I’ve just finished my preparations for my literature class on Monday — and I’m so exhilerated!
I think I’ve already mentioned that I’m teaching Gaskell this semester (and Gaskell beat Shakespeare! By miles!!!) and that at the moment we’re discussing North and South. The preparations this afternoon & evening were truly great as they allowed me to dig into the novel once again and to penetrate the web of story Gaskell spins. I love it when I can make a text my own this way. The rush this gives me is almost as big as the rush I get from a good day of writing: my skin tingles and I feel as if my body were filled with lots of bubbles. 🙂 So yay to Gaskell!!
I enjoyed how sensual the writing in N&S is: the author lovingly describes Margaret as seen through Thornton’s eyes and it’s quite clear that he’s physically attracted to her. Or in other words, that he’s got the hots for her. Take this description from their first meeting in Chapter 7:
[…] her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve; her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden freedom.
Or this, from Chapter 10:
She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr Thornton watched the re-placing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening — the fall. He could almost have exclaimed — ‘There it goes, again!’
In addition, there are quite a few Awwwww-moments in the novel, especially when poor John Thornton is struggling with his feelings for Margaret. Take this (he’s about to propose to her for the first time):
He dreaded lest he should go forwards to meet her, with his arms held out in mute entreaty that she would come and nestle there, as she had done, all unheeded, the day before, but never unheeded again. His heart throbbed loud and quick. Strong man as he was, he trembled at the anticipation of what he had to say, and how it might be received.
And after he has been rejected:
It would have been a relief to him, if he could have sat down and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was raging and storming, through his passionate tears, at some injury he had received. He said to himself, that he hated Margaret, but a wild, sharp sensation of love cleft his dull, thunderous feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the words expressive of hatred. […] She would not make him change. He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain.
If that’s not seriously Awwwww!-worthy, I don’t know what is.
What I found interesting was a comment from the essay “North and South: Varieties of Love and Power” by John Pikoulis, who regards the second proposal and the ending of the novel as weak:
To the end, Margaret regards her connexion with him as (the metaphor is unavoidable) busieness-like, and it is only when he sinks to his knees that he can coax her into laying her face, still covered with her hands as a final gesture of reluctance, on his shoulder; only when he has made the pilgrimage to Helstone does she agree to marry him. The object of his affections has become the tyrant of his conscience, as well as his landlord. […] [Margaret] has Thornton in her power and accepts him on her own terms. […] She takes Thornton as if they were friendly master and hand […]. The sin and sinner have been punished, Margaret’s suffering rewarded, but a mature relationship between a man and a woman avoided.
At first I was rather puzzled by this comment, because this is not how I’ve read the ending. But it took me some time to figure out why: I’ve read N&S as a romance. And then, of course, it makes perfect sense that Margaret accepts Thornton only when he is “tamed” (see Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ article in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women), only when it has become clear that she can assert a certain influence over him (he has, after all, listened to her and has begun to regard his workers as individuals). But even if he is brought low in the end and she has to help him (what’s the problem with that? other people’s heroes have been tied to rocks and have to look on while the heroine shoots the villain! *g*), he has not lost his edge, he can still be masterful: “Take care. — If you do not speak — I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.” (Hey, he can claim me as his own any time! Especially if he looks like Richard Armitage! *ggg*) It’s a romance ending, of course it’s a romance ending. And all their (very sexy, very stimulating) verbal sparring throughout the story has shown that they are ideally suited: Margaret is interested in the politics of Milton, and Thornton is not only eager to make her understand him, but also actually listens to her. Which shows that he values her opinion. He is not Henry Lennox, who
loved her beauty. He saw the latent sweep of her mind, which could easily (he thought) be led to embrace all the objects on which he had set his heart. He looked upon her fortune only as a part of the complete and superb character of herself and her position: yet he was fully aware of the rise which it would immediately enable him, the poor barrister, to take.
No, no, Margaret needs Thornton. That they will be happy together becomes more than obvious at the very end for the novel ends with mutual teasing:
“How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?” she whispered, after some time of delicious silence. [And why the silence? Because they’re busy snogging!]
“Let me speak to her.”
“Oh, no! I owe it to her, — but what will she say?”
“I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, ‘That man'”
“Hush!” said Margaret, “or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, ‘That woman!'”
Now is that sweet or what?