The problem with Henry Lennox...

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Looking into the character and role of Henry Lennox in North and South can be fascinating and somewhat complex. Are we supposed to like him or not? Is he really in love with Margaret? What is it that makes him just not quite Margaret's type? And then, of course, there's book Henry and then there's film Henry.

Film Henry has a much more aggressive streak, which we see in the scene at The Great Exhibition. Noticing that there seems to be something going on between Margaret and Thornton, he takes a stab at Thornton to try to put him in his place: 

"Mr. Thornton ... all the way from Milton?"  [Snark translation: "You're from the Neanderthal northern regions, not a cultivated Londoner."] 

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"My brother is interested in dabbling in cotton."  [Snark translation: "You're a tradesman, who only speaks cotton terms, yes? We find your kind amusing and occasionally profitable."]

Thornton wins this verbal battle by throwing Henry's own words back into his face: "I'm not sure I'm the one to speak to. I'm not sure I'd know how to dabble." It's not only a killer comeback, this brilliant line from the adaptation can also be taken as a good summary of the contrast between these two men. Henry dabbles. Thornton does not. (More on this later.)

And how does Henry affect Margaret? What is her reaction to Henry's snide remarks? We can tell by her expression and her replies that Henry has won no points with her at all. It's pretty plain who she is standing up for here in this brief exchange. And it's not the barrister from London. 

Although this alpha male confrontation doesn't happen at all in the book, this scene from the BBC adaptation still provides an accurate glimpse as to why Margaret isn't interested in Henry as a possible husband -- he lacks depth, he can be arrogant, and he doesn't really know her. 

Now let's look at these disqualifying aspects one by one in the light of the character Elizabeth Gaskell created -- by what we know of Henry from the book:

Lack of depth

Dabblers lack depth. They're not totally committed or wholly involved. 

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We know with John Thornton, whether in love or in his lifework, -- he's all in. Whatever he does he does with a consuming commitment; when he falls in love, he is shaken to the core.

Henry, however savvy and worldly clever, just doesn't have the same substance through and through. He's mostly about doing whatever gets surface results: a good career, the right social circle, the esteem of others. Margaret isn't the only girl that would ever suit him, she's just the first one he's decided who could work really well (he thinks) in his sphere.

His casual, flippant manner is revealed in the very first chapter. Margaret is annoyed when he pokes fun at her description of Helstone, a place very dear to her heart. Henry often treats conversation as a social game of wit, no matter the subject matter. It's a habit of his that Margaret finds superficial and cold. 

Henry's reliance on empty, sarcastic conversation is shown more clearly when he visits Helstone. After he has proposed and been rejected, he finds some measure of recovery from his embarrassment in "a few minutes [of] light and careless talking" with Mr. Hale. 

Before a quarter of an was over he had fallen into a way of conversing with quiet sarcasm; speaking of life in London and life in the country, as if he were conscious of his second macking self, and afraid of his own satire. Mr. Hale was puzzled. His visitor was a different man to what he had seen him before...a lighter, cleverer, more worldly man, and, as such, dissonant to Mr. Hale.

Henry seems to have something of a dual nature -- a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complex. When alone with Margaret, he can often be sympathetic and gentle. But, he can change in an instant and become more distant and snidely sophisticated. 

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Margaret is struck by his caustic side. It really bothers her when he acts this way. And here, especially after letting his guard down in telling her of his love, she is surprised at the shallowness of his behavior afterward:

...he, not many minutes after he had met with a rejection of what ought to have been the deepest, holiest proposal of his life, could speak as if briefs, success, and agreeable society, were the sole avowed objects of his desires. Oh dear! how she could have loved him if he had but been different, with a difference which she felt, on reflection, to be one that went low -- deep down.

Arrogance

Henry's arrogance plays a big part in the way he presents himself to Margaret. One of the reasons Henry seems to switch over to his urbane cynical self is to preserve his pride. He's always posturing to win social acclaim for his cleverness and cool intellectual judgement. And it appears he sees himself as superior to others. "Margaret saw glimpses in him of slight contempt for his brother and sister-in-law, and for their mode of life."

