Hard Times: Dickens' own "Milton" tale

A Manufacturing Town (1922) - L.S. Lowry

A Manufacturing Town (1922) - L.S. Lowry

How does Charles Dickens' Hard Times compare to North and South?  I've wondered about this for years, ever since I heard that Hard Times was also an industrial novel. These two stories even appeared back-to-back in 1854. Dickens ran his story in weekly installments from April to August in his magazine, Household Words. Gaskell's story ran from September to January of the following year.

How are these two works similar? Well, in Dickens' book there is a dirty industrial town, a self-made manufacturer (with a mother who worships him!), a poor weaver with integrity and soul, and a heroine who doesn't know her own heart.

And there are similar strains in highlighting what is lacking in the industrial society of the day. Dickens' overall theme boils down to a warning that in the intellectual and self-satisfied excitement of lauding science and industry, it is vital to remember that humans are not machines or numbers, but individuals who need nurturing and care. Focusing on facts, statistics, bank accounts (and social esteem) deadens us to matters of humanity. It's the lower classes--Cissy Jupe, Stephen Blackpool, and Rachel--who understand what life is really about: love.

The most pointed difference, for me, between Hard Times and North and South is in the depth of the characters drawn by the author. Dickens uses exaggerated characters to make his pointed social commentary. It's difficult to feel an intimate connection with characters that are more symbolic than realistic. I felt the most sympathetic connection with the poor weaver, Stephen Blackpool, whose situation and hope reflects the reality of many hard-worn lives of every century. With Gaskell's characters, I can sympathize with each and every one for their very human faults, habits, and virtues. 

Oh, but I love Hard Times'  comedic Mrs. Sparsit! What a perfectly conniving, presumptuous old fortune-seeker! It was glorious to see her get taken down. The scene in which she gleefully endures pouring rain and muddy terrain to spy on her nemesis was fantastically described. This part was Dickens at his best for descriptions and character revelation. She may be my favorite Dickens character yet!
 

Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby

Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby

Of course, anyone who loves North and South, will be interested in Dickens' dark description of "Milton."

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.
It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.


I really enjoyed reading a shorter work of Dickens. The intricate weaving of the characters into the building plot is Dickens' usual genius. In this story, no scene is superfluous. Every early scene lays the groundwork for the coming climax.

Overall, I liked this better than the over-rated Great Expectations, and maybe even better than Little Dorrit and Bleak House, where I found the length of the novel sometimes tedious. My romantic side would have loved to see a happier ending for a few of the characters, but considering the title of the book I'll suppress my complaint. Nothing here can compare to the romance in North and South.

And that self-made manufacturer in Hard Times? Definitely not John Thornton material! Josiah Bounderby is a pompous old windbag. Sorry about that. But who could compete with John Thornton anyway?

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John Thornton in Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey

 

John Thornton makes such a captivating romantic hero, which is why I'm thrilled to see his character play a role in Ginger Monette's well-received Great War romance series! Ginger's second book, Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, is out -- and both books have consistently received rave reviews. I'm particularly impressed, because not many books at Amazon maintain a solid five-star rating!

Amazon link to the first book here.

Amazon link to the first book here.

You'll want to dive into this series soon, because the author is planning to focus on John and Margaret's story in a future book!

I interviewed Ginger in a previous post here, where she talked about her love for John Thornton and his role in her unfolding story. 

Today, she has given More Than Thornton an exclusive excerpt from her new book.

 

 

From Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey:

(Picking up action in the heat of a battle—Thornton goes in search of Darcy whom he suspects is trapped inside a bombed-out factory.)

A minute later, Thornton was galloping towards the factory chimney, ignoring the flaming city and cannonade overhead. Some two years before he’d concluded that his situation with Margaret was hopeless and let her go—a decision he’d regretted every day since then. He wouldn’t give up so easily on Captain Darcy.
He swung down in the factory yard and sprinted inside. “Captain!” his voice echoed in the hollow space over the muffled booms and thuds outside. “Captain?” He jogged through a sea of scattered rubble and dust. Just ahead the chimney rose above a mound of masonry wreckage. He stopped dead. Had he heard something? He angled his ear. Yes! A delicate melody—like a harp—no, a music box. He scrambled up the pile of toppled masonry, then frantically tossed aside chunks of bricks and mortar, honing in on the sound.
The captain’s head appeared—eyes closed and motionless, face bloodied and ashen with a coating of soot and grey dust. Thornton sat back on his heels and swallowed hard. Had he really thought someone could survive free falling in an avalanche of masonry? Thornton stared down at his captain. This was the man he’d served for the last five months, and for six months the year before. A man he respected—and who respected him in return. Captain Darcy had given his life to communicate one message. The least Thornton could do was give him a proper burial.
Flecks of dust floated in the air, illumined by the tunnel of light from above. The slowing music box melody stopped, like an ethereal winding down of a life passing into eternity.
Thornton sighed and pushed the debris from the captain’s chest. He lifted the tiny silver box, blew off the dust, and examined it in the light. Until now, he didn’t know what tune it played, only that it was important to the captain. It hadn’t left his person for the last five months. And neither had the photograph. He reached for the picture, wiped away the dust, and looked at it for the first time. The captain stood gazing down on a young woman whose image was marred by masonry scratches. Judging by the uncharacteristic smile on the captain’s face, he must have cared deeply for her. His chest tightened. He carried a photograph of his own—of the woman he had loved...and lost.
Second book in the series - Amazon link here.

