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.