I finished it. Twice. It’s actually been a while since I’ve finished that, I’ve just been mulling over it for the past few days.
So, um… Real, true-to-life review:
Overall, you might have guessed, I loved it. The beginning was a little hard to get into, sometimes I was flat out bored with all the religion and strike stuff, but by the riot scene I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t. The ending… rushed. I unfortunately read the footnote that said Gaskell was meeting a deadline, and it colored my reading of the ending. I was expecting an Austen-type pay-off, where they grow old really quickly and we get to hear about all their fat babies and happiness and such. That didn’t happen. But it was still good; don’t get me wrong. My favorite part is the discord… Thornton’s jealousy is just too fun. Not a "perfect" book (whatever that is), but awesome.
Oh, I have so many things to say. I love forewords because they always give you one or two of the easier themes to think about before you start the book. This one mentioned Mr. Hale’s femininity and Margaret’s rejection of her own sexuality and blah blah Victorian ideals. I noticed particularly in the beginning that N&S has a lot to do with gender and control: enough to give any Sophmore English Major a field day. I remember only writing about those themes for years, until I moved onto… slightly different things. The two themes mentioned are a good place to start, but I’ve added a few of my own. The first time I read the book I did it so fast, that I had to do read it again. The second time I read it, I had specific things in mind. Here’s what I was just dying to explore/notice/want to know/find out WHY? WHY did they act this way??? I suppose you can call them "themes":
Everyone rebels in this book. Thornton, Margaret, Mr. Hale… Margaret’s face looks naturally high and mighty: intrinsically rebellious. Thornton rebels against his upbringing, and then his role as an uncaring manufacturer, and all the time everyone rebels against each other. There’s this great part where Mrs. Thornton mentions a riot that happened when she was still married to the late Mr. Thornton, and she picks up a rock to drop it on the crowd, should she need defend herself. In my head, she’s also pregnant and barefoot, but I’m pretty sure that’s not in the book. It makes me wonder… The foreword makes the point of restricted Victorian society, but the book makes rebellion a good thing? It’s almost a personality strength. It’s very exciting. Everyone rebels in some way, and everybody loves the rebellious streak in others. The whole book is founded by the single manly thing Mr. Hale has ever done– his rebellion against the church– and it is done in the girliest, saddest way, and no one, not even his friend Mr. Bell, really truly believes in him.
THORNTON AND JOB KARMA
Since it’s the start of the Industrial Age, we have some very basic ideas of capitalism running against the whole British gentlemen society thing. Very interesting to watch, but wait; what was that about capitalism? At the beginning, Margaret asks why there are so many down trodden, and Thornton actually replies that their spirits and bad postion are "the natural punishment of dishonestly-enjoyed pleasure, at some former period of their lives." So a boy spends his money on doughnuts at age nine, and that’s why he never gets higher than a clerk? Might as well tell panhandlers to get a job, and support tax cuts for rich people. I really wanted to find out what exactly Mr. Thornton thinks, and I suppose what most Industrialists think, about what they were doing. I think it changes in the course of the book, not exactly because of Margaret, but Margaret at least puts him in the way of growing as a person.
MARGARET AND SEXUALITY
The foreword mentions this. The miniseries sneaks it in, when Margaret says "I’m not ready to marry anybody." Margaret has a lot of masculine attributes, and she lives in this little sexless world where her father is more feminine than she is, but they are both alike. The foreword suggests that Margaret refuses Thornton because she doesn’t want to give up the power she has as a sexless being.
Sure, I believe that. And Thornton has his own problems with sexuality: around thirty and still married to your work is a good indication. But you know what else I think it is? I read this great essay once that said Mr. Knightley was subconciously holding back from romance until he could actually support his wife. I think there is something of that in this book. Mr. Thornton has definite obligations to his mother and family, and has dedicated himself to obtaining a respectable, comfortable position. Margaret has obligations of a different kind: she has to take care of her fragile mother and father who rely on her completely. I think Margaret rejects Mr. Thornton because she knows she can’t leave her father. She doesn’t even allow herself to think about romance, and when it comes up… it grates against her conscience. Once Thornton is awakened to the idea (and it only takes him a threat against his life and the life of his love), it’s hard, fast, and permanent. A "hand on the plow" situation, definitely. But Margaret… she’s harder to understand. I think it’s because she still has obligations to her family.
Quickly: THE WOMANLINESS OF MR HALE
I think it affects a lot of areas of the novel, especially how Margaret feels and acts, but I also think that Hale is the perfect mediator for the debates between the North and South. He is part of the South, but also part of God as a clergyman, and his feminine-male perspective makes him just sort of neutral. He’s the perfect person to erradicate animosity when the debates become to heated, and he looks at the industrial age favorably from a romantic/educated perspective. He likens the mill to a genie from Arabian Nights.
But mostly, what I set out to do was find out, once and for all,
DO THEY REALLY LIKE EACH OTHER????