Although Henry is rather impressed by Thornton (in Gaskell's book), he still manages to feel superior over the tradesman who was forced to close his mill. Margaret senses his arrogance and calls him out on it in the following exchange:

 "You've no idea what an agreeable, sensible fellow this tenant of yours is....I can't conceive how he contrived to mis-manage his affairs."
"With his powers and opportunities you would have succeeded," said Margaret.
He did not quite relish the tone in which she spoke, although the words but expressed a thought which had passed through his own mind.

Ignorance of the real Margaret

Henry doesn't really know Margaret, although he's arrogant enough to assume he does. When he asks her how she spends her days in Helstone, he can't fathom what she could possibly do to fill the time without archery parties, social picnics, or lawn game gatherings. He assumes Margaret needs planned social activity as much as he does. He never seems to comprehend that she does not thrive on the luxury London routine that he enjoys. He even hopes to find that Margaret will have missed her London life when he visits her in Helstone. Not a chance. She loves the freedom of her life in the wide-open country.

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Henry also makes the mistake of ignoring or underestimating Margaret's strong moral core. His enthusiasm for witty intellect over moral substance actually makes Margaret angry. Even when he does acknowledge her Christian nature, he's rather annoyed with it. And he has the audacity to tell Edith that he wishes Margaret were a little more pagan! If he doesn't appreciate her foundational values and her corresponding behavior, he really should be looking for someone else.  

Can Henry really be in love with Margaret, considering that he doesn't really know her?  He seems to be in love with his perception of her or, perhaps with the promise of what she could be to him. Indeed, Henry's concept of marriage is clearly revealed in the following musing:

...the clever and ambitious man bent all his powers to gaining Margret. He loved her sweet beauty. He saw the latent sweep of her mind, which could easily (he thought) be led to embrace all the objects on which he had set his heart.

Henry's looking for a girl he can mold to his personal requirements. He's assuming his marriage will take on the traditional pattern, where the wife is subservient to her husband's wishes. The fact that Henry can believe that Margaret will be happy conforming to this model is the final proof that he doesn't really know her. Margaret shows no interest in following the customary path of making a comfortable life in the pursuit of wealth, ease, or social acclaim.  She wants to actively engage with the world outside her comfort sphere. She is looking for a life of purpose -- a way to help others. Henry's pursuit is to project himself onto the world, to find satisfaction in pleasing himself according to all of society's standards of success. 

Margaret and Henry want different things. They're following two different paths.

Margaret realizes this, and knows she will never marry him. Henry doesn't see this, and blindly believes he's slowly winning her over.

Now of course Henry isn't really a bad fellow. I give credit to Henry for being attracted to Margaret in the first place. There are times Henry is a good friend to Margaret, when he isn't being so concerned about his own self-image. But his focus on self and worldly gain and satisfaction is just so very -- typical. Henry is following the crowd in his life habits and desires. His quick wit and keen intelligence are not enough to commend him. He's far too focused on Henry and how Henry appears to the world. 

If we take a broad look at Henry Lennox's role in North and South, we can see how Gaskell uses him to bring out various facets of Margaret's character.  And, of course, Henry is a striking foil for John Thornton. The contrast between the two men shows us exactly what Margaret is attracted to and what repels her.

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And now -- at long last, we need to take into account the overriding reason why Henry will never do: the lawyer from London could never combine the passion and tenderness in one kiss that one lonely Milton master could -- and did.

 

Henry discovers the real reason Thornton is called "the master." 

Henry discovers the real reason Thornton is called "the master." 

The real problem with Henry?  He's just not John Thornton.

The powerful effect of human touch in North and South

My stories have occasionally been criticized for making too much of the physical dynamics between John Thornton and Margaret Hale. Perhaps they do, but I take my cues from Elizabeth Gaskell's own writing, which conveys a tremendous amount of physical emphasis when describing Margaret's effect on John Thornton.

From John's very first encounter with Margaret in that hotel sitting-room, Gaskell makes clear that Thornton is completely discombobulated. Margaret's presence does things to him. Physical things. Things that affect his ability to coordinate and control his own body. He finds it hard to formulate complete sentences, he cannot stop staring at her, and when he leaves "he [feels] more awkward and self-conscious in every limb than he [ever had] in all his life before."

