John Thornton's Wedding


As a hopeless romantic, I can't help grinning with satisfaction when a good love story ends with a wedding! It is rather ironic, then, that my favorite romantic story, North and South, contains no such traditional conclusion. Although Gaskell meticulously describes all the heart-pounding moments that lead up to John and Margaret's discovery of their mutual feelings, she leaves us to imagine for ourselves all the complications that will be involved in arranging the marriage between the London heiress and the former master of Marlborough Mills. Is there anyone who hasn't imagined something of the scenes to follow that abrupt ending? 

What happens next and where they marry will differ depending upon whether the last scene in your mind includes a little delictable kissing on a northbound train or some time of "delicious silence" in Aunt Shaw's back drawing room. No matter which ending you choose, there are still some rather sticky matters the lovebirds will have to handle:

  • Telling Aunt Shaw and Edith
  • Telling Mrs. Thornton and Fanny
  • Deciding where to marry
  • Deciding when to wed
 From the BBC adaptation, Fanny gets married. This church is St John at Hampstead (north London).

From the BBC adaptation, Fanny gets married. This church is St John at Hampstead (north London).

I can't think of a fan fiction story that doesn't have them marry fairly quickly. And that seems entirely natural since both these individuals are passionate and decisive. Neither of them will care about whether or not the wedding is elaborate.

According to the span of events in the book (see my N&S timeline here), by the time these two lonely souls come to an understanding, two whole years have passed since John first proposed to Margaret! After such a lengthy and angst-ridden separation on both their parts, I cannot fathom them waiting any longer than a month to arrange a wedding. They could wait three weeks for the banns to be read at Margaret's parish or John could purchase a special license to let them marry even earlier. I'm certain John would prefer the latter!

Where to marry wouldn't be a very difficult decision if the engaged couple were to follow custom. It would be traditional for the bride to be married in the parish the bride resided in. So to follow the book's ending, John would most likely return home Milton and then come back a few weeks later to marry in the London church where Margaret has long attended. This is indeed what takes place in the best sequel to the book I've ever found, Pack Clouds Away. (This wonderful fan fiction can only be found at

Most fan fiction weddings, however, happen in Milton. And this is where things get a little more tricky. Margaret is no longer member of a parish there, and we know that John is not Church of England. So do they marry in John's church? [Gaskell is purposely vague about what church the Thorntons might attend, although she does throw in that Mrs. Thornton studies a Presbyterian Bible commentary, Matthew Henry's Commentaries.] Since both John and Margaret are devout Christians, a civil ceremony would feel incomplete. 

 MOIRE SILK WEDDING GOWN, 1855-1860. (from

MOIRE SILK WEDDING GOWN, 1855-1860. (from

There are many versions of John and Margaret's wedding in Milton. The Mistress of Marlborough Mills and True North (both at C19) have Milton weddings. Elaine Owen's Common Ground and Nancy Klein's How Far the World Will Bend also have Milton weddings, although the circumstances behind each are entirely different!

I enjoyed creating an entirely different wedding scene in A Heart for Milton by having them marry in Helstone. I wanted Margaret to marry in her childhood home, where her father had been vicar for so many years. And of course I couldn't resist the romantic country setting. I'm not sure there are any other variations that have the wedding take place in Helstone.

Although I haven't read it yet, I'm told Nicole Clarkston's No Such Thing as Luck has neither a London, Milton nor a Helstone wedding! You'll have to read it to find out all about this unique wedding scene.

Tell me your thoughts on John and Margaret's wedding, and share you favorite fan fiction weddings!

Was John Thornton a "Mama's Boy"?

 The BBC's Hannah Thornton comforts her son.

The BBC's Hannah Thornton comforts her son.

This month, I'm taking a closer look at one of the most fascinating mother-son relationships in romantic literature. 

My immediate response to the occasional accusation that John Thornton is a mama's boy is a vehement "no," but then again there is a very strong bond between John and his mother. The trials they suffered and conquered together forged a deep trust and admiration between them. There's something profound about a relationship between two people who have endured deep waters together. If a strong bond between mother and son makes a man a "mama's boy" then perhaps he is one.

