Falling for Mr. Thornton - an anthology of N&S stories

This Fall, get ready to fall for John Thornton all over again…

…with a brand new collection of short stories!

Twelve authors are collaborating to bring a new book to your N&S collection soon!

Photo from the BBC’s mini-series masterpiece: North & South.

Photo from the BBC’s mini-series masterpiece: North & South.

Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South

will be published sometime late October or early November.

Catch all the updates and details at our Facebook page.

Thanks so much for your interest — we’re excited to put out more North and South lore out there!

What if Margaret never married?

Mourning Margaret.jpg

Have you ever imagined a different ending to North and South—one where Margaret remains single the rest of her life? Would she find happiness and fulfillment without marrying John Thornton?

I occasionally run into North and South fans who wish the ending of Gaskell’s story wasn’t so traditional. Something in them cringes to watch the independently-minded Margaret Hale sign up for married life. And it bothers them that according to Victorian laws, Margaret would be turning over her entire fortune to John the instant they marry. These particular fans feel sad that Margaret would be giving up her independence.

I can understand their wish to see Margaret continue to be a strong model of womanhood. She acts like an equal to the men in her life, and shows no signs of depending on a husband to establish her identity. She follows her own individual convictions of what’s right or important. And it’s exciting to see a woman like that come into a large inheritance. Margaret’s wealth gave her more freedom to choose her own path.

So what was is it she wanted to do with all her money? Was she having a grand old time being rich in London? She wasn’t having a fantastic time spending her money on herself, or on making the social rounds. She is bored out of her mind living in a house full of people who only think of how to entertain themselves next. She certainly wasn’t interested in marrying just because that’s what you were supposed to do.

What did she want, after all? Did she want to be alone?


The Margaret Hale in the last few chapters of the book is very melancholy. She spends a great deal of time trying to get over losing her relationship to John. She resolves to make the best of her life, despite her deep longing for “what could have been.”

Does Margaret want to have a family? Yes. Gaskell draws this desire out by showing how much Margaret loved it when Edith’s little boy fell asleep in her arms:

Those were Margaret’s sweetest moments. They gave her a taste of the feeling that she believed would be denied her forever.

But she’s not going to marry just anyone to have a family. She has made a commitment with herself to “speak and act the truth for evermore.” She’s already in love with Thornton. There’s no way she will compromise herself by marrying someone she doesn’t love. This is why Margaret tells Edith she will never marry. Margaret firmly believes she has lost her one chance at happiness.

I’m not buying the idea that Margaret would have been happier on her own than with John in Milton. I’m not able to imagine her living her best life all alone in London with no one to really understand her. Not a single person in her social circle comprehends her.


Margaret wanted to make a difference for others. She wanted to be involved in her community. She wanted to have a purpose beyond herself. She longs to love and help others. When she resolves to do as she pleases at Harley Street, she chooses to do charity work to fill her time and give her some purpose.

If she had lived her life alone, she would have continued to find ways to help people who needed help in London. This, she felt, was being true to herself. She would be satisfied in some sense, but I doubt she would ever be completely rid of the lingering sadness for the life she might have had.

I trust Margaret’s instincts for her own happiness. As a women wholly free to chose NOT to get married and to spend her wealth as she pleased, she chose to throw all her money into John Thornton’s hands. She offered him every pound she had in her account when she got the chance. She wasn’t interested in offering a token investment in his mill, she put her whole heart in her offer to help him revive the mill.

She trusted him with all her money, and wanted to join forces with him. And when he revealed his heart to her by calling out her name in earnest, she laid her head on his shoulders — she was tired of being alone. The relief and joy she and John both felt suddenly discovering that they would neither of them be condemned to a life alone is beautifully expressed in the holy silence described in those first few moments of physical contact:

…she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence.

It’s going to be a challenging life in Milton, but it’s the life she chooses, and she’s equipped for it. And she won’t have to spend the rest of her life kicking herself for turning down John Thornton!

The look of a woman who sees what she wants.

The look of a woman who sees what she wants.

All the World in Gaskell's North and South

Although Margaret Hale herself never steps a foot beyond England and not a single scene in North and South takes place abroad, Gaskell doesn't let the reader forget that England is the center of the world. The lives of her characters and the events of the story are intertwined with the larger activity of the Empire and the world beyond England’s shores.

On the very first page of North and South we learn that Edith will be married to an army captain stationed in Corfu — a Greek island that at the time was a British protectorate from the Napoleonic Wars. A few pages further in the book we find Margaret modeling luxurious shawls from India for Aunt Shaw’s friends. The opening chapter also reveals that the Lennox family is from Scotland. All three of these places — Corfu, India, Scotland — are part of England’s realm.

Edith enjoys the comforts of England’s wealth and power.

Edith enjoys the comforts of England’s wealth and power.

