughter by none other than her father (and not being able to do anything about it without having Carol and Lisa end up in foster homes and the family losing the farm) prompted him to spare Lisa the same torrent of guilt and shame Carol would have felt then.  It was bad enough for Carol to have gone through such hell.  Another thing entirely to have the innocent daughter go through such knowledge as well.

And knowing that from that time onwards, Carol would be sleeping with a man she did not love for Lisa’s sake and so they could have a home, probably left Andrew so impotent, so useless that he couldn’t even live with himself if he couldn’t extricate her from the mess she’d buried herself under.

And when she told him to go away after he begged her to run away with him, it was the look in Carol’s eyes that told him she’d accepted her fate.  She’d married someone she didn’t love to save the farm and give her daughter a home.  She had made her choice, no matter how awful.  It’s one thing to be married to a man you know will do the right thing and not cut corners, it’s another to actually love the man…

I think that Andrew felt responsible for the path that Carol found herself in.  When he stood her up at the registry office five years earlier to please his parents (or maybe because he was just too weak and too young to stand up to them – come to think of it, he’d always lived a privileged existence, never having to work, and if his parents told him they’d stop supporting him, it’s enough to give one pause, really), that decision led her to this path now – a path that meant she agreed to marry someone else to be able to live a life that would be more dignified than the one she’d had in Leeds.  It gave her her home back, though the circumstances were less than ideal.

And all this, the result of that one moment of weakness and cowardice on his part.  A decision he decides to make up for by begging Carol to move away with him.  But it’s a case of too little too late, an unfortunate conclusion he reaches to that prompts him to do what he does that same night.

So please forgive me if this post isn’t about John Standring and how wonderful he was for being there for Carol, for giving her what she needed when Andrew could not.  But just as circumstances beyond their control caused Catherine and Heathcliffe to be apart in Wuthering Heights, so it is with Carol and Andrew in Sparkhouse.

One act of cowardice on Andrew’s part set the stage for Carol’s life to unfold the way it did, and from the time they reunited five years later, nothing Andrew could do could ever undo the first stone he had cast upon the water.

Yet for all his childhood cowardice, Andrew’s final act of taking the responsibility of being known as Lisa’s father, leaving the truth to be known only by another person other than himself – Carol – at least gives Lisa hope for a better life without guilt or shame.

And that, to me, makes him a true gentleman and a bittersweet hero to this tragic tale of doomed love.

Addendum:  Clearly I’ve had way too much time on my hands to write all this when I should be sleeping.  I actually LOVE John Standring’s character so his character study should be coming up soon, and I promise I’ll be nice.  Just need a few more viewings before I do pen it!

AI hope you enjoyed this little character study, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

Northbound Train

I’ve recently discovered a gem of a period drama called “North and South” on BBC while browsing through fan videos on Youtube featuring, well, period dramas.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to see clips of movies I’ve yet to see like “Becoming Jane” and “Wives and Daughters” or even movies that I have seen, like “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen.

It was actually during this time a few years ago that I first discovered fan videos of Matthew that led me to other pieces of his work like “Spooks/MI5” and “Little Dorrit”.

And so about two months ago, I found myself looking for the dance scene from “Becoming Jane” where a sad-looking Anne Hathaway dances with some sad-looking bloke, and then her face lights up when James McAvoy dances right next to her (honestly, if James McAvoy started dancing next to me, and then with me, my face would light up, too – hubby be damned).

Then I clicked on a ‘related video’ entitled “North and South train ending” and was so riveted by the exchange between a magnificent man named John Thornton and a beautiful woman named Margaret Hale that their kiss at the end totally took my breath away. Really.

That same evening, I watched all four hours of the BBC drama on Youtube, even though North & South was actually on my Netflix queue already, and lucky for me, I got to see the unedited US version, which I much prefer anyway.

The next evening, I told hubby all about it and he proceeded to watch it on Youtube (on the big screen this time as we have Youtube streaming on our Blu-ray player) till about one in the morning.  The next morning, he told me that he had gotten only to the part of the train scene when they kissed and he couldn’t find the rest of it.

“I didn’t get to see them going back to the mill and all that,” he said.  I had the unfortunate job of informing him that what he had seen was actually the end of the mini-series, and after hearing that, he was quite disappointed, poor chap.

But I was quite happy he liked it.  He’s a union type of man and loved the parts of the cotton gin and the mill and how it showed real people with real jobs and real problems.

Anyway, I digress.  What I’m trying to say is that my return to writing again has been prompted by this character named John Thornton, and while I am not tackling any sequels to Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South” (which, by the way, is a wonderful book!), it’s the characterization of the actor, Richard Armitage, that’s to blame for my return to my pen, or in this case, to my keyboard, to write out the stories that have been populating inside my head for years.

And for that, Mr. Armitage, I am eternally grateful.  Writing, after all, has kept me out of trouble since high school (after that unfortunate incident with the floating papers that made its way into the hands of a single, ultra religious and conservative teacher that led to me being taken to the guidance counselor and to the principal, who proceeded to remove me from drama club and personally dropped me off at the writers club, thank you very much!) and at present as well.

I’ve probably seen this mini-series about three times now to fully understand the story and even though I’ve read the book as well (the comic strip incorporates Gaskell’s words with the final caption) I still cry when I see this ending.  When she takes his hand, her index finger slipping around his and then she brings his hand to her lips, yes, I cry every fricking time it’s ridiculous.