Second book in the series - Amazon link here.

Although I haven't taken the opportunity to read either of these books yet, I'm eager to see how Ginger's extensive knowledge of the era enhances the drama and details of the story.

The first book in the series, Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes, is on sale through February. It's the perfect time -- and the perfect month -- to indulge in a new romantic tale. 

 

The first book in the series - Amazon link here.

The first book in the series - Amazon link here.

Only you -- romantic obsession in North and South

The film world's most romantic kiss.

The film world's most romantic kiss.

The best love stories involve a fierce devotion and fidelity that suffer through time and agonizing circumstances. This is certainly the case for John Thornton and Margaret Hale. 

But what would have happened if Margaret and John had never cleared up the misunderstandings that kept them apart? What if they had never met at the train station (or in that back drawing room at Harley Street)? Would they have eventually settled into a mature complacency and have settled down to marry someone else?

All my romantic sensitivities scream "NO!"

Fortunately, I can find plenty of contextual evidence to support my emotional response.

So why do I believe John and Margaret's love for each other would inspire a lifetime of devotion? Because for both of these passionate introverts, falling in love was a once-in-a-lifetime event that ran very deep.

John Thornton

From the moment he meets Margaret, John is tongue-tied and dazed (see my post about this first encounter here). He's somewhere around thirty years old and he has never felt such a powerful attraction to a woman before. He's completely blindsided by the whole experience of falling in love; which throws him into a vortex of emotions that are entirely beyond his normal self-control. Falling for Margaret appears to entirely upend his regulated mental world.

Before Margaret, marriage was not on John Thornton's mind. From what he quips to his mother, the most eligible man in Milton doesn't even appear to be aware that women have been angling for him for years. 

"I never was aware of any young lady trying to catch me yet, nor do I believe that any one has ever given themselves that useless trouble."

Was he really that clueless?! Apparently so. It's rather painfully clear that John Thornton was not making the social rounds looking for a bride. And he doesn't seem to have any intimate friends either. He's busy. And he keeps to himself for the most part. He and his mother -- his closest companion -- don't share their deepest thoughts and feelings with one another.

So when he does fall in love, it's intense. And Gaskell lets us know it. Margaret is the only one who has drawn him out and fired up ALL his emotional buttons. And could it be any clearer that he's obsessed with Margaret and Margaret alone? Check out all these swoon-worthy quotes:

Margaret ... you are the only woman I ever loved!
I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thought too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love.
If Mr. Thornton was a fool in the morning, as he assured himself at least twenty times he was, he did not grow much wiser in the afternoon. All that he had gained ... was a more vivid conviction that there never was, never could be, any one like Margaret....
ns3-010.jpg
 

It's an all-consuming love for John. He doesn't dabble in cotton; he doesn't dabble in love. It's all or nothing for him.

Poor John is devastated by her rejection of him, and he's absolutely tortured by the thought of her being in love with another man. Even five months after his rejection, he discovers that his passionate feelings are wildly out of control.

....the very sight of that face and form, the very sounds of that voice....had such power to move him from his balance. Well! He had known what love was -- a sharp pang, a fierce experience, in the midst of whose flames he was struggling! but, through that furnace he would fight his way out into the serenity of middle age, -- all the richer and more human for having known this great passion. 

It's this stunning quote from the book that reveals how deeply he feels this connection to Margaret. He considers it foundational, transformative. He expects the effect of this singular powerful devotion to continue to reverberate throughout his life.

I don't think there's a chance he'll marry anyone else.