I mentioned before that Margaret in the mini-series is hard to read. I couldn’t figure out what her face was saying: does she like him before he proposes? Who knows? I got the book to find out why, and read it… and still didn’t know. I had to go back, read it again, and then map out the whole proposal scene and afterwards. I still can’t say for sure, but what I think is this:
As I said before, Margaret doesn’t allow herself to even think about romance when she needs to take care of her family. But I think the same sort of awakening that happens to Thornton could have happened to Margaret before the proposal at the riot scene, perhaps even despite her obligations, if there wasn’t interference from outside parties before she even had time to think. In the book, Margaret is concious but unable to speak when Thornton’s sister gossips about Margaret throwing herself at Thornton. She hears it all, and is immediately acquainted with the harsh, outsider’s opinion of her deeds that puts her conduct to shame. Of course she has to react against that, and therefore takes up the view that she did it for purely altruistic reasons. Poor Thornton’s proposal, though it comes from his heart, only sounds like a confirmation of what she heard from his sister.
When she finally gets to think it over, she says "I could not have been so brave for any one else, just because he is so indifferent to me — if, indeed, I do not positively dislike him." It kind of kills me that I can’t quite figure out what kind of tone she says that last part. Should we take from that sentence that she is in denial of her own feelings? Either way, it is at least suspect that she changes her tune when Thornton shows up, and says that she could do it for any man in the crowd. That’s pretty much all the evidence I have in the way of "does she like him before he proposes," besides the fact that she cries harder at one point when she thinks of him. I know that I cry harder when there’s something I really care about mentioned. It’s kind of a litmus test.
After the proposal, the first indication is a throwback to Pride and Prejudice. "I just can’t stand the thought that he thinks ill of me." What is with that? It hard for me to wrap my head around that idea everytime I come across it, and these women are always loving men because they don’t want to be thought ill of. What is up with that? Rejection as reason to gain respect/love? Reputation as mask for actually caring? I don’t get it.
Meanwhile, Thornton is going through his whole up-in-his-head jealousy phase, which I totally love and totally relate with. I love it when you get so in the character’s head, you feel the thoughts whirl around. It feels so much like your own head, with own thoughts whirling around… I suppose it’s comforting. Also, Thornton challenges himself to not only keep on loving her, but to test his willpower by returning to the house when he can, even though he wants to avoid her. I understand that, and I understand when the author calls it a "stinging pleasure" to see Margaret. I feel like a lot of my life is centered around those two motivations: forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do, and the "stinging pleasure" they create.
If I had time, I would also want someone to explain to me the whole STRIKE, and RELIGION thing, and the gist of the DEBATES WITH BESSY since I don’t care enough to figure it out for myself. But I love one last thing and that is:
DAMN THAT NIGHTINGALE WOMAN AND HER STUPID CHARITY
A footnote said that Gaskell met Nightingale and said, (not real quote) "it’s great that she like’s humanity, but I’m not sure that she likes people." Gaskell was a big advocate for the individual compassion over common-good love, and that makes Mr. Thornton a really interesting character. I don’t think he thinks in societal terms at all: he doesn’t notice that he’s reached a high station in his town, and when Margaret disgraces herself, he instantly skips over the whole social-disgrace part and makes it about her love for someone else. The greatest part where this comes into play is when Thornton starts talking about his "experiments": ie, the helpful things he does for his workers because he recently made friends with one and then many of them, and hides his love by tentatively setting out business proposals. He’s telling Mr. Bell about the soup kitchen he made, and Mr. Bell is wants to give him some money for the cause. Thornton is supremely uninterested. Thornton says, he doesn’t want any charity, he doesn’t want it talked about, he doesn’t want an institution made and obligations to form because it will get all blown out of proportion and stop being about the individuals. He just wants to practice his "experiments" to better form relationships between master and workers. Really, he just loves his new friends and wants to meet more of them.
There’s this great part that explains Thornton so perfectly. "He had tenderness in his heart — a ‘soft place’ as Nicholas Higgins called it; but he had some pride in concealing it; he kept it very sacred and safe, and was jealous of every circumstance that tried to gain admission. But if he dreaded exposure of his tenderness, he was equally desirous that all men should recognize his justice…"
Fantastic! Justice as a veil for tenderness! It totally works that way.
Okay, and I swear ONE LAST THING: THORNTON AND WOMEN.
Austen men are always so independent, with no parents to look after. But Thornton is always making friends with the subordinates. First his mother– a very strong relationship there — then Mr. Hale, then Margaret, and even after Margaret, Mr. Higgins. It’s interesting that he surrounds himself with womanly and ultimately subordinate characters. I mean, doesn’t Mr. Thornton have any male friends? Most of it is play-acting for a successful marriage, but I think also Mr. Thornton must have someone to love. He seems a little starved for affection, poor boy. And he looks for it in an effeminate clergyman, his stuck up daughter, and the strike-leader working man of his mill. There’s something in that.
Elizabeth Gaskell is also an anomly as the newest member of my group of favorite women writers: she was married. Ooh, a writing career AND a husband? Is it indeed possible? It makes me wonder how that affects her writing. I’m not sure if I see much of a difference, except for Thornton’s yearning for the "gentle, restrictive" womanly love. Sexual, anyone?