North and South

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?

reply | edit | delete | flag *

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

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

Photo by Mike Hogan/BBC

Photo by Mike Hogan/BBC

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

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

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

Dirty, smokey old Milton   √

Struggle between masters and workers  √

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

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

An impressive tally of deaths √

Problematic father  √

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

And just to make sure you understand...

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

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

 

 

 

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?