In Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, John Thornton asks Margaret Hale to marry him and is stunned and hurt by her angry rejection: "He took up his hat. 'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. . .I have never loved any woman before. My life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.'
Margaret, changing her whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness, said 'Mr. Thornton, don't let us go on making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words. . .smoothing the nap of his hat for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before he went. . .she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes and that turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful--self reproach for having caused such mortification to any one." pp 128-9 North and South
Yes, John Thornton makes me cry even now as I type this passage. I've read and re-read this novel over the last couple of years, watched the 2004 BBC adaptation of the story many times, and seen interviews and fan videos of North and South. Without fail, this story of the "antagonistic friendship" turned romance between John Thornton, the northern cotton manufacturer, and Margaret, the southern clergyman's daughter, always touches my heart.
Fun Monday assignment: I've been thinking about this post for a long time and now Mariposa, our host for this week, over at Mariposa Tells gives me the opportunity to write this ode to North and South. Mariposa wants us to talk about TEARS--what images spring to mind when we think about crying? Sadness? Joy? Laughter? Well, truth be told, in real life I'm more apt to swear than cry. But the human stories I experience from good writing, drama, or music will always cause the tears to well up in me. Caution: I may "overestimate" your interest in 1800s English literature and drama so just take what you like from this post--the story itself, the interesting interviews with the actors, the memorable characters, or the beautiful fan videos. I have just been wanting to collect all this background in one place. So, here you have all things North and South:
North and South is the story of light and darkness, have and have nots, class wars, pride and prejudices. But mostly it is the story of several principled people who begin their relationships by mistrusting and misunderstanding each other. These rough beginnings evolve into friendships across class divides, appreciation for different ways of living, respect for worthy adversaries. It is the story of parents' love for their sons and daughters. Most of all it is the love story of John Thornton and Margaret Hale--one that began with strong dislike on her part that changed to great respect for him, especially when she saw the great lengths he would go to protect her reputation, even after she rejected him, for a rumored indiscretion that threatened her reputation in Milton.
Characters and setting: first we have The Southerners: Reverend Hale, his wife,daughter Margaret and son Frederick. Reverend Hale was a parson of a small parish in the village of Helstone, Hampshire. The village was an idyllic place for the Hales--green, sunlit, rose-covered parsonage. The parson and his family were much loved by the villagers. Margaret spent much of her childhood in London society with her Aunt Shaw, but came home to Helstone to help with her father's work when 19 years old. Frederick,joined the navy as a young man and ended up in a mutiny against a deranged sea captain. He was forced to flee to Spain to avoid capture and hanging for the mutiny. The Hales had not seen Frederick for many years.
Mr. Hale decides he can no longer, in good conscience, continue to support the teachings of the Church of England. He becomes a Dissenter, deciding to leave his parish and move the family north to the industrial town Milton where he will find work as a teacher. Neither Mrs. Hale nor Margaret want to move, fearing that they will not be able to live in a place so different from their beloved Helstone.
The Northeners in Milton: John Thornton is a young wealthy cotton manufacturer at Malborough Mill. He has a reputation for being a progressive mill owner, a tough but fair master to his workers. Thornton's chief ally and business adviser, is his mother, Hannah Thornton. Mrs. Thornton is fiercely proud of her son and his accomplishments. When John was 16 years old, his father speculated in some risky dealings causing the family to lose everything and then he committed suicide. John left school and he and his mother and sister Fanny lived a bare bones existence, putting aside money each week to repay the creditors long after they had forgotten the debt. At their first meeting, Mrs. Thornton told Margaret and Mrs. Hale this about her son: "Go where you will, the name of John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate, is respected by all men of business and sought after by all young women of Milton." Margaret got off on the wrong foot with Mrs. Thornton by responding: "Surely not all of them?"
The other Northener that's central to the story is Nicholas Higgins, a mill worker and union organizer. He is known by all the mill owners as a man to be feared, a terrific firebrand. He meets Margaret when she first arrives in Milton. He admires her "bonny face" and spirit and appreciates her friendship with his daughters Bessy and Mary. The relationship among the Hales, Higgins and Thorntons is a tangled one that eventually evolves into a mutually beneficial business relationship and friendship, but not before they are almost destroyed by a strike at all the Milton mills. Higgins does a great favor to Thornton by clearing up a misunderstanding that Thornton holds against Margaret--making way for them to pursue their love for each other.
The two years that the Hales spend in Milton are hard. Margaret writes to her cousin Edith: "I am so lonely. It is so cold and harsh here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I have seen hell and it is white--snow white." (speaking of the cotton fluff that floats in the air in the mills). The Hales live in reduced circumstances. Mr. Hale teaches at the local lyceum and also takes on private students. John Thornton is his prized pupil. They spend many evenings studying the classics--that is, when John can take his eyes off Margaret! Mrs. Hale soon becomes gravely ill. Out in Milton, the mill workers go on strike, led by Nicholas Higgins. Children starve. Margaret sympathizes with the workers which puts her in conflict with the Thorntons. Death comes to the Hale and Higgens' households. Margaret and Thornton clash regularly even as the attraction builds between them. Margaret's reputation is damaged by secretly getting her brother Frederick home to visit their dying mother. There is trouble involving Frederick and Margaret, but she cannot tell Thornton about the visit. As the local magistrate, Thornton intercedes on Margaret's behalf in a police investigation even though he is tortured by Margaret's rumored unmaidenly behavior.
Against this background of social and labor unrest, Gaskell plays out the love/hate relationship between Thornton and Margaret. He loves her because in many ways she is like his mother--stern, principled, proud. When John is troubled or in need of advice he goes to his mother, Hannah Thornton. She does not approve of his attachment to Margaret, but urges him to go to her and make his case because she believes Margaret would make him happy. When Margaret rejects him, this proud young man kneels by his mother's chair begging for comfort. He says: "I was right mother, Miss Hale will not have me. No one loves me but you." This fan video, "Tears of an Angel" is a beautiful description of Thornton's feelings for the two women in his life:
In addition to the music videos I also found this interview with Richard Armitage who played John Thornton and Daniela-Denby Ashe who played Margaret Hale in the BBC adaptation. This interview was so interesting because you get to hear how they worked together. And they were so well suited for the characters as Gaskell described them in the novel. Plus, Richard Armitage always has such an in depth, intelligent approach to the characters he plays. As a bonus, I wanted you to see the rail station scene at the end of the film. I've seen many fan videos of this scene. No wonder Richard became the new Darcy--what a kisser!
Finally, this fan video featuring the music of Clifford Ward, "The Best is Yet to Come" perfectly sums up the twists and turns in Margaret and Thornton's relationship. I especially love the last scene when they are sitting close together on the train heading back to Milton. Each is lost in thoughts of their future together--a happy one.
I'm amazed if you're still reading at this point. You get the prize for endurance. I'm happy to have all these North and South favs collected in one spot. If you haven't read the book or seen the film, I highly recommend them. And, if you've got a romantic bone in your body, John Thornton will make you cry happy and sad tears at some point in the story.
Now be sure to check out the other Fun Monday crybabies over at Mariposa's place!