So what exactly is a mama's boy? According to Merriam-Webster, a mama's boy is "a usually polite or timid boy or man who is extremely or excessively close to and solicitous of his mother."  Well, that doesn't sound too condemning, does it? Although I hardly think the term "timid" applies to Thornton's general nature, nor do I think he's excessively solicitous of his mother. 

I'm guessing that part of the reason one would call Thornton a mama's boy is the fact that he and his mother still live in the same home. From a modern American point of view, a man of Thornton's age shouldn't be living with his mother. But there's a very great distinction to made in the fact that Thornton isn't living in the old family homestead, still tethered to his mother's apron strings. His mother is living in the home that he worked hard to provide for his family. She's living with him, not the other way around. And it would be perfectly normal for Thornton to take care of his widowed mother in this way at that time. 

But what about all the negative connotations that go with the term 'mama's boy'? It's meant to be derogative, isn't it? Oh yes, and the derogative meaning of the term comes to light when Merriam-Webster goes on to explain the meaning of the phrase for English language learners:  

a boy or man who is seen as weak because he is controlled or protected too much by his mother.

Ouch! That strikes at a man's masculinity and sense of independence. And the Oxford Dictionary isn't much nicer in their definition of  'mummy's boy:'

 a boy or man who is excessively influenced by or attached to his mother.

I revolt against these more demeaning definitions.  Is a mama's boy defined by how he acts or how his mother acts? Or is it a combination of both? I concede that on Hannah's part, she is excessively attached to and vehemently protective of her son. John is her heart's pride and joy. The world revolves around him in her view. But the center of John's universe has become his work, not his mother.

Although "excessively influenced" by his mother might have defined him in his teenage years, I don't see Thornton influenced by his mother's opinions as a man. In fact, there are several instances in the book where we see that Thornton makes his own decisions, despite his mother's strong opinions. She thinks John is wasting his time studying the classics with Mr. Hale. And when Mr. Bell asks if Mrs. Thornton helps with the workers dining hall, Thornton replies: 

Not a bit .... She disapproves of the whole plan, and now we never mention it to each other.

Clearly, John moves forward with whatever he thinks is important without his mother's approval.

Don't go.jpg

As for controlling her son, there's only one instance in the story where Hannah stops him from doing what he intends to -- when she asks him not to go to see Margaret the night of the riot.

And he doesn't. It's the only time we see him abide by her demands.

don't go 2.jpg

However much Hannah would like to be in control of her son's social agenda, it's John who controls his mother. He must demand that his mother and sister go call on Mrs. Hale and Margaret, even though Hannah and Fanny put up quite a bit of resistance. And is there any doubt that it was John who requested the Hales be invited to the Thornton dinner party? Months later, he asks his mother to go offer womanly counsel to Margaret.

Hannah's attempts to influence her son against falling for Margaret, taking up the classics, and working more sympathetically with his workers all fall flat. If anything, I see John shaping and molding his mother throughout the book. He refuses to let her unbending ways keep his thought from expanding into new realms, and prods her into at least outwardly following his sense of kindness to the Hales. 

I like to think that Hannah mellows, her heart softens, and her defensive barriers lower little by little as she watches her son's happiness and contentment grow as a husband and father. And when those grandchildren come on the scene, Hannah can indulge all her fervent watchfulness, protective solicitude, and bursting pride upon the new little creatures of her son's lineage. 

What do you think of Hannah's influence on her grown son?

John Thornton's treatment of women

Where would John Thornton fit in today's #MeToo movement? As head of Milton's largest cotton mill, Mr. Thornton is in a position of authority and power over 700 workers, including women and children. But there's nothing in Gaskell's North and South to suggest he has ever abused his power in pursuing women or girls in his employ. 

And Gaskell doesn't shy away from telling about men who prey on girls. In Mary Barton, the son of a mill owner does indeed take advantage of his wealth and position to pursue a working class girl. He has no intention of marrying her, although "having" her would ruin her in the eyes of strict Victorian culture. And then, of course, there's the predatory young man of the gentry class who pursues and ruins a working class seamstress in Ruth.

We can discern what kind of a man Thornton is in this regard largely by what he doesn't do in comparison to these other despicable Gaskell men, but also by how he treats all the women we see him interact with in North and South.

Mrs. Thornton and Fanny

 The BBC's John Thornton at home with his family.

