Saturday, May 28, 2016

John Thornton's Six Relationship Mistakes || North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell


One of my favorite books is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I also love the BBC miniseries film adaptation, but as always, the book is better, in my opinion. I recently re-watched the adaptation and I realized that Margaret Hale and John Thornton make a lot of the same relationship mistakes we still commit today on a regular basis. My sister and I like to call John Thornton’s proposal to Margaret the worst proposal in literature since Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie. But seriously, guys. If you want to know what not to do, just watch the first half of North and South. There is a lot we all can learn from both Margaret Hale and John Thornton, a lot about relationships and life in general. I wanted to share just a few with you. 

1. Just because she’s nice to you doesn’t mean she’s in love with you. Poor Henry. Do you all remember Henry? He’s the character we all pity except not really because he’s kind of a stick-in-the-mud and a little clueless. When Margaret describes her “perfect wedding day” to Henry, he automatically assumes that she means their wedding a day. It makes sense that weddings would be on her mind during this conversation seeing that she and Henry were at her cousin Edith’s wedding at the time. John Thornton makes a similar mistake when Margaret treats him with common civility. As a rule of thumb, you should never assume someone is in love with you just because their polite and kind to you. Maybe they're just a nice person. 

2. Don’t judge based on first impressions. This is one of the main lessons Margaret learns when she moves to the industrial city of Milton. Her initial impression is that the populaces of Milton care nothing for the world or education. It’s all about money, ignorance, and dirt. She is inclined to judge John Thornton and his rough mannerisms harshly without understanding his history. Later on, she realizes her errors and comes to learn that while the working class of Milton may be rough, proud, and uneducated, they are not ignorant and they do have a desire and need for further education and knowledge of the world. Similarly, John Thornton’s northern manners might not be as refined as Margaret is used to, but his heart is in the right place and he’s exceedingly handsome and rich, so...yeah.

3. Before you propose, get a second opinion. Okay, so your mother tells you that [insert name of the secret object of your passionate affection] must be in love with you, so what are you waiting for? Go ahead and propose right now! Then again, it might be a good idea to, you know, get a second opinion from a slightly more reliable source? Perhaps, her best friend? Her parents? Someone who knows her a little better than your overly biased mother who thinks no young woman could possibly resist you? One of Thornton's downfalls is that he is so quick to believe his well-meaning mother even before her ultra-biased opinion has been legitimately confirmed by facts and far more reliable sources.

4. Gossip is not a reliable source. Gossip and people who spread gossip are never reliable sources and yet gossip is John Thornton's first go-to when he's trying to determine Margaret's feelings. And gossip is frequently the first thing we believe about others. If Thornton wanted to get to know Margaret and know how she felt about him, he should have simply talked to her. This is sort of a continuation of the first point.  Remember that even if your own mother swears that [insert name of your secret crush] must be in love with you, don’t jump to any conclusions. Even if she throws herself in front of you to protect you from an angry mob, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s in love with you! It could mean she just has a big heart and cares about people, even people she doesn’t particularly like.

5. Things are not always as they seem. So, you see [insert name of the not-so-secret object of your passionate affection] walking on the streets late at night with a handsome man. This looks shifty, but before we jump to conclusions, let’s remember it’s never wise to jump to conclusions, assume things before we have all the facts, or presume the worst about anyone. Maybe she has a secret lover—or maybe she’s just taking a stroll with her brother who found himself on the wrong side of the Navy, was wrongfully accused, and is secretly visiting the country to see his dying mother one last time before he returns to Spain. You never know, so don’t judge until you do.