Gaskell begins and ends the story in London —the very hub of the great British Empire at the height of its power. Characters flow in and out of England throughout the book: Edith goes to Scotland and Corfu, Aunt Shaw vacations in Italy, the exiled Frederick risks coming home for a time from the sunnier shores of Spain, Irish workers are brought in to replace the striking mill workers, and John Thornton himself goes to France to find out what’s happening with the price of cotton.

England’s central role in the world of that era is undeniable, and Gaskell subtly but unmistakably hints at this global power when she makes references to the military presence of characters in far off places. General Shaw gave his wife shawls and scarves from India. Captain Lennox's regiment is sent to Corfu, near the Greek mainland. And Frederick was a midshipman in the Navy who led a mutiny somewhere in the high seas where a West-Indian steamer picked up the abandoned Captain Reid.

Frederick Hale is off to his Navy adventures.

Frederick Hale is off to his Navy adventures.

It is Frederick Hale that brings an element of the exotic world to Milton when he makes his daring visit to see his dying mother. The exiled Frederick tells his family about his adventures living in Mexico and South America. Frederick marries a Spanish girl and make the southern coast of Spain his permanent home.

Margaret on hill wider.jpg

Other countries or regions are mentioned incidentally in North and South:

Henry examines a copy of Dante’s Paradiso …“in the proper old Italian binding of white vellum and gold.”

Mrs. Hale keeps her letters from Frederick in the japan cabinet.

There are China roses covering the Helstone parsonage.

Mr. Bell asks Mr. Hale if perhaps Thornton and Margaret have “what the French call a tendresse for each other.”

And when the Hales arrive in Milton, Mr Hale rethinks his choice. “I wish I had gone into some country place in Wales." (Ah, but then they would never have met John Thornton!)

That Gaskell’s story should have so many references to the world beyond is no surprise, knowing how well the author liked to travel. Elizabeth loved getting away from Manchester and went several times to the Continent, often without her busy spouse. She traveled to Germany, Wales, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy, and Scotland. She also attended the Great Exhibition of 1851—that great showcase of innovations and art, where all the world was brought to London. Of course she did!


Placing John Thornton at the Great Exhibition in the film adaptation was a stroke of genius by BBC screenwriter Sandy Welch. In this cleverly constructed scene, we see Thornton as not merely as a Milton businessman, but as a master of a global industry—a man of great power in the ever-accelerating world of manufacturing.

It is England’s internationally renown industrial prowess, of course, that is central to the story. The cotton industry of Lancashire in which John Thornton is involved is at the very summit of the industrial revolution in mid-century England. And the business of making cotton cloth in England is unequivocally an international affair. Cotton is grown and imported from foreign lands, and the resulting cloth made at the mill is sold both in England and abroad. Mrs. Thornton boasts of her son’s position in the world: Go where you will—I don’t say in England only, but in Europe—the name of John Thornton of Milton is known and respected amongst all men of business.

We find details of some of the issues of international trade and finance that affect his business in Gaskell’s book. Thornton speaks of the American competition in the yarn market that forces him to lower prices, making him unable to give the workers the raise they demand. And in the end, it is an American exchange house that begins the tumble of the financial markets across the ocean, and which ultimately forces Thornton to close his mill.

In the closing chapters of the story, as the lovers finally break through the misapprehensions keeping them apart, Gaskell is still weaving strong tones of far-reaching industrial power amidst emotionally intense romantic scenes:

Thornton leaves a very great impression upon Mr Colthurst, the Member of Parliament that comes to dine at Harley Street.

Margaret’s act of offering a loan to Thornton is an invitation to renew his business as well as a proclamation of her deep love and trust.

Far from concluding with a happy provincial ending, North and South leaves the reader with the strong feeling that together Margaret and Thornton will make a great impact in Milton that may just reverberate around the world.

The Fantastically Strong Women of North and South


Who do you consider a strong woman in Elizabeth Gaskell’s story? I immediately think of Margaret Hale and Hannah Thornton for their amazing ability to endure whatever life throws at them. Edith, Fanny, and Aunt Shaw are models of the more fashionable and useless Victorian woman — living a coddled life of vanity where problems must be invented in order to have something to complain about.

Weaker women tend to complain a lot, they’re often unable to make decisions for themselves, they can’t cope with stress or tragedy, and they hardly bother to think of how situations or events affect others — they’re too consumed with their own concerns or wants. Weaker women let society and fashion mold them.

In contrast, strong women keep their complaints mostly to themselves, make decisions without consulting others, handle stress and tragedies without shutting down, and most importantly — they think of how their actions affect others. Strong women create their own path in life.

Margaret picks up the slack in housework

Margaret picks up the slack in housework

Of course, we all have our weak moments (or days or years), and I’m not saying that Margaret is always strong. On the contrary, she has her breakdowns — although they are kept very private. She’s human and she cries and complains at times. But she keeps moving forward, despite all that happens to her.

