North and South, Chapters 27-52 (Spoiler Thread)

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North and South, Chapters 27-52 (Spoiler Thread)

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Edited: Dec 12, 2011, 6:12pm

Hi Everyone,

This thread is for discussion of the second half of North and South, Chapters 27-52. Keep in mind this is a spoiler thread, so if you haven’t yet finished the novel, beware!

Other North and South threads:
North and South (Non-Spoiler Thread)
North and South, Chapters 1-26 (Spoiler Thread)

Edited: Dec 22, 2011, 1:33am

Post contains spoilers up to chapter 40:

I am now really rushing through the book, it's more of a page-turner than I ever expected.

As much as I enjoy it, I feel a bit irritated about the weight Gaskell has given to the love story. When I read Jane Austen I know what I am in for. But this story here has so many interesting characters, and I hate seeing them merely acting as a background for the great romance between Margaret and Thornton. And the whole setting offers so many possibilities.

I try and imagine what the story would be like without Margaret (or if she were a man). I'd love to see more want more of Thornton- Higgins, more Higgins - Mr. Hale, etc.

Some more remarks before I forget them:

I guess the whole Frederick bit was added for drama (the book being published as a serial needed some more action). I could well have done without it, especially as it seems to fall flat again after his departure.

Interesting that Frederick is becoming Catholic and is, as Gaskell describes, moving into the opposite direction from his father's. Also interesting that Mr. Hale tells Thornton in detail about his faith (so I understood it), and again we don't get to know more.

I felt extremely sorry for Margaret when she as the youngest of the family had to be the strongest after her mother's death. As much as I understand the need for mourning, she could have needed some support, she's only 19! Mr Hale is often too indecisive for my liking. He - the ex-churchman - sending his daughter to Boucher's wife to break the news! He already admitted to being a coward in the first chapters, he really avoids confrontation where possible.

When it comes to the romance, I like watching Thornton's inner fights. He is in love, but filled with doubts, trying to behave like a gentleman, then again overcome with jealousy. Constant mood swings, very believable in his situation. I was almost in love with him when he went and bought the fruit basket. Of all the characters I like him best, especially when compared to the weak Mr. Hale. My next car might be named 'Thornton' (the actual one is called 'Darcy').

Edit: on the first spoiler thread there have been some explanations now as to why Gaskell had to concentrate on the romance, so I'll stop criticizing her for that part now

Dec 22, 2011, 1:44am

I finished the book, as I don't know how much reading time my family will give me over the holidays. Something I forgot last night: I was glad Gaskell gave us an explanation for Margaret's negative feelings towards trades people: selling goods of a minor quality at a high price, i.e. basically being frauds. And with Margaret's special sense for honesty...

But I think there was also a basic reluctance to accept money gained by buying/improving/ selling goods as good money, compared to the inherited money of the noble families in the South.

I want to say that I really enjoyed the book. I like a good romance, especially at this time of the year. The description of the book in the "1001 Books to read before you die" made me expect something different, but it was an easy, enjoyable read. I feel reconciled with Gaskell after my disappointment with Cranford and might try another one of her books some time.

Dec 24, 2011, 4:50pm

>2 Deern: I agree, this book has turned out to be a real page turner for me as well. Although since I'm listening to it, it's more the case of lingering in the car for an extra ten minutes while the chapter comes to an end.

I will get a bit further along while I wrap presents this evening, and should finish it within a day.

Edited: Dec 25, 2011, 9:13pm

Ditto - the second half just picks up and heads along full steam. I could say a little or I can say a lot..... the book is bristling with colorful tabs marking quotes I liked..... I will come back at some later time with a few of my favorites perhaps. For now I will confine myself to saying that one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel for me was the emergence of Mr. Bell, Margaret's god-father. The chapter where he takes Margaret back to Helstone struck me as lifting the novel to a different level, everything that has come before swirls around to a kind of profound quiet at this one statement by Mr. Bell to Margaret: "It is the first changes among familiar things that make such a mystery of time to the young, afterwards we lose the sense of the mysterious. I take changes in all I see as a matter of course. The instability of all human things is familiar to me, to you it is new and oppressive." What is so rich and fascinating is that at the same time Mr. Bell provides the only true 'comic relief' of the book, he is smart, self-aware, outspoken and very funny. His liking of Hale, his appreciation of the man, lifts Hale from simply being weak. Higgins likes him, Thornton likes him, there is clearly, despite his failings something 'fine' about Margaret's father to have such diverse people love him. If I was in school and had to write a paper about N&S it would be about the sudden eruption of Mr. Bell -- this wonderful fresh blast of common sense and kindness. I love his irritation too that Margaret gets snatched up by the Shaw-Lennox household - in short -- I adored Mr. Bell.

