John Thornton

My Favorite Romantic Literary Heroes

These are the men who made me feel their pain when the course of love did not run smoothly. Both in the book and on film, these are the guys who suffered long and silently before finally winning their one true love. I adore a tortured hero, one whose devotion endures through much tribulation. So these few are my absolute favorite book-to-screen Valentines.

Who is your favorite literary Valentine?


John Thornton

Margaret may not have looked back, but we couldn't stop staring at this forlorn face. (Richard Armitage as the BBC's John Thornton in  North and South )

Margaret may not have looked back, but we couldn't stop staring at this forlorn face. (Richard Armitage as the BBC's John Thornton in North and South)

Of course. Who else could possibly top John Thornton? No one reveals the agonized longing to be loved like Thornton -- both in prose and in smoldering looks. Thornton will always be my King of Hearts.

Awards:

Master of the Smoldering Stare

Dad-approved Spouse Material

 Kisser Extraordinaire


Edward Rochester

As tempestuous, rugged, and sublime as nature itself. (Toby Stephens as the BBC's Edward Rochester in  Jane Eyre )

As tempestuous, rugged, and sublime as nature itself. (Toby Stephens as the BBC's Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre)

He's moody and a bit unpredictable, but once he's smitten by Jane, his passion and devotion are unwavering. Caught in an impossible situation, he makes a desperate attempt to secure his happiness. I love Rochester's good side: the man who was tricked into marrying a woman that swiftly slid into insanity but still took care of her; the man who took care of a bastard child not his own. His yearning to align his life with the good and pure Jane is heartrending. Whenever he calls out "Jane!" my heart does a little flip.

Awards:

Top Jokester

Skeleton in the Closet Winner

Most Likely to be Burned by Life (and fire!) Award 

 


Col. Brandon

A gentle kindness pervades this man's every word and act. (Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon in Sony Pictures'  Sense and Sensibility )

A gentle kindness pervades this man's every word and act. (Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon in Sony Pictures' Sense and Sensibility)

I adore Col. Brandon's quiet selflessness. Patient, meek, but all the while a strong and reliable force for good -- I can't help thinking what a fool Marianne is for overlooking this gleaming gem of a man. 

Awards:

Sweetest Man in the Shire

Reliable to the Core

Will Buy You a Piano Even if You Snub Him Award


Gabriel Oak

Holding in his pain one last moment. (Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak in  Far from the Madding Crowd)

Holding in his pain one last moment. (Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak in Far from the Madding Crowd)

Gabriel Oak is the anti-Alpha male, which is why I really, really love him. Here is a man who patiently puts others' concerns largely over his own and is as steady and constant in his affection, purpose, and duty as any hero of more ostentatious fame or nobility. He's not rich, but has a character of gold.

Awards:

Nature Boy (Excellent with sheep)

Won't Lie to You Award

Still Loves You Even if You Marry an Idiot Award

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.

handshake.jpg

 

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.

lonely.jpg

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.]

 

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....
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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do John and Margaret Stop Arguing?

The BBC's John Thornton tries to recover from Margaret's rejection.

The BBC's John Thornton tries to recover from Margaret's rejection.

No, this isn't a trick question. There's a definite end to their arguing in the book. And you may be surprised at the answer. 

When John comes to declare his love for Margaret the morning after the riot, the tense relationship between the master and the Milton newcomer reaches a blistering vocal climax. Pent-up emotions on each side explode into forceful words and both are left stunned by the unexpected vehemence of their exchange. 

Margaret is temporarily immobilized after Thornton's departure.

Margaret is temporarily immobilized after Thornton's departure.

After this staggering tempest, the dynamic between these two strong-minded individuals is forever changed. After this day, Margaret never again raises her voice to argue against him. In fact, the very next day she finds herself defending Thornton to a grieving and bitter Higgins.

The end of the verbal battles between Thornton and Margaret comes precisely at the half-way point of the book. The remaining two hundred pages of the story reveals a softer, meeker Margaret in relation to Thornton. She is jolted into taking a closer look at the man behind the master's mask.

Thornton is too bitterly jealous to really see a softer and repentant Margaret.

Thornton is too bitterly jealous to really see a softer and repentant Margaret.

But wait, isn't there still bristling friction between these two passionate people throughout the second half? Yes, of course. But it no longer stems from any perceived ideological or character differences. Outbursts in this portion of the drama erupt not from an indignant Margaret but from an emotionally tortured Thornton, who simply cannot control his bitter jealousy.

The potent tension between Thornton and Margaret after the failed proposal is the result of repressed passions and the accumulation of misunderstandings. The unfortunate havoc wrought by Frederick's appearance convinces Thornton that Margaret loves another and causes Margaret to believe Thornton could never love a confirmed liar. The mistaken belief that they are despised by the other costs both of them almost two years of unnecessary suffering.

This is wholly romantic tension, which has nothing to do with socio-economic conflicting opinions. And it is not resolved until those final pages (or the illustrious train station scene), when their pathetic illusions dissolve in the glorious light of reality.