Margaret’s ability to remain strong throughout three long years of endless troubles impresses me. She’s a great model for feminine fortitude for her era. What proves she can carry herself through any situation? Here’s an incomplete list of situations she manages all on her own during the events of the novel:

  • Keeps a sense of self-worth while serving as a companion to her wealthier and prettier cousin

  • Accepts the task of dropping an emotional bomb on her mother, for her father’s sake

  • Shoulders the responsibility of moving a household when her parents can’t cope

  • Leaves a beloved childhood home for a darker, dirtier place without complaining

  • Tries to soften her mother’s complaints and keep a cheerful attitude to keep her father from slipping into depression

  • Argues with a respected businessman about his questionable moral attitudes toward laborers

  • Tries to single-handedly stop a riot

  • Rejects Mr. Right who happens to be dad’s best friend (talk about complicated relationships!)

  • Consoles the father of her dead friend — the only friend she had made in Milton

  • Consoles her father and brother when her mother dies

  • Tries to keep her exiled brother from getting caught and sentenced to death

  • Endures severe social censure for containing her brother’s secret

  • Loses the respect of Mr. Right (she thinks)

  • Steps up to tell Mrs. Boucher her husband is dead

  • Tries to keep her father from devastating depression while she mourns her mother’s death

  • Loses her father and is forced to move from Milton

That’s a quite a lot to muddle through before you turn twenty-one! And throughout it all, Margaret maintains a remarkably strong sense of her identity and worth. She does not let others define her. She makes some courageous decisions and she accepts responsibility for following through. She’s the backbone of the family.


In so many ways, Hannah Thornton is like Margaret. She suffers her hardships silently, takes decisive action when things get really hard, and does what it takes to keep her family going. The fact that Hannah didn’t wait around for charity or accept the stigma society placed on her family for her husband’s suicide tells you tons about this woman. She laid the foundation for John’s success, which required her to take a determined path centered on her own values, not the ones society laid out for her.ff

These two are the obvious powerhouse women of North and South, but I see a few others who were able to endure hardship and made great efforts to protect or help others:

Bessy Higgins

For a dying teenager, Bessy keeps her complaints to a minimum (how many teenagers do that?!) and doesn’t make a lot of drama. Even during her last dying days, she’s worried about her father and distressed about how her father is treating Boucher. She isn’t focused on her own condition or terrorized by it. Her passionate desire to calm her father is stronger than her own self-concern. Her last words to Mary are for her to keep her father from drinking. Clearly, she had a strong love for others.

Mary Higgins

Bessy’s younger sister stays in the periphery of the story, but she is a silent strength in her own right. There’s no indication that Mary is a troublesome or selfish girl. She works to contribute to the family and tries to be helpful. After Boucher’s death, Mary takes care of his children. Mary is actually the main breadwinner of the family while Nicholas is out of work.

Maria Hale


I had no intention of including Maria when I set out to write a piece about strong women. I’ve never been a fan of Maria; I have practice being very critical of her. When we first meet her in the book, she is small-minded, self-pitying, and a rather vocal complainer.

I tried to think if she had any strengths, and had an epiphany of sorts in realizing that she did. How did I miss it all these years? I had never really stopped to consider why—after years of making a habit of complaining—she suddenly keeps her serious illness a secret. She must have made this decision out of love for her husband, knowing it would be a terrible blow to him.

She didn’t want to distress her family with this trouble, so she kept her physical suffering to herself (and Dixon) as long as possible. I find her motive in doing this very noble. Whether or not her decision was wise or not, it demonstrated strong desire and self-control to protect others from emotional pain.

And so I have a new appreciation for Maria that I had not had before. She showed her strength in the end.

What strengths do you admire in the women of North and South?

The 7 scenes I wished were included in the BBC's "North and South"


The 2004 film adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a masterpiece. I have only a few criticisms, one of them being that it was too short! There was time for more — an hour more in this world would have been wonderful.

As a lover of the book, I can’t help bemoaning the absence of a few of my favorite moments.

Here are some of the scenes that I wished this cast and crew could have filmed for me:

1 - Mrs. Hale running into her husband’s arms.

Although Aunt Shaw tells us that Richard and Maria Hale married for love, we never really see this affection played out. Mrs. Hale’s rather tentative and polite smile as she takes her husband’s hand in the adaptation isn’t terribly convincing. There’s a poignant moment in the book, though, where we catch a glimpse of the affectionate bond between them. It’s when Mr. Hale returns home after Margaret had been given the dirty work of telling her mother of her father’s decision to quit the clergy and move to Milton.