And that's just the first meeting. We haven't even begun to talk about what effect actually touching Margaret will do to the poor man!

First Contact

So, when is their first physical contact with each other? Thornton knows -- the handshake at the dinner party. The occasion is significant enough for Thornton to take notice:

He shook hands with Margaret. He knew it was the first time their hands had met, though she was perfectly unconscious of the fact.

He must remember, as we do, how hurt he was when she did not shake his hand when he came for tea. Shaking her hand now must feel like a small victory. It's far more than a mere social formality to him. It's apparently something he's been longing to do -- touch her.

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The mini-series makes this moment -- this first touch between future lovers -- sizzle with a sexual tension that makes a Victorian handshake more passionate than most modern kissing scenes. And this spark of longing portrayed in the film -- at least on Thornton's side -- is perfectly matched by Gaskell's prose. Thornton spends the rest of that evening acutely aware of where she is and who she is talking to. There's definitely a strong attraction going on, which Margaret is not aware of.  

That Frantic, Brief Embrace

Far beyond a social handshake, Gaskell multiplies the physical contact a hundredfold when she has Margaret throw her arms around Thornton in a body-to-body embrace -- a shockingly intimate gesture. Granted, Margaret does this out of pure terror for his life, in front of a frenzied crowd  -- hardly the sweet, loving gesture John may be dreaming of, but that doesn't in the least change the enormously powerful effect that one brief moment of intimacy has on Thornton.

He can't stop thinking about what she did, how she wrapped her arms around her neck, how her body was pressed next to his ... he's fairly consumed with the longing to feel her in his arms again! 

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Take note of all the impassioned physical reaction Thornton has immediately following that very tangible interaction with Margaret during the riot: 

"All the blood in his body seemed to rush inwards to his heart as he spoke, and he absolutely trembled."
"He went away as if weights were tied to every limb that bore him from her."
"Every pulse beat in him as he remembered how she had come down and places herself in foremost danger.... He went to his Irish people, with every nerve in his body thrilling at the thought of her ..."

I count four times in the twenty-four hour period after the riot where Gaskell specifically mentions his longing to feel that touch again:

Mr. Thornton remained in the dining-room, trying to think of the business he had to do at the police-office, and in reality thinking of Margaret. Everything seemed dim and vague beyond - behind - besides the touch of her arms round his neck -- the soft clinging which made the dark colour come and go in his cheek as he thought of it. (Penguin edition, page 186)
His heart beat thick at the thought of her coming. He could not forget the touch of her arms around his neck, impatiently felt as it had been at the time; but now the recollection of her clinging defence of him, seemed to thrill him through and through, -- to melt away every resolution, all power of self-control, as it were wax before a fire. (page 191)
Was he bewitched by those beautiful eyes, that soft, half-open, sighing mouth which lay so close upon his shoulder only yesterday? He could not even shake off the recollection that she had been there; that that her arms had been round him, once -- if never again. (page 205)
He went along the crowded streets mechanically, winding in and out among the people, but never seeing them, -- almost sick with longing for that one half-hour --that one brief space of time when she clung to him, and her heart beat against his -- to come once again. (page 210)

Where does all this explosive passion come from? In large part, from loneliness and years of keeping his emotions mostly hidden. His mother is his closest confident, yet we know she is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type to give out hugs and listen to all your troubles. If you really think about it, when was the last time this man was hugged? When has he last felt the warm affection of a heartfelt embrace? I'm guessing he hasn't felt human touch like that in years.

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But clearly it's not just human touch he's longing for. John Thornton's frenzied longing is not commonplace lust. It's truly a longing to love and be loved in return. And it's Margaret that has brought out his strong passion. He sees in her an inner strength, independence, intelligence, and deep devotion to others that matches his own. 

His feelings for her have been silently accumulating. Her frantic embrace of him is the touchstone that releases all his repressed passion. It's as if this moment of intimate human connection has lit a fire inside him. Now he sees -- his body has felt for a brief, sensuous moment of time -- what could be. And he wants that close relationship with Margaret desperately.

Gaskell draws a very sensual image by having Margaret cling to Thornton. How many other romantic heroes get a taste of physical intimacy before they ever even declare their feelings? 