6. Don’t let pride get in the way. Margaret’s initial dislike for John Thornton dissipates as she gets to know him better. Her disdain for Milton is replaced by a genuine care and interest for the well-being of her friends and the workers there. There is a wonderful scene where her father exclaims, “Why, Margaret! Admitting that the south has its faults and John Thornton has his good qualities!” Ultimately Margaret has to let her pride go and while it is a difficult transition, she discovers how easily it is to romanticize our ideals and be blind to the prejudices we have toward others. Similarly, John Thornton is deeply hurt by Margaret’s rejection, but he does not let this stop him from being a friend to her family, helping them when they are in need, and ultimately doing the right thing. Certainly, he treats Margaret with a measure of aloof disdain, but after the initial sting of rejection is over, he doesn’t let bitterness from the past rule him. This ultimately paves the way for a new start for him and Margaret.

In spite of all his blundering and failed proposal attempts, we still love John Thornton, because let's face it, he's devilishly handsome. I have always appreciated the way his love for Margaret only grows, even after she rejects him. He continues to love her, not in a creepy stalker-ish way, but in a humble way that acknowledges his own faults and seeks to become a better man, if only for her sake.

Have you ever read North and South? Or seen the miniseries? What are some things you learned from this book? 

13 comments :

  1. Ah, I love this post! <3 *cue many heart smiles* "North and South" is one of my favourite books too (and the miniseries is equally wonderful). The movie-score stirs me deeply every time! This was a fun post, Dani; I love it when others have an equal love for this story.

    Haha, those first-time proposals of Darcy/Thornton were a bit terrible in an awfully good way! They still make me cringe for the characters sometimes :P!

    It's interesting because while I found Darcy's proposal coming as a complete shock to me (because he had showed so much disdain/pride against Lizzy despite his attraction I couldn't take his first proposal very seriously), with Thornton I could totally see his interest and liking of Margaret early on (the pride/prejudice came mostly from Margaret actually!) and Thornton's fault arose, as you said, from jumping to the conclusion because she saved his life she might indeed love him. But on this point, I think Thornton didn't presume to think she loved him or would have him (he repeatedly had told himself earlier, and to his mother, and afterwards in retrospect that "she would not have me" and that he'd not propose). I think he had already made up his mind to propose to Margaret even before his mother told him she'll accept - that probably helped boost his courage to ask - but I think he knew all along that she probably would say no. What hurt him so much I think, and made that proposal so angst and painful was the revelation on Thornton's side of how much Margaret despised him and disagreed with him.

    I've thought about this a lot, and marvelled how both Darcy and Thornton were so quick to propose to young women who gave them no huge sign of affection or encouragement romantically (again, I think Margaret may have unintentionally given Thornton more hope than she meant to, but Lizzy didn't really). But I think that is actually a very vivid reflection of the Victorian/European culture of courtship and marriage. If a gentleman had feelings for and loved a girl, he was almost honour-bound to propose marriage to her as the next step! My mum jokes sometimes that in our day-and-age it's the other-way around, where a girl has to show ALL the signs of love and interest (on her side) before he is even brave enough to bring up the topic of marriage.

    Haha, one thing I do often notice in stories that REALLY bugs me is how heroines in literature (aka Margaret and Lizzy in particular) reject marriage proposals in a manner that is so indigent and horrified at the gentleman for even daring to propose, when in fact I think a well-bred young woman should always be gratefully mindful of the proposal being offered to her, and reject it in a thoughtful and kind way, that it consequently doesn't make them bitter or resentful, but understanding.

    That gossip is not reliable and things may not as they seem - I totally agree, lol! Those elements are so maddening as one reads the conflict of the relationship between Thornton and Margaret. In a way, I think it's a mistake we all make, don't we? Like through conversation and even social media; and when we're in love with someone, I guess one is way more sensitive and emotionally reactive to what they hear/see, it can be really hard to judge rationally.

    Ah, I love this novel BECAUSE the romance has a way of really hitting home to me, and being very relatable. The characters and their actions, mistakes and emotions feel so real. I just love Margaret and Thornton a lot <3 ;). And I loved what you said about Margaret replacing her disdain of Milton for her genuine care for her friends, and the humility she goes through in realizing how mistaken she was was just so beautiful and moving. Margaret is a really rich character I think :D. And YES! I love how Thornton develops and grows in maturity and character and continues to love Margaret and show care for her family, despite the bitterness of the rejection. :D <3

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    1. You're right that Thornton was not entirely to blame in his presumptions. I think his mother was the culprit in giving false hope and it's fair to say Margaret's actions could easily be misinterpreted. I still have to give him somewhat of a hard time, because that's a mistake we all make at some point or another, right?