….he opened the room-door, and stood there uncertain whether to come in. His face was gray and pale; he had a timid, fearful look in his eyes; something almost pitiful to see in a man’s face; but that look of despondent uncertainty, of mental and bodily languor, touched his wife’s heart. She went to him, and threw herself on his breast, crying out: -

“Oh! Richard, Richard, you should have told me sooner!”

2 - Margaret sadly roaming the garden the night before she leaves her childhood home

The adaptation skips over so much of the beginning of the book, the viewer doesn’t truly get a full sense of how much strength it took for Margaret to come to Milton without crying for a week. I would have loved for the film to show Margaret busy packing crates of belongings while her mother languished in despair and her father busied himself in sorting his books — all this to give the viewer a sense that Margaret was the one who took over all the hard responsibility of moving.

But what would have been truly beautiful and poignant was if the film had showed Margaret walking through the property at twilight as she says her final goodbyes to the landscape she loves so well. Gaskell’s description of it in the book is very moving.

3 - Thornton carrying an unconscious Margaret up the stairs of his home


Ok, so Gaskell doesn’t exactly describe how he feels as he carries Margaret up to his drawing-room, but can you imagine the powerful emotions pulsing through Thornton as he carries a lifeless Margaret up the stairs?! This has got to be one of the most dramatic scenes you could make from this film!

Seeing her injured and holding her body close to his is shattering all the remaining emotional barricades he has tried to form around his heart. As he climbs the stairs, powerful feelings must be compounding — and it all explodes into this:

He bore her into the dining-room, and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and looking on the pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain:

“Oh, my Margaret—my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead — cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret—Margaret!”

4 - Margaret pacing and crying in her room as she realizes she’s in love.

After Mrs. Thornton’s famous visit to give Margaret a tongue-lashing, Margaret runs upstairs to her room to sort out all the strong feelings rushing through her after the encounter. She realizes for the first time that Thornton thinks she’s in love with someone else—and she’s mightily distressed that he knows her to be a liar on top of it all! And so she finds herself crying as she gets ready to go out. Maybe in the film, she could whisper a few of her desperate thoughts to herself, to let the viewer know what turmoil is going on inside.

“I dare say, there’s many a woman makes as sad a mistake as I have done, and only finds it out too late. And how proudly and impertinently I spoke to him that day! But I did not know then. It has come upon me little by little, and I don’t know where it began….”

5 - Thornton being a comfort to Mr. Hale

The relationship between Mr. Hale and his would-be son-in-law is so beautifully portrayed in the book, I wanted to see more depth to this sweet bond shown in the film version. John is the only one Mr. Hale can really talk to during his great grief and these two men become very dear friends to each other. I would have loved to see just one brief scene in which Margaret sees her father clasp John’s hand as he is about to leave while Mr. Hale mentions how immeasurably better he feels after talking with him. Margaret’s awareness of how much her father loves and respects John, must be another binding reason for loving John.

“It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret…..Mr. Thornton said very little; but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into….Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong willfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed.”

6 - Thornton coming to dinner at Aunt Shaw’s house

This is the scene I long most to see on film! When Thornton comes to dinner in London, he and Margaret have not seen each other for over a year. The emotional tension is incredible as each of them strives to act as though this meeting again isn’t causing tremors of pent-up anguish within them. But alas, the internal agony slips into view for a brief moment from John. And Gaskell captures the moment so well, it’s just gut-wrenching. THIS is a moment Richard Armitage would have absolutely nailed. It would have been so brilliant to see this scene performed by the 2004 cast.


“…Margaret was watching Mr. Thornton’s face. He never looked at her; so she might study him unobserved, and note the changes which even this short time had wrought in him. Only at some unexpected mot of Mr. Lennox’s, his face flashed out into the old look of intense enjoyment; the merry brightness returned to his eyes, the lips just parted to suggest the brilliant smile of former days; and for an instant, his glance instinctively sought hers, as if he wanted her sympathy. But when their eyes met, his whole countenance changed; he was grave and anxious once more; and he resolutely avoided even looking near her again during dinner.”

7 - The kiss in Aunt Shaw’s back drawing-room.

I cannot criticize the final scene of the adaptation. It’s romantic film history. The symbolism and the drama is perfect. Do I care that it’s a public display of affection and would never have happened? No, it’s too romantically perfect to condemn. And I never shall.

However, if all my dreams were fulfilled, I’d love to see an alternate ending that follows that London dinner scene — the book’s more intimate ending, where the wall of misunderstanding crumbles down in private, without Henry’s peering glare!

What I miss most is the playful teasing between these two serious souls that turns into that toe-tingling tender-passionate first kiss that we all have watched a hundred times from the film. I’m imagining that very same kiss as Gaskell’s “delicious silence” — but in that elegant, private sphere where no one interrupts them. Although I can imagine that without that train whistle to interrupt things, it might be very hard to stop indeed!

What favorite moments from the book do you wish were included in the film version?