The very last page has playful arguing between the lovers -- perfect.

Was it Love at First Sight for Thornton?

Valentine's Day has come and gone, but I'm still thinking about the celebration of romantic love. It's the perfect reason for taking a closer look at the dizzying emotional whirlwind we call "falling in love." Eros is that that form of love that can make mature adults suddenly feel like awkward teenagers and send perfectly rational people into frenzies of mildly insane behavior.

Was it love at first sight for Thornton when he met the Southern girl from Helstone? Something definitely happened in those first few moments of being in Margaret's presence that rocked the mill master's world.

The book's first meeting between John and Margaret may seem dull compared to the explosive action in the BBC's version of North and South, in which the vicar's daughter plays the moral hero against the onslaught of violence erupting from the cotton factory's CEO. But if you take a closer look at Gaskell's narrative, the scene she wrote is far from dull. Although Margaret is wishing her father's Milton contact would leave so she could take a nap, there are some internal fireworks going on inside the Thornton systems that the man can barely contain. 

BBC's John Thornton surveys newcomer Margaret Hale

BBC's John Thornton surveys newcomer Margaret Hale

Let's take a look at what's going on with Thornton. He's taken by surprise the very moment Margaret enters the room: first, because she isn't Mr. Hale (or a little girl) and second, because she is "a young lady of a different type to most of those he was in the habit of seeing."  

What is is that sets Margaret apart from the rest? What is he seeing? She has a self-composed natural dignity, a straight-forward unabashed manner, a simple yet elegant costume, and a beautiful countenance. All this he notices in a few seconds.

Then Margaret speaks: "Mr. Thornton, I believe." 

And he can't even formulate a response! "The ready words would not come."

He's standing there, staring at her, already tongue-tied. Can you picture this? I hope he at least remembered it's not polite to leave your mouth hanging open!

Since Thornton seems mute, Margaret takes command of the social situation. Explaining that her father will return soon, she asks Thornton to sit. Here's how Thornton -- venerated Milton magistrate and master over hundreds of men -- reacts: 

"Mr Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared, but now he calmly took a seat at her bidding." 

He manages to utter something about going to find her father. And as she replies about the house her family intends to take, Thornton suddenly feels that the place he approved for the Hales in Crampton will not be good enough "now that he [sees] Margaret with her superb ways of moving and looking."

Okay, so now she at least got him to sit down, but I don't think he's been able to take his eyes off of her. I mean, he's known her for less than two minutes and he's internally raving about "her superb ways of moving and looking?!" I think the man has been gobsmacked.

Margaret, however, has no clue she's causing any internal combustion. But as she takes off her shawl and takes a seat in front of him, Thornton is drinking in every detail of her feminine appearance: 

"... her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the one lovely curve; her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden freedom."

There's only so much that Gaskell can describe while staying within the confines of Victorian propriety, but with these well-chosen words I am imagining Thornton's gaze roving over Margaret's body in a way that is unmistakably sensual. He's watching her lips as she speaks and noticing her bare neck? Whew! But that's not all. If his eyes are sweeping up to notice her throat "rising out of the full, yet lithe figure," I think we can assume he hasn't missed surveying the ample curves found below the neck. Ahem.

Go ahead and read that passage again and visualize where Thornton's gaze is lingering. The physical attraction is potent. 

Yet, it's not merely physical attraction that enchants him. The beauty he sees in her is tied to the qualities she exudes: self-possessed dignity, serene freedom, natural grace, gentle frankness, unshrinking self-confidence and strength. He seems to discern the essence of Margaret Hale in one short occasion. She's a rather amazing blend of both masculine and feminine natures. And Thornton is drawn to her expression of these qualities, so many of which he himself possesses and venerates.

So how does this unexpected powerful attraction to a woman impact Thornton? He's thoroughly discombobulated. He can't formulate full sentences in response to Margaret's attempt to make conversation. He's irritated and mortified to recognize that "while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked upon him with proud indifference." He feels inadequate as a match for her and feels resentment rise at the thought that she must look down on him. And when it's time for him to leave, her respectful bow to him makes him feel "more awkward and self-conscious in every limb than he had ever done in all his life before." 

I love that he exits that scene almost literally off-balance! Even walking is a new sensation when Margaret is in the room.

Can we, then, certify that Thornton has fallen in love at first sight? Well, let's see if we can tic the boxes on a few common elements of what falling in love often looks and feels like:

  • Undeniable, strong physical attraction.  √
  • Vaulted admiration of character/qualities. √
  • Feeling awkward, self-conscious, and unworthy. √
  • Bumbling, stuttering like an idiot. √

Whether or not his feelings can actually can be called "love" after such a brief encounter, Thornton has all the symptoms of falling for Margaret at their very first encounter. 

And it only gets worse from him as the story continues. Poor man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does North and South mean to you?

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?