It's a touch that Thornton never forgets the thrill of. It reverberates through his whole being. It's hardly any wonder, then, that at the end of the book the first thing he does after they become a couple is to take her arms and place them around his neck -- just as he remembered she had done. Just as he had ached for so long for her to willingly do again.

 

Quitters are winners in North and South

Did you ever notice how the leading male characters in North and South all quit or lose their jobs? Mr. Hale, Nicholas Higgins, and John Thornton. Even more striking is the realization that they all do so based on principle. 

The entire plot of the story gets its initial push from Mr. Hale's decision to leave his life vocation. This is a tremendously serious and weighty decision in an era when your profession constituted your identity and your social status. I know many condemn Margaret's father for the way he handled his family in relation to this life-altering choice, but the choice itself is one of courage and personal integrity. Because he could not in truth uphold all the doctrines of the Church, Mr. Hale could not in good conscience continue to play the part of a leader of the Church. He was unwilling to fake it just to keep hold of his living.

Mr. Bell admires him for his hard decision and tells him so just hours before Hale passes away: 

[God] gave you strength to do what your conscience told you was right; and I don't see that we need any higher or holier strength than that; or wisdom either. I know I have not that much; and yet men set me down in their fool's books as a wise man; an independent character; strong-minded, and all that cant. The veriest idiot who obeys his own simple law of right, if it be but in wiping his shoes on a door-mat, is wiser and stronger than I. But what gulls men are!

Henry, who represents the mediocre mindset of traditional society, doesn't see why Mr. Hale couldn't have just swallowed his doubts and kept his position. He's rather perplexed that anyone should inconvenience themselves and lose their money and status over a minor moral issue. He apparently sees nothing wrong with playing the game of appearances.

...there was no call upon Mr. Hale to do what he did, relinquish the living, and throw himself and his family on the tender mercies of private teaching in a manufacturing town; the bishop had offered him another living, it is true, but if he had come to certain doubts, he could have remained where he was, and so had no occasion to resign.

If income was any barrier to acting on principle, Nicholas Higgins would have the strongest reason to avoid leaving his livelihood. With two daughters to care for, and one of them gravely ill, it's more than inconvenient for him to quit his job. As one of the Union leaders, he helps organize the strike. Here he's not only giving up his own job, he's actively involved in pressing other mill workers to quit their work! And his reasons are noble, if his methods are less than savory. He is moved to act in defiance of the perceived injustice and indifference of the masters to the struggling lower class. 

Higgins holds to his principles, even after taking on Boucher's children. He refuses to go back to work at any mill that refuses to allow the workers to contribute to the Union. Clearly, Higgins has the mettle to take a stand for what he believes is vital, despite the personal cost.

John Thornton's case is a bit different. He doesn't quit his work, but he does make a moral decision that precludes him from the chance of recovering his business. He refuses to join the speculation that could save his mill. He will not risk the money that rightfully belongs to his creditors and the workers. It's a heartrending decision that only a nobler man could make. His own mother is inclined to take the risk to avoid failure:

'I know now that no man will suffer by me. That was my anxiety.'
'But how do you stand? Shall you -- will it be a failure?' her steady voice trembling in an unwonted manner.
'Not a failure. I must give up business, but I pay all men. I might redeem myself -- I am sorely tempted--'
'How/ Oh, John! keep up your name -- try all risks for that. How redeem it?'
'By a speculation offered to me, full of risk; but, if successful, placing me high above water mark, so that no one need ever know the strait I am in. Still, if it fails.... As I stand now, my creditors' money is safe...it is my creditors' money that I should risk.'
'But if it succeeded, they need never know. Is it so desperate a speculation? I am sure it is not, or you would never have though of it. If it succeeded--'
'I should be a rich man, and my peace of conscience would be gone!'

Note that John's concept of failure is quite different form his mother's. Hannah, more like Henry, appears concerned with the outward appearances, whereas John considers it a failure to act against his moral judgement. He knew it that if he risked saving his position, it would always rankle him to know what he had gambled. He would lose a portion of his self-esteem and honesty. And so he felt he had no choice but to close the mill.

For Thornton and for Higgins (and to a lesser degree for Mr. Hale), the decision to quit involved not only an evaluation of the consequences for oneself, but for the responsibility of one's obligations to the community of people you are involved with.