      I relate to this novel on so many levels, especially to Margaret's character. There is something so authentic about her and Thornton's character development.

      Thanks for stopping by, Joy! :D

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  2. Every time I read or skim this book, I find more to say. I have so many notes, but I have not read in awhile. The movie is not nearly as good (Pride and Prejudice 95 rather spoils people on adaptations because we expect the same level of detail) although I love Mr. Thornton and the music. I thought (I have not read in awhile) Mr. Thornton knew Margaret didn't love him. I don't think he was prepared for the manner of her rejection; she was surprised (she thought he was presumptuous) and offended and so offended him. I think he knew his mother was delusional about his class status and Margaret's affection/opinion (I loathe Mrs. Thornton). I also don't think (in the book) that Mr. Thornton thought Margaret at all nice; she, unintentionally often, frequently offended him. In the movie, she is fickle seeming, so he might have thought her nice. The whole north vs. south money versus birth is the source of confusion (and pride) in their relationship until the very end. In the time period, I do not think it was appropriate for him to have any personal conversation than a proposal.

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    1. I agree! Few adaptations measure up to the 1995 A&E Pride and Prejudice. It's true Mr. Thornton was not very hopeful and his gumption in proposing anyway is fairly commendable. I mean, how many men have the bravery to be so transparent? Mrs. Thornton is a little obnoxious, but I still feel for her after everything she has been through.

      The whole dilemma between the working man and the business owners is one of my favorite aspects of this story. Gaskell really brought out the differences between the southern and northern classes into each of her characters.

      Thanks for stopping by, Livia! :)

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    2. If you like the mill/factory owner view via workers, you should try Bronte's Shirley (equally represents both sides as does N&S; I loved this one) and Gaskell's Mary Barton (this one is biased towards the working men).

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  3. Interesting points :D! Ugh, Mr. Thornton is mistaken many a time (as is Margaret)...but he is so handsome, grows in character, and wins the girl's heart, so we're happy in the end. ;) I've seen N&S many a time and do like it, but I agree that the book is best. :)

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    1. Yes, the book is always better! I think they could have drawn out the miniseries a lot longer. The last couple of episodes feel so rushed.

      Dani xoxo

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  4. I recently watched this miniseries and I quite enjoyed it. Richard Armitage forever right? ;) This is a good discussion. Thanks for sharing! And thank you for following my blog the Wanderer's Pen (Stori Tori's Blog according to Blog Lovin').

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Victoria! Yes, Richard Armitage forever!! :D

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Dani xoxo

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  5. I am currently watching the mini-series and came across your post because I have a question that I can't seem to find the answer to. I have not read the book yet but intend to do so eventually =]

    Why does Margaret think that Mr. Thornton is honor bound to propose to her?

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    1. Hi Lauren! I hope you're enjoying the mini-series. If you like the mini-series, then you should definitely read the book. Joy inadvertently answered your question in her first comment! In that time, if a gentleman had feelings for a young woman, whether she reciprocated those feelings or not, he was bound by honor to propose to her. That seems a little extreme, especially if the woman in question is disinterested, but that was simply the etiquette and expectation of gentleman during that time.

      We give Mr. Darcy and John Thornton such a hard time for their seeming tactlessness, but a lot of their actions were compelled by social expectations. Our relationship etiquette is so different / non-existent in our society, so that makes it difficult for us to understand all of the social nuances in these novels. I hope this helps answer your question!! Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

      Dani xoxo

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  6. And where are Margaret's six relationship mistakes??

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    1. I guess I need to get to work on that. ;)

      Dani xoxo

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