Margaret Hale

One of the most striking differences between Margaret and girls like Edith and Fanny is how little Margaret's mind is occupied in finding a husband. For a girl of marriageable age in that era, it's rather startling that it doesn't even seem to occur to her to consider Henry as a possible match. She's not thinking of Henry that way because she doesn't have any romantic feelings for him. And she refuses him because she cannot reciprocate his ardor. 

Margaret expects to marry for love (see my post here). She believes that when a man asks a woman to marry him, it should be "the deepest, holiest proposal of his life." Margaret is no flighty, flirtatious girl looking for the most comfortable option in life. She cannot accept his proposal because "her instinct had made anything but a refusal impossible." Her heart is not in it.

Although Margaret's journey to a deep-held devotion takes much more time to develop, the impact on her is still very powerful. She's attracted to John's strength, integrity, and honesty. And his passion for her, once communicated, frightens and fascinates her. By the time she fully realizes that she's in love with him, she cannot control her strong feelings and obsessive attraction any more than he can.

She knows she made a mistake in refusing him, and cries helplessly to think of the opportunity for happiness she has lost:

Some time, if I live to be an old woman, I may sit over the fire, and looking into the embers, see the life that might have been.

Poor Margaret also doesn't have anyone to truly open up to in her despair. She, like John, keeps her emotions hidden from those around her. This solitary struggle makes the longing for each other even more intense. They are both desperate for that intimate connection -- to find an emotional home where they can love and be loved without repression. 

Even after he declares that his foolish passion for her is over, she cannot stop thinking of him.

At present it seemed to her as if all subjects tended towards Mr. Thornton; as if she could not forget him with all her endeavors.

She can't stop thinking of him when Mr. Bell takes her to Helstone many months later. And she can't stop thinking about him back in London.

Henry is never an option. And when Edith talks about finding her a match, Margaret tells her "I shall never marry." She knows her heart belongs to another, and she will not live a lie by marrying anyone else.

train kiss.jpg

Thank goodness for Mr. Bell's inheritance and Margaret's determination to help John in his business failure! It's a great relief to see these two love-sick creatures finally make those first sweet, intimate gestures that hint at the strong bond of love that has long been formed between them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North and South: never more relevant than today

It's More Than Thornton's one year anniversary! To celebrate, I'm reposting my very first blog piece:

January 21, 2016

If you're like me, you first discovered Gaskell's story as a captivating drama on film. The BBC's television adaptation of North and South made Milton come to life, and brought a little known romantic hero -- John Thornton -- into glorious, palpitating presence on the world stage with a reverberating gasp.

Strangely enough, I didn't feel the impact of my first viewing like I'd been struck by lightening. I only re-watched the ending once (or maybe twice!). I didn't even realize how much I had been pulled into the power of the drama until I found myself constantly reimagining scenes and wondering about the characters's feelings. I plunged into C19 (an Internet forum) within days, because I needed to ask questions. I needed to talk to someone about this story. And I've really never stopped wanting to talk about it.

I've since fallen in love with Gaskell's book. I regularly see its relevance to all the pressing issues of our world today. Gaskell had a heart and mind that saw the human scene with hope.

North and South turned me into an author, it introduced me to a new world of friends and fanship, and it inspired me to dive into similar classic novels. I owe much to Gaskell's North and South, as it's given me so much to think about and to share with others. 

So what does North and South mean to me? It means so many things that lay close to my heart, that it seems daunting to try to explain. But here (beyond the fervent appeal of the gold standard for all romantic literary heroes -- John Thornton) are some of the many hopes, ideals, and concepts found in North and South that invigorate my soul and enliven my heart:

Love. Love in all its variations: erotic and romantic love, brotherly affection, self-sacrificing duty, genuine respect, and consideration for others.

The utter necessity of individuality -- forging your own path and living your own values.

Moral courage -- the strength and determination that moves us forward in crushing circumstances.

Widening our view of the world and our sphere of caring -- interacting with and learning from those different from us.

Seeing past class, gender, religion, and economic status to the equal worthiness of every human being.

Loneliness and the desperation of being misunderstood, and the corresponding desire to cherish and to be cherished.

The overpowering yearning to do good in this world, not just exist in it.

Striving for what matters most.

The possibility of a kinder, gentler capitalism that contributes to humanity's progress.

Hope of harmony in relating to our fellow beings. Finding unity among all mankind.

Finding home, finding our purpose.

These are just some of the many themes that make North and South my favorite novel of romantic love and Elizabeth Gaskell a favorite author for her hope for humanity. 

What does North and South mean to you?

 

 

Regrets and Resolutions: Mr Hale

With the arrival of a new calendar year, comes the often inevitable evaluation of our personal progress. What actions (or negligence of action!) do we regret, and how do we plan to move forward? 