In each of these cases, it's crucial to the ongoing plot that these three characters make dramatic decisions to quit their jobs. But more importantly, Gaskell is clearly emphasizing that the courage and moral integrity of these men is a cut above the common breed. It takes guts to quit your work in any era, but more so in an age when your role in society -- your very identity as a man -- is dependent on the working position in which you are engaged in. Stripped of their outward vocation, all three of these men must define themselves on a higher order. And they do. These men are moved and strengthened by their inner convictions of what is right, and their duty to others. They cannot act contrary to what their conscience dictates. Their sense of identity rests on something far more important and substantial than a job. Their true vocation is to think and act according to their individual convictions of honesty and justice. There are men because of how they form themselves according to their highest ideals, not because they perform certain ascribed functions for compensation.

Is it any wonder that these three men are friends with one another? There's a wonderful sense of warm camaraderie in the scenes where any two of these men meet in friendship and care. 

Photos from the BBC mini-series North & South (2004)

Photos from the BBC mini-series North & South (2004)

I love the way Gaskell forces these men to step out of the traditional evaluations of manhood based on social position and economic structures. She always compels the reader to look under the surface for the real individual - not defined by vocation, wealth, or social status. As always, Gaskell is pointing out our highest calling -- each of us -- as human beings attempting to live up to our best selves for our own and humanity's good. 

These quitters are winners in my book.

 

Why did Thornton visit Helstone?

"Were you ever at Helstone?" Mr. Bell asks Thornton in Gaskell's book, North and South.

"I have seen it. It was a great change to leave it and come to Milton."  

John admits that he's been there, but he doesn't explain why and it doesn't occur to Mr. Bell to ask. If Bell had been a bit more alert, Thornton's answer should have piqued his curiosity --because you don't just swing by Helstone! It's not on the way to anywhere. It's not on the railroad schedule. To get to Helstone you would need to take the train to Southampton, and then take a cab of some distance. 

Clearly, John has made a deliberate effort to visit the remote hamlet where Margaret grew up. If nothing else, it's a romantic gesture that shows how much he still thinks of her. He even picks a few flowers to save as a treasured symbol. [He pressed those flowers and kept them with him. How romantic is that?! There's a fantastic post about this here.]

--I've always asked myself what he is thinking when he plucks that one remaining rose from the hedgerow, and I can't quite define it. I wonder what Richard Armitage would say?

--I've always asked myself what he is thinking when he plucks that one remaining rose from the hedgerow, and I can't quite define it. I wonder what Richard Armitage would say?

Before we talk about John Thornton's reasons for visiting Helstone, let me point out that the book and the BBC mini-series place John's journey to Helstone at different points in the story.

In the book, John goes off on a business trip to Le Havre about the same time Mr. Hale goes to Oxford. And it's on John's way back home to Milton when he apparently makes a point of stopping to see Helstone. It's been about nine months since he declared his love, and he's still struggling with the pain and loss of Margaret's rejection. He meets Mr. Bell on the same train to Milton and discovers that Mr. Hale has died. 

At least in the original storyline John expects to see and interact with Margaret again after secretly visiting Helstone, even though he expects that they will continue to have a distanced relationship. In the film adaptation, John runs off to Helstone for no apparent reason -- certainly he has no commercial affairs to conduct, because he has just closed his mill. Margaret has been gone from Milton for months already. When John is on that train home from sunny Helstone, he expects he may never see her again. That's pretty powerful. 

The BBC adaptation gives us a lovely visual of John walking through the sun-drenched open greenery of Helstone. It's such an astounding contrast to see the Master of Marlborough Mills, dressed in his usual sober work clothes, surrounded by the lushness of nature -- with not a brick or sooty wall in sight.

Helstone walk

And here he is, tromping around the grounds of Helstone in southern England, without a word to his mum of where he has gone! I wonder how long he was away. Did he stay overnight in Helstone at all? That really would have troubled Hannah! Or was it just a long day trip? It would be at least 3-4 hours to get there from Milton, as far as I could figure, given Victorian train speeds. (In the book, he stays at the local inn.)

So why did he go there and what did he gain? Did it give him some closure, or did it only intensify the pain of his loss?