The BBC's John Thornton at home with his family.

Is there any other classic romantic hero who is surrounded by females at home? Thornton has had the strong guidance and support of his mother through the harsh years of poverty and social exclusion following his father's suicide. For years, Thornton had only his mother and his sister for his companions through the defining trials of his young life. Through the incredible fortitude and determination of his mother and the frailer, self-absorbed nature of his sister Fanny, John knows firsthand both the amazing capabilities and more traditional failings of womanhood.

Remember the old adage that assures that you can judge how a man will treat his wife by how he treats his mother? Although not necessarily true, there's much to be said by carefully observing how a man treats his mother. In Thornton's case, he makes it quite clear that he admires and respects the foundational moral guidance his mother gave him. He knows it was pivotal to the entire direction of his life:

I had such a mother as few are blest with; a woman of strong power, and firm resolve...My mother managed so that I put by three out of these fifteen shillings, our of which three people had to be kept. This made the beginning; this taught me self-denial. Now that I am able to afford my mother such comforts as her age, rather than her own wish, requires, I thank her silently on each occasion for the early training she gave me.

He speaks to his mother as an equal, and admires her for her strong character. He has less patience with Fanny's pettiness and self-coddling and has to command her to go visit Mrs. Hale and Margaret, acting like a father figure when necessary. But he also shows a father-like tenderness of heart in spoiling her -- allowing her to have a rather lavish wedding when she marries, despite the mill's unstable financial condition.

Mrs. Hale

 Mrs. Hale receives some of the best fruit money can buy in Milton.

Mrs. Hale receives some of the best fruit money can buy in Milton.

Mr. Thornton is deeply jarred to discover the seriousness of Mrs. Hale's condition from Dr. Donaldson. He hand-selects the finest fruit he can find to help ease her suffering. Despite being rejected the day before, he can't help wanting to offer a token of kindness and sympathy to his tutor's wife.






There's a little-known story related in the book about how John and his mother acted benevolently toward a young woman whose father (a friend of the late George Thornton) had fallen into financial difficulty. Martha, who works as a servant for both the Thorntons and the Hales, tells Margaret that she and her sister "would have been 'lost' but for Mrs. Thornton; who sought them out, and thought for them, and cared for them." 

I had the fever, and was but delicate; and Mrs. Thornton, and Mr. Thornton too, they never rested till they had nursed me up in their own house, and sent me to the sea and all. (Chapter 41)


One of the truly remarkable things about Thornton's treatment of Margaret, is his respectful interest in her as a moral thinker. Although it's clear he's attracted to her physically from the very first, his interest in her mind is evident in the way he eagerly listens to her. As a leader of Milton industry, he could have easily been dismissive of what a young woman has to say about the management of his workers and the social imperatives of his position. But he wants to know what she is thinking and we find him asking her for her opinion at various points in the book.

We know his intentions toward the vicar's daughter are honorable. He wants to make her his wife, but she won't have him. At least not at first...

 Looking for Margaret's opinion.

Looking for Margaret's opinion.

John Thornton appears to be set apart from the traditional male model of the time period. He shows no sign of using women for personal pleasure (see my article Was Thornton a Virgin?) or for social or material advancement. He's not looking at women as tools for his use at all. 

The Lennox brothers, by contrast, reveal elements of the traditional mindset. Henry Lennox assumes he can mold Margaret into supporting his interests. Edith's husband is eager for his wife to always look her best for his own possessive vanity and self-satisfaction. Women are a subordinate accompaniment for men, a side acquisition of sorts that men can train to suit themselves.

Thornton thinks more deeply about individual human value. In his discourse with Margaret concerning the usage of the term "gentleman" he explains that "a man is to me a higher and completer being than a gentleman" and implies that the highest indicator of a man's character and worth is not found in a comparison to others, but in the proof of his own endurance, strength and faith.

And gathering all the evidence of Thornton's dealings with the women around him, I believe he'd evaluate women the same way: that their value is not based upon their relation to others -- husbands, fathers, etc. --- but upon their own merits. Women are individuals, not props or playthings.

He'd make a great modern man. 

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.


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.


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. 


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.


Nature Boy (Excellent with sheep)

Won't Lie to You Award

Still Loves You Even if You Marry an Idiot Award