Which characters in North and South may have felt the sharp pang of regret? Let's take a close look at Mr. Hale, whose dramatic decision to leave his position starts the cascade of events that affect everyone else in the story.

Mr. Hale is a quiet thinker; a kind and tender-hearted soul who hates to see suffering and avoids conflict. His avid reading and intellectual pursuits appear to have led him to question some of the doctrines of the Church of England. The thought of leaving his role as vicar had been silently simmering in his mind for years, but its implementation was swift and poorly executed. 

At the time Mr. Hale makes his decision, he is acutely aware that his wife feels disappointment in her marriage. He knows his wife expected him to have advanced to a more prestigious position in the church. Marrying him was a step down for Maria, as Dixon never lets him forget. He knows, too, that Mrs. Hale feels her poverty keenly, having given up the opportunity to attend her niece's wedding because she didn't have a new dress to wear.

Feeling pressured to keep his role in the church for the sake of his well-bred wife, Mr. Hale is caught between his wife's expectations and his sense of moral integrity.  Ironically, it is at the moment when he is offered a better living by the bishop that he is forced to make his decision: continue to follow the course of what all others expect of him or follow his inner convictions. Mr. Hale finds himself unable to reaffirm his faith in the church doctrine and makes a final decision: he will give up his role as vicar -- a role he anxiously felt he no longer had a moral right to hold.  

Once his mind is made up, his resolution is firm, despite the suffering and upheaval he knows this will cause. When Margaret exclaims in great alarm against his decided course, he answers with a stony strength: "You must not deceive yourself into doubting the reality of my words, -- my fixed intention and resolve."

Margaret's world is immediately turned upside down with his decision, and Mrs. Hale's world as well -- the former belle of the county must endure even further reduced circumstances, isolation, and fallen prestige. It's Maria's unhappiness and health that causes Mr. Hale to agonize over his part in bringing her discontent. As soon as they arrive in dreary Milton, he worries about her.

Margaret, I do believe this is an unhealthy place. Only suppose that your mother's health or yours should suffer. I wish I had gone into some country place in Wales; this is really terrible.

He doubts his decision in coming to Milton, but not to have left the Church.

I admire Mr. Hale his strength in making a stand for his own personal ethics and integrity. Breaking from the church and one's chosen profession took great courage at that time. Doing so brought a certain disgrace from society. It's clear Mr. Hale's deepest anguish, however, is having to drag his family through the uprooting, social scrutiny, and material discomfort involved in these decisions. "I wish I could do right without sacrificing others," he laments to Margaret. Ah, but we can never be an isolated entity! All our decisions affect others in some way. 

So, in the end, does he regret what he has done? As in real life, the answer is complicated. He still wonders if he did the right thing in moving to Milton. But his resolve to leave his ordained position in Helstone never faltered. He tells Mr. Bell his thoughts just hours before his death:

As I think now, even if I could have foreseen that cruelest martyrdom of suffering, through the sufferings of one whom I loved, I would have done just the same as far as that step of openly leaving the church went. I might have done differently, and acted more wisely, in all that I subsequently did for my family.

 

However much Mr. Hale might have doubted his choices, the trials they bore were not without their secret benefits. Lives entangled by new encounters are never the same. And it would have been a far-reaching tragedy of a different sort if the Hales had never set foot in Milton. 

 

 

 

John Thornton and a more intelligent capitalism

John Thornton -- the good capitalist

John Thornton -- the good capitalist

I readily admit that the romance is my favorite part of North and South, but I'm also passionate about Elizabeth Gaskell's vision of a more humanitarian capitalism. The softening of the stern Milton master is one of the most beautiful developments of the story. And today, as the world continues to search for the proper role of capitalism in human governments, John Thornton's example offers a ray of hope that society can incorporate humanitarian values into the sphere of commerce and industry.

At the same time that Gaskell was writing fictionalized accounts of contemporary life, Karl Marx was issuing forth his anti-capitalist works. The misery of the lower classes in this early industrial period is well documented. With few regulations to protect them and no voting rights, the poor were at the mercy of those in positions of power. As industrialism swept more people into its workings, Gaskell's novel seems to be asking: what is capitalism's role in humanity's progress? The answer she provides can be found as we watch Thornton slowly evolve his stance as a powerful businessman with far-reaching influence.

When we first meet Thornton, he is an autocrat who is fully involved in pursuing productive excellence and efficiency. He believes the only moral duty to his employees (beyond his regular honesty in all his dealings) is to embody the model of self-control and diligence that has made his own business successful. He takes little or no account of workers' concerns and resists involving himself any further in his workers' lives, claiming that it would be an interference of their independence. 