Anyway - he is like a guide that gently but firmly leads Margaret into adulthood, real adulthood - he truly performs his task as a godfather.

I have finished, btw, couldn't help myself!

Dec 26, 2011, 12:51pm

These mewling Hale men are too much! There's not a backbone between them. Margaret is house maid, nurse maid, and now, following Mrs. Hale's death, babysitter to both father and brother in their grief. Not much wonder she is beginning to feel attracted to Thornton.

"Margaret went languidly about, assisting Dixon in her task of arranging the house. Her eyes were continually blinded by tears, but she had no time to give way to regular crying. The father and brother depended upon her; while they were giving way to grief, she must be working, planning, considering. Even the necessary arrangements for the funeral seemed to devolve upon her." (Ch 31)

I'm not finished the book yet, so haven't read the above posts in their entirety, but I will. Great discussion!

Dec 29, 2011, 10:13pm

Ah, just finished! Thoroughly enjoyed!

Agree that Frederick's part in the book seems only to add to the drama of the evolving romance between Margaret and Thornton. I didn't get much more from this part of the book than plot complication, to be honest.

Lucy, love your remarks about Mr. Bell, and also the quote you included. I too laughed at his indignant attitude that Margaret should live with Aunt Shaw. I loved his wisdom and, like you, found that my attitude towards Mr. Hale changed when he was brought to light by his old friend. Gaskell did a good job of using Bell to further unite the divide between Thornton/Higgins.

Was touched by Thornton's heartfelt remark to Mr. Colthurst: "We should understand each other better, and I’ll venture to say we should like each other more.” (Ch 51)

Dec 30, 2011, 1:33pm

I finished this before Christmas but have only just got round to reading through all the comments on both threads.

I was also quite struck by the similarities between the romance in Pride and Prejudice and the romance between Margaret and Mr Thornton in N&S. I also really felt for Margaret during the last half of the book; it felt like everyone she loved was being killed off one by one, poor girl.

My edition of the book had an introduction which had some ideas about the themes of the novel and I've been mulling over what this said since I finished. I think there's something to do with making difficult decisions or decisions that may or will have negative consequences but are made because the person making them believes they are morally right.

So, Mr Hale makes the decision to leave the Anglican church which has a massive impact on his family (I don't think we ever get a firm answer as to whether Mrs Hale would have got sick if he hadn't). Frederick has mutinied rather than submit to a Captain whom he believes is morally wrong and is no longer safe in England. The factory workers strike because they believe it is the right thing to do even though it will mean hardship for their families and the factory owners refuse to give in to the strikes even though it may mean orders can't be fulfilled and they may be ruined themselves. Thornton in particular makes the decision to experiment with a canteen for the workers and a dialogue with them even though there is a great risk that these projects don't work.

Margaret - well at the end she has to decide how to use the wealth she's inherited from Mr Bell ("she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working") and she has to decide about marriage - I think there was a certain amount of risk involved in refusing marriage offers if you weren't independently wealthy. And her decision about whether to admit to being at the train station with Frederick etc.

I seem to have rambled a bit about that - sorry. What do people think?

I also found it really interesting to see how Margaret went from hating Milton at the beginning to missing it at the end when she's in London. Of course, her feelings for Thornton could have something to do with that I suppose!

Edited: Dec 30, 2011, 2:37pm

#2 "I try and imagine what the story would be like without Margaret (or if she were a man). I'd love to see more want more of Thornton- Higgins, more Higgins - Mr. Hale, etc."

Now that I find really difficult to do. Not just because of the romance but because the roles of men and women were so different then. I suppose we would have had male Margaret having to get some king of employment in Milton to support her family there and then seeing his prejudices brought into contrast by the type of work male Margaret expected to do as a gentlemen and the type of work there was in Milton (trade). But then, would they have had to go to Milton anyway? If Margaret were a man she would presumably have been trained to do something like Frederick was and might have been at sea and missed the whole thing!

Edited to correct italics.