I believe he is gaining some closure by taking this pilgrimage. He doesn't intend to ever be 'cured' of his love for her. He absolutely knows that this is the great love of his life. He only longs to understand it better -- to understand her as completely as he can. That's why he goes to see where she grew up, to understand how her environment might have shaped who she is and what she must have experienced in giving up Helstone to come to Milton. 

It's this quote from Gaskell that illuminates the depth of his connection to Margaret:

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.

(And note Gaskell's punctuation - the exclamation point after 'struggling' really socks you in the gut.)

What do you think of that quote? He's bound and determined to get through this, although he knows it's going to be a tremendous struggle, he expects he will nevertheless be enriched by this experience. He can never see his love for her as a negative thing, even though he's not able to have that love returned.

Here's another quote to elucidate his feelings on that score:

Yes! whatever happened to him, external to his relation to her, he could never have spoken of that time, when he could have seen her every day - when he had her within his grasp, as it were - as a time of suffering. It had been a royal time of luxury to him, with all its stings and contumelies....

So his walk in Helstone was to understand more of this great love. For though he could do nothing to lessen it or forget it, he could try to understand what it was -- who Margaret was -- and why she had affected him so.

I think it speaks of great maturity to seek this understanding. He's not wallowing in despair or self-pity. He's trying to move on by understanding what has happened to him.

How wonderful that all his steadfast devotion to what Margaret means to him is rewarded at the end of the story! His love is certainly profound. No garden variety type! Maybe that's what the one precious wild rose symbolized -- that unique beauty and glorious character that was Margaret.

 

[If you remember some of these words, you may have encountered these exact remarks before! This post is largely taken from my own comments on this topic from the C19 discussion board.]

 

Margaret Hale's been crying

Margaret Hale cries. A lot. Well, not in the BBC mini-series so much, but she cries an awful lot in Gaskell's book. Did you realize that? I knew there was much more lacrimal action going on in the book than the film ever portrays, but even I was surprised by my research on the subject.

She cries 31 times. Yes, I read the whole book and counted. Stay tuned, because a little later I'll be analyzing why and when Margaret Hale sheds tears throughout her trials in North and South. Complete with graphs and all.

And now you know how serious my North and South affliction is. But I'll assume that if you're reading this, you must have somewhat of a thing for North and South, too. 

What difference does it make whether Margaret cries or not? Let me tell you why I bothered to count her crying moments in the first place.

From the wide variety of comments, reviews, and summaries regarding North and South I've read over the years, I've regularly come across a strain of viewers/readers that tend to envision Margaret as the embodiment of more modern heroic ideals of feminine confidence and independence. This version of Margaret is always able to handle whatever comes her way, seldom or never breaks down, needs little or no aid from others, carves her own path in life, and seems always ready to give a piece of her mind to those who don't see the world as she does. 

And this view of an ever-strong and capable Margaret Hale is given a boost by the BBC's portrayal of Margaret, where we seldom see her at her most vulnerable moments. The 2004 mini-series conveniently avoids showing an unconscious Margaret being carried into the Thorntons' house. The adaptation also omits Margaret's collapse into unconsciousness following the intense questioning of the police inspector. We see Margaret cry once throughout the entire film version -- at her mother's death. Clearly, Margaret is made of pretty stern stuff. She seldom appears to lose control.

How did Margaret get from here ....

How did Margaret get from here ....

.... to here? The 2004 BBC adaptation will let you guess.

.... to here? The 2004 BBC adaptation will let you guess.

The 1975 adaptation doesn't skip over this very vulnerable moment.    

The 1975 adaptation doesn't skip over this very vulnerable moment.    

Why does this matter? Because the modern adaptation's choice to leave out moments when Margaret could appear weak, vulnerable, or over-emotional is a choice to present a more idealistic vision of female fortitude for twenty-first century viewers. And I'm ok with that for the most part; I really don't like the soppier version of Margaret presented in the 1975 adaptation. But I do think it's important to take a closer look at how Gaskell portrays Margaret so that we can get a more complete and realistic picture of the emotional turbulence going on in this nineteen year-old Victorian. (Margaret is only 19 during the height of the story's drama. See my timeline here.) 