It is Thornton's initial detachment from his employees that fosters the distrust, ignorance, and hatred that is destined to be destructive. 

The autocratic ruler of Marlborough Mills

The autocratic ruler of Marlborough Mills

Margaret's consistent demand that he consider a deeper moral obligation to the leagues of men under his employ slowly opens Thornton's consciousness to broader possibilities. And through his contact with Higgins, he creates a new relationship with his workers -- a relationship that is on more equal footing, where no one side has all the right answers. In an atmosphere of basic respect where differing parties can regularly interact and communicate with each other, animosity is deflated and friendships are born. (It's a sweet yet astonishing bonus for the tight-lipped, reclusive manager that he finds in Higgins a personal friend!)

It may be easy to dismiss Thornton's eventual success with his workers as happy fiction, but I believe that in Thornton's establishment of a workers' kitchen at Marlborough Mills, we can distinguish the elements required for a practical model of a kinder, gentler capitalism. It is a living example of how a working blend of business principles and humanitarian concepts might take shape.

In the natural course of his developing friendship with Higgins, Thornton becomes aware that the men don't often eat well. It is Thornton's idea to purchase food in bulk in order to supply the workers an affordable meal. But this is not, as Thornton later makes clear to Mr. Bell (and again to Mr. Colthurst of the book), a charity effort on his part. Thornton delegates the task of working out the details of setting up and running a kitchen largely to the men. It's a collaborative endeavor that Thornton invests in to improve the well-being of his workers. The end result is a win-win situation. Thornton's men are comparatively better workers for being fortified with decent food, and the men are offered an affordable and convenient meal at noontime. Both sides participate, both benefit.

Thornton mingles with his workers.

Thornton mingles with his workers.

Thornton enjoys this expanded model of a humanitarian business so much that he refuses to take work without this new worldview in mind. He declines work as a partner with Hamper's son, who he knows as a vain, merciless capitalist who seeks only personal profit. Thornton is eager to expand his concept of success, purpose, and progress beyond the scope of mere monetary gain. He has a driving desire to explore how lives might be improved in the course of operating a capital enterprise.

Thornton's model of working with his men -- knowing many of them by name, seeing some them occasionally at Higgins' home -- builds the human relationships that support his business when Marlborough Mills begins to decline. The workers take it upon themselves to finish work without pay. The loyalty and respect Thornton has earned increases his business's chances to succeed when business profits are down.

And when Marlborough Mills closes its doors, the men sign a round-robin to say that they will come work for Thornton again if he ever manages another capital enterprise. Thornton's humility and honesty has created great respect among his colleagues. His honest and earnest cooperation and collaboration with his employees has earned him the trust and loyalty of his workers. And it is this relationship of mutual trust and respect that will allow Thornton to re-open his doors and begin again the adventure of finding ways to improve the lives of others while creating a successful business.

In sum, a more intelligent capitalism takes far more than mere profit and statistical productivity into account. If the essential purpose of any business is to provide goods and services to improve the lives of fellow beings, then why should the purpose be limited to customers and investors? Isn't it also essential to improve the lives of the employees who make the enterprise function? The cost of not caring for your workers can be high -- as Thornton discovered in the strike that eventually undermined the economic stability of the mill. 

A truly wise capitalist will take care to remember that his business involves meeting the concerns of humanity at every level of operation. A disregard of human concerns eventually creates problems that are destructive to the whole of society. And that kind of heartless capitalism can never be considered good or intelligent, since it leaves out the most important part of being alive -- having a heart.

Thornton and Darcy in the Great War Era

If you love John Thornton, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Downton Abbey -- there's a new novel that includes something of all three! (And I'm happy to say that it's getting fabulous reviews at Amazon!)  

Ginger Monette, a fellow Thornton lover, has written a Darcy and Elizabeth tale set during the tumultuous Great War in England. John Thornton makes an appearance in the story, and -- better yet -- will be the hero of a future book in the series, Thornton's Hope.

If you're not intrigued yet, then you should be impressed with Ginger's dedication and passion for historical accuracy. She studied World War I six days a week for nine months before writing her novels! 

I hope you'll enjoy my interview with Ginger, as I ask her about her connection with Gaskell's John Thornton:

 

Tell us how and when you fell in love with John Thornton.  Is your Thornton love more recent compared to your devotion to Darcy/Austen?