Dec 30, 2011, 2:16pm

#9: sorry - I know this sounded a bit misleading, sometimes I have problems expressing what I mean. I was writing that comment after having read a chapter where the emphasis on the romance had made me quite angry, because it destroyed the interesting interaction between the male characters. I think it was that scene where Mr. Hale, Mr. Thornton and Mr. Bell were discussing North/South and Thornton was getting distracted by Margaret's presence. I wished Margaret away in that scene (and in some other scenes as well).

I really enjoyed the romance and rated the book with 4 stars, but in the end so many interesting aspects just served as a background for that romance. I was also sad about the sudden ( and convenient) death of Mr Bell. I so enjoyed the Maragaret/ Mr. Bell scenes and I had hoped he wouldn't have to die alone. But when he did, there was not so much mourning imo, instead there was the issue of Mr Bell now no longer being able to inform Thornton about Frederick's visit, to clear Margaret's reputation. Luckily we got Higgins for that.

Something else I might have missed: Gaskell writes much about Thornton's feelings, but do we ever get Margaret's before the last chapter? She is unhappy because her 'friend Thornton' thinks she has a lover/ has been lying, she misses Milton, she even misses Thornton's 'friendship', but did the word 'love' ever come up?

Dec 30, 2011, 2:48pm

#10 No need to apologise. I don't think we did get to eavesdrop on many (or any?) of the conversations between Mr Thornton and Mr Hale in their tuition sessions and that would have been interesting. They both seemed to enjoy them so much and appreciate each other's characters that they must have had some good discussions.

I thought Mr Bell was almost going to provide the fairytale ending where Margaret could be happy and looked after (I never really understood why she wouldn't prefer to go and live with him rather than Edith) but I suppose she got that with Mr Thornton in the end anyway.

I think you're right and Margaret's feelings for Mr Thornton were only really implied rather than stated outright. I wonder if that is because it would have been seen as very forward for that period for a woman to acknowledge her feelings in that way (even to herself) or whether it's just a standard romance plot where the reader gets to feel smug for knowing what the character hasn't yet realised or acknowledged herself?

Edited: Dec 30, 2011, 4:37pm

There was a lot of novelistic prejudice against young women who admitted their feelings before the "correct" moment, even to themselves; it's another of those conventions that you just have to accept. Jane Austen is the champion of this, but a lot of 19th century novelists suddenly get very opaque when the moment arrives for their couples to come together. Generally the woman will blush and stammer and hide her face rather than actually say, "I love you" - even if she's on her own. :)

Gaskell didn't like the death toll at the end of the book either, but it was being serialised and she ran out of time and space to do things differently. The BBC adaptation handles this rather well.

No doubt Margaret would have preferred to live with Mr Bell, but it wouldn't have been acceptable for her to live with a man who was not a relative instead of a woman who was.

And the point that Heather makes about what conversations we do and don't overhear is a good one. It is very necessary that Margaret is in the room when the men are talking about the issues, as she is then privy to a "masculine" view of the situation that probably none of them would have offered to her directly in conversation. (Maybe Mr Bell.) While Thornton is getting distracted by Margaret's arms, Margaret is having a crash-course in reality. :)

Dec 30, 2011, 6:52pm

'crash course in Margaret's arms' Love it! I loved that description of Thornton being mesmerized by her bangles..... one of those details that simply brings the room to life.

Jan 1, 2012, 1:31pm

6: These mewling Hale men are too much! There's not a backbone between them.

Ha ha, that made me laugh out loud. So true! I'm not quite finished (maybe tomorrow). I started watching the BBC adaptation and got through the first episode. The actor who plays Mr. Thorton is not who I imaged for the part and he's a little more...rough too, but other then that it's kind of fun to see the book played out. (Higgins is Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey!)

Jan 1, 2012, 2:33pm

#14 I've got the BBC adaptation here, too, ready for a re-watch which I'll get to in the next couple of weeks. It's fabulous! (As an aside, I watched Cranford over the holidays, and Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey has a role in it, too - good actor!)

Edited: Jan 1, 2012, 9:44pm

15: (I had no idea he was such a prolific actor. I can't wait to watch the rest of the BBC adaptation.)

8: I also really felt for Margaret during the last half of the book; it felt like everyone she loved was being killed off one by one, poor girl.

I actually ended up finishing the book tonight and completely agree with what others have said about so many characters dying. I suspected something was up with her father when he felt dizzy, but was really shocked when she did away with Mr. Bell. I thought he was a character I would have liked to have known throughout the whole book and was kind of sad he only appeared in the latter half though I understand how he moved the story along and provided for Margaret.