The essential question we should ask is whether Margaret can be considered a model of strength despite the fact that she cries at times. Is crying a sign of weakness? Is it an embarrassing symbol of feminine sensitivity? Of incapacity or immaturity? 

Crying can become excessive and indicate shrinking fear, self-pity, or over-sensitivity that is not admirable. But if crying is something of an emotional release valve for those going through deep trials, then crying is wholly human; it indicates that we actually have a heart--which is a good thing. I'd be more wary of someone who doesn't cry in moments of extreme emotional anguish, grief, or despairing exhaustion. 

At the very least, we know that with all the crying going on, Margaret Hale indeed does have a heart -- even if she keeps it very well hidden from brooding cotton mill masters.

In my curiosity to see how many times Margaret cried, I marked each instance down and jotted a little note. Of course, categorizing and counting cries is hardly an objective task. What counts as a cry in my analysis? I counted not only clearly described sobbing and wet cheeks, but also when tears welled up and one instance in particular when she was "choking and swallowing" to fight back tears.

Why she cried was also my subjective judgement. I endeavored to interpret the reason she cried from the immediate procuring cause and any underlying cause that I perceived lurked behind the tears. We all cry for compounded reasons, but I tried to classify the predominant factor. For example, when Thornton comes to offer his condolences after her mother's death, he speaks so tenderly that he evokes tears from her. Is this a cry because of her mother's death or because his gentleness reminds her of her lost chances (she thinks) with him? I marked this cry as one caused by grief since it so closely followed the loss of her mother.

Now let's take a look at my categorization for why Margaret Hale shed tears throughout her three year trial in North and South

Reasons for Crying

The most shocking revelation from the above graph is that despite all the other reasons for crying: being ripped away from a beloved home, dealing with multiple deaths and unending family trials -- it's her strong feelings concerning John Thornton that's the number one reason she loses control of her emotions in the novel. She cries after Mrs. Thornton comes to chew her out, she cries when she confesses to her father that she rejected Thornton, and she cries when she explains to Mr. Bell what Mr. Thornton must think of her. 

When she Cries

And now for a very general overview of when Margaret cries throughout the story. There's not much surprise here. Margaret's problems started with that fatal day when Henry proposed and her father told her they were moving -- her trials only accumulated and intensified from there. After the proposal, just about every thing in her life is falling apart. 

Before and After Proposal Cries

Thornton's declaration of love is a reverberating climax, and it also conveniently marks the halfway point of the novel. It's not really a surprise that Margaret gets twice as tearful in the second half of this story because that's precisely when her troubles begin to compound and things get complicated. You can look at this graph also as a division of the BBC mini-series. Episodes 1 and 2 constitute the first half and episodes 3 and 4 follow the climactic midpoint: Thornton's proposal. And seriously, wouldn't you cry too if you declined Richard Armitage/John Thornton's offer of eternal devotion?!

So, back to my essential question -- can Margaret still be considered a admirable bastion of strength, even with all her moments of weeping and tear-filled eyes? You bet she can! Her emotional strength is impressive considering her age and the situations she is forced to deal with. How well would you hold up if you had to juggle fulfilling your mother's dying wish, preventing your father from slipping into depression, making maneuvers to keep your brother from dying a traitor's death while at the same time inadvertently screwing up your relationship with the man of your dreams? Oh, and your best friend dies about the same time as your mother. Good times, right?

I have to wonder how she even found the courage to get out of bed some mornings! I really admire her strength through the slew of non-stop trials she endures. She certainly demonstrates strength according to my view of the ideal, which includes the following aspects:

  • Ability to keep moving/acting even when some days you are just surviving instead of moving forward. The ability to keep going when everything seems to be falling apart.
  • Not succumbing to despair, bitterness.
  • Determination of individual purpose -- you define what you're living for.
  • Ability to put personal pleasure and ease aside in the endeavor to follow your ideals.
  • Rising to the occasion when others are incapable of leading.
  • Persisting in endeavoring to do what is right.

I can't help but think of other classic heroines who portrayed this kind of strength: Jane Eyre, Elinor Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), Anne Elliot (Persuasion), and Molly Gibson (Wives & Daughters)

Do strong women cry? They certainly do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.