A friend introduced me to Pride & Prejudice with Matthew Macfadyen, and that sparked my love of period drama. Shortly thereafter, I learned of the existence of the North & South mini-series. But I saved it as a treat to myself when our family was on vacation at the beach and I could watch the whole thing in one stretch. And boy, I was not disappointed! I was mesmerized from the beginning. John Thornton was the most swoon-worthy character I'd ever encountered.

My heart went out to the brooding man who had worked so hard to elevate himself from his humble beginnings. He was a man of principle and character who believed that he could achieve anything with hard work—except win the hand of Margaret Hale. Ah! The poor man!

Have you read Gaskell's "North and South" and, if so, what did you love about it? (Or, what did you love about the mini-series?)

After I had watched the mini-series numerous times, I delved into the novel. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the movie adaptation.

In my opinion, North & South is up there as one of the best of the best period dramas. First, the casting and acting was spot-on. Richard Armitage's portrayal of John Thornton was outstanding. No only is Armitage handsome, but his every gesture and facial expression gave further depth to his character. And Daniela Denby-Ashe was the perfect counterpart to him. In an interview,  she said she had been cast first, and that when Richard read for the part of Thornton, there was that magical spark between them and she just knew he was the one for the role.

In addition to the cast and acting, the screenplay was an excellent adaption. I really prefer its ending to Gaskell's. I also thought the beautiful soundtrack did a wonderful job at helping tell the story and convey the emotion portrayed in each scene.

Finally, the train station scene.... Of all the scenes in period drama, I think that last scene of North & South is the most romantic and satisfying of all. Although Margaret is speaking one thing with her words, her body language is conveying something completely different and Thornton is reading her loud and clear. With the camera shooting the scene up close, we see every nuance of expression in Thornton's countenance—which tells a story all its own. And that kiss—. Oh, that kiss....

What are the qualities you love about Thornton that has made you select him for a character in your work -- what makes him compelling or admirable?

I love that Thornton is a man who feels deeply. And although his exterior can be hard as nails, he's really quite tender hearted—a paradox of sorts. You have to get up close to see who he really is.

In many ways, I see him as a representation of a fundamental paradox of the war. Soldiers were forced to put on a steely exterior, be brave and charge the enemy. But inwardly they were fragile humans, most of whom only wanted to make it home to their families and resume their lives.

Thornton is also loyal and hard-working, excellent character traits for a soldier. But probably the biggest reason I chose him is that we love him!

Can you give us any hints about how John Thornton makes his appearance in the 20th century in your novel?

Thornton plays a small, but important role in Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes. He serves as a kind of a mirror for Darcy.

When Darcy looks at Thornton, in many ways he sees himself. Both men not only embody the previously mentioned character traits, but both share personality traits as well. Both are brooding introverts, intelligent, and heartbroken over a woman. The one thing that separates them is station. Something Darcy was born with, but something Thornton can never attain, no matter how hard he works or how virtuous his character.

Putting Thornton beside Darcy serves to illustrate just how similar, yet how far apart they really are. It forces Darcy to reexamine who he really is, his standing in society, and his significance.

In addition, their relationship serves to illustrate an important shift in British culture that began in the trenches of WW1. For the first time in history, men of rank and station were forced to work (fight) side by side with those beneath them. Working towards a common goal in life-and-death situations gave each group an appreciation for the other, and they learned that they weren't as different as previously perceived. This realization marked the beginning of the end of the class system in Britain.

I understand "Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes" has a sequel coming in January. Does Thornton have a role in it as well?

Indeed he does! In Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, once again, Thornton's role is not a large one, but an important one. This time, Thornton is a hero.

Margaret Hale also makes an appearance and readers will see a glimpse of them as a couple.

A glimpse is all we get?

Well, yes. —for now. But stay tuned. I have plans to give John and Margaret their own Great War Romance. In Thornton's Hope, readers will be whisked away to the battlefields of France where our dear couple will fight for their love amidst the ravages of war.

Readers who would like to be notified about Thornton's Hope and other Great War Romances can sign up for my newsletter at GingerMonette.com.

Any parting thoughts you'd like to add?

Yes. I never dreamed that my research of WW1 would have such a profound impact on me. The WW2 generation is often referred to as “The Greatest Generation,” but I'm not so sure I agree.

Many of the young men who fought in the trenches of France and Belgium had never travelled more than a hundred miles from home. Automobiles were a novelty, and telephones were a relatively new invention.

The boys were shipped across the Channel and were greeted with a baptism of fire—machine-guns and artillery that could inflict horrifying wounds with dizzying speed. Trenches were swarming with rats and lice, mud was often up to their knees, and the pounding of artillery shelling was relentless and at times deafening. And then there were the ever-present sights, sounds, and smells of death. Everyone lost friends and comrades.