I'm going to dwell on the book tonight and write a review tomorrow, but thank you all for including me in this group read. I love reading classic books in a group because I feel like I get so much more out of them. :)

Jan 2, 2012, 12:31am

#16 Marie, I've got my English actors mixed up. I'm thinking of the actor who plays Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey.

Jan 2, 2012, 6:59am

I finished the book on 31st Dec - too busy to comment on all the above comments, but I've enjoyed following these and hope to return to add any thoughts of my own when I have a longer moment!

Jan 3, 2012, 10:18am

Here - hoping a few others haven't quite finished.

Jan 6, 2012, 3:09am

I finished a few days ago and loved it - great to start 2012 with a 5 star read.

I loved the Mr Bell scenes, especially the one where they go back to Helstone and he mocks the vicar's wife without her realising. I was sad when he died, but so happy that Margaret could escape the ghastly London rellies - and wish we had seen the conversation between her and Mr Lennox when she gives him instructions to prepare documents for rescuing Thornton's factory.

It was great knowing that you all were reading the book with me even though I am hopeless with posting comments on the threads- thanks for an excellent group read!!

Jan 6, 2012, 5:39am

#20 Cushla, I laughed at the ghastly London rellies. Well said!

Delighted you enjoyed North and South so much! It is enjoyable knowing that others are reading along with us, across countries and continents!

Edited: Jan 6, 2012, 9:46am

I finished this morning. I enjoyed my second reading so much more than the first. The contrast between strong and weak characters was very interesting. I think that the author only really liked Margaret and Mr. Thornton. She didn't make them perfect, but she did make their faults more respectable than everyone else's. All the other characters, even the kind Mr. Bell, had weaknesses of character that were really sad flaws. I truly think the ending contains one of the most satisfying love scenes ever written. It's too bad that it had to be wrapped up so quickly.

Thanks for the group read! I loved reading all the comments and insights. I am sure that added greatly to my enjoyment of the book.

I think I will have to watch the movie tonight.

Jan 6, 2012, 1:10pm

Jenn, thanks for the wrap-up remarks. So glad you enjoyed the novel. I re-watched the BBC adaptation over my Christmas holidays. I enjoyed it as much the second time as I did the first. Swoon! (among other observations, of course!)

Jan 6, 2012, 3:02pm

Oh Swoon??? Hmmm... I'll have to check this out!

Jan 6, 2012, 5:37pm

Yes. Swoon.

Jan 6, 2012, 5:43pm


Jan 6, 2012, 5:44pm


Jan 6, 2012, 5:59pm

What took her 800 pages?!

Jan 6, 2012, 9:50pm

Oh, not half bad!

Jan 8, 2012, 9:41pm


Jan 9, 2012, 1:54am

Me too Genny :)
Im only up to chapter 35 or so.....Id like to think Im keeping with the brief and reading the book over the prescribed period to the letter! But in reality I found the beginning boring and am only just getting into it now. However begrudgingly.

Maybe me and historical fiction just dont get along, but I find the language near impenetrable, the scenes drawn out and the dialogue driven shall I put this.....not very useful to me in conveying meaning.

Yet I read on, as the story is quite compelling once Ive filtered out all the other stuff.

Jan 9, 2012, 11:14am

Sigh. Be still my heart.
I watched it with my husband the other night and I told him it's too bad he doesn't look at me like that any more. He tried, we'll give him credit. It just gave me the giggles. Poor man.

Jan 9, 2012, 6:23pm

>32 nittnut: haha, it's an A for effort then is it?

Jan 10, 2012, 1:04am

Make me smile, ladies! Megan, I know you had a busy holiday and very little time to read - you're doing a great job!

Edited: Jan 14, 2012, 2:04am

Thanks Nancy- I'! Only 1 1/2 chapters to go which Ill knock off tonight just in time to finish on the finish date! I'm such a rule-follower :)
It's hard work for me but I'll get there.

Eta: PS is now a good time to confess that when this book was first mooted I immediately assumed it was a book about the America Civil War? haha, when I started reading it I was like....What? This doesn't sound very USA?!

Jan 14, 2012, 11:55am

#35 Megan, North and South is a perfect title for a novel about the American Civil War. I hadn't thought about that, but I can understand your surprise!

Jan 14, 2012, 4:46pm

The other title that the touchstone picks out is actually about the American Civil War.....

Jan 14, 2012, 8:20pm

Aha, that's what that other pesky touchstone is! Can't remember how many posts I've needed to edit to correct it for Gaskell! (including the ones introducing the group read!!)