And yet... the men remained cheerful, shared what little they had, and everyone did something for the war effort. All those little acts of kindness added up and made a big difference. It challenges me to do likewise.

In 2017, America will commemorate its hundredth anniversary of participation in WW1. I would just challenge readers to pay attention. Appreciate the sacrifices our great-grandfathers made—men like John Thornton and Fitzwilliam Darcy who were willing to give of themselves and sacrifice for others so that we could be free.

-- Thank you, Trudy, for hosting Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes on More than Thornton!

Ginger Monette

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she's hooked—on writing and World War I.
When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.
Her WW1 flash fiction piece, "Flanders Field of Grey," won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's 2015 Picture This grand prize.
Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Don't forget to check out the wonderful reviews of Darcy's Hope at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaskell girls and the disastrous results of rejecting Mr. Right

It's perfectly natural to expect proud, independent heroines to be vehemently resolute in their judgements. After all, the girls who slide into compliance with traditional expectations and customs would hardly make an exciting story. But boy do Gaskell's girls create a ton of trouble for themselves when they pour on the stubborn resistance to the magnetic pull of Mr. Destiny! 

I'm finding many parallels between Margaret Hale and Mary Barton, but what's most striking to me is how similarly they must struggle to find a way to make restitution for a monumental mistake: rejecting the best offer of marriage they'll ever receive. 

The look you get when you've just rejected the violently passionate Mr Thornton!

The look you get when you've just rejected the violently passionate Mr Thornton!

Both Mary and Margaret have predetermined to hold themselves superior to the men who desperately want to marry them. They both receive wildly passionate speeches of undying love. (I just love the sweet and fervent proposal in Mary Barton!) And each of these girls find themselves powerfully shaken by the intense interaction. Their hearts are jostled open by the honesty and fervency of the devotion expressed by the amazing specimen of a man they just turned down.

Of course, both these hard-headed ladies have aha moments about the hero and their own feelings -- but they're just too dang late! The aftermath of each of these feisty decisions isn't pretty.

So what do you get for turning down the best man in town? 

  • Guilt, with the distinct knowledge of how much pain you've caused
  • Remorse, with the accumalating recognition of what kind of man you dismissed
  • An earful from your future mother-in-law
The wrath of Mrs. Thornton unleashed on Margaret. 

The wrath of Mrs. Thornton unleashed on Margaret. 

  • Avoidance by The Rejected One
  • The agony of not being to tell him you've changed your mind

It's the last reason -- being unable to clearly communicate with the hero -- that really caught my attention as I read Mary Barton. For those of you who have trouble understanding Margaret Hale or who find it hard to forgive her for allowing John to suffer so long, Gaskell spells out the repressive position the heroine endures much more clearly in Mary Barton:

Maidenly modesty ... seemed to oppose every plan she could think of, for showing Jem how much she repented her decision against him, and how dearly she had now discovered that she loved him. She came to the unusual wisdom of resolving to do nothing, but strive to be patient, and improve circumstances as they might turn up ... She had been very wrong, but now she would endeavor to do right, and have womanly patience, until he saw her changed and repentant mind in natural actions.

This explains Margaret perfectly! We see her doing exactly this -- humbly trying to show her repentance by her demeanor in every interaction with Thornton. 

Margaret's maidenly meekness.

Margaret's maidenly meekness.

But her tongue is tied as a woman of that era. A good Victorian girl could not approach a man to explain herself. She is forced by propriety to wait until the man initiates any further communication concerning the subject. How torturous it must have be for these passionate and bold heroines to repress the expression of their thoughts and feelings!

And, of course, in Margaret's situation the complications in communicating seem to accumulate with Frederick's ill-fated arrival in Milton. It's clear that Margaret suffers from this constant repression and inability to explain herself as a woman:

Oh! thought she, 'I wish I were a man, that I could go and force him to express his disapprobation, and tell him honestly that I knew I deserved it.' (Chapter 37)

The suffering lasts two years for Margaret. Two years of misunderstanding and the repression of deep-held emotions because the moral culture of the day does not allow her to express herself. And two years that Thornton must also suffer in believing she doesn't care for him.

For Mary Barton, the suffering is loaded with imminent danger, but only endures for a short span of time. Her beloved almost loses his life because of her rejection!

Ah, but love prevails in the end. Happy endings are hard-wrought in Gaskell's tales. And both of Mary and Margaret play an active and unconventional role in "saving" their respective Mr. Right. After all the heartache they have caused, these girls are able to make full restitution for their catastrophic mistake.

And tell me, who wouldn't suffer two years, three years, or even ten to earn Mr. Thornton?! He truly is -- in so many ways -- Mr. Right.

 

Should Gaskell's 'Mary Barton' be made into film?

Photo by Mike Hogan/BBC

Photo by Mike Hogan/BBC

According to IMDb, the BBC already adapted Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel -- way back in 1964! Made into 4 episodes, the film is believed to be lost. (How do films get lost?) 

Four years ago, The Guardian announced that the BBC had plans to adapt Mary Barton, quoting Heidi Thomas (creator and writer of Call the Midwife) as saying she was eager to turn the novel into film. See the full article here.

There's certainly a lot of material in Mary Barton similar in nature to North and South:

Dirty, smokey old Milton   √

Struggle between masters and workers  √

Proud female protagonist who shuns the best catch of the town  √

Hard-working, devoted hero who must wait for idiot woman to come around √

An impressive tally of deaths √

Problematic father  √

If you thought North and South was dark and dreary, Mary Barton will take you even further into the stark lives of the working class.

Higgins and the working class in the BBC's 'North and South.'

Higgins and the working class in the BBC's 'North and South.'

 

The drama level rises several notches above North and South; with violence, tragedy, and perilous situations all vying to excite the reader's emotions.

Mary Barton definitely has the potential to make great screen drama. I hope the BBC picks up this apparently shelved project someday. I would love to watch another Gaskell story unfold on film.

Now that I've piqued your interest in the novel, I hope you'll be intrigued enough to come join me in a group read! For the next 6 weeks, I'll be hosting a group read of Mary Barton at Goodreads. Anyone is welcome to join us here.

And just to make sure you understand...

...there is no John Thornton in this story. He does not make an appearance as one of the evil mill masters.

But I hope you'll try reading Mary Barton anyway. Hints of Thornton's world abound.

 

 

 

Have you seen Wives and Daughters?

Last weekend I indulged in a rare spree of binge-watching. In the course of a few days, I watched the BBC's four-hour adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.

Alright, so my definition of binge-watching may not be typical. But I don't usually watch much of anything. No TV shows -- none. I see an occasional movie. Perhaps now you will better appreciate the distinguishing honor I gave Wives and Daughters by taking the time to watch this mini-series for the second time (or is it the third? I'm not sure!).

The setting and pace of this story is much like Austen. But the underlying themes animating it are all Gaskell's own: the inevitable march of progress, the sacred importance of individuality, the value and strength of women; the emptiness of wealth, rank, and display; and the great impediment constructed between human beings by class divisions.

I love how Molly Gibson is drawn into a complicated web of relationships at every level of society. And the entire plot is set in motion by a rather random event--her father's interception of a love letter sent by an infatuated admirer.

As usual, the cast of characters is played by a host of well-loved British actors. If you haven't yet seen this sweet story, then maybe some name-dropping will entice you:

How many of these names do you already know?! It's just amazing--the talent packed in this piece!

How many of these names do you already know?! It's just amazing--the talent packed in this piece!

And now I'll get to the most important part of this blog post --

                  Have you read the book YET?

I love this book almost as much as North and South. I struggle at times in trying to decide which of these novels should be known as her masterpiece. Do you understand what that means, coming from me?! 

If you love classic Victorian literature, if you love Austen or Gaskell, if you love character-driven books, then please don't pass by this book. It is Gaskell's last work, the cumulation of her writing and story-telling skills -- and it shows. It's a much more polished work than North and South. 

There's only one drawback to the book: it has no ending. Gaskell died very suddenly before it was finished. Fortunately, however, she was within close sight of the ending. The reader knows that the pieces will all fall in place, they are merely deprived of knowing exactly how the author would have played her final hand. 

The mini-series does a wonderful job of creating an ending that works for the drama of film. The proposal scene is one I have watched over and over again. I can't think of a proposal scene I love more in any other film. (Do you have a favorite accepted-proposal scene?)

I have only one complaint concerning the film version of Wives and Daughters. And it's a complaint I must direct at the screenplay writer, Andrew Davies: a handhold cannot replace a kiss in a final scene! There, I said it. And let me know if you feel the same. After investing four hours of our time in a romantic story, we viewers deserve a kiss!

This -- instead of a kiss!

This -- instead of a kiss!

At least North and South delivers on that score!  

Would Gaskell have given us a kiss? Ah, we'll never know....

 Up Next -- Get ready to join me as I lead a Mary Barton group read soon! Grab a free ebook copy of Gaskell's first novel and start reading.