“That Woman!”

Amazing Sinéad Cusak as Mrs Thornton

I don’t know about you, but whenever I finish a book and particularly if I took pleasure in that read, I feel a sort of “dissatisfied satisfaction”, that is, I feel that I would have enjoyed a couple of chapters more not only to have that pleasure prolonged but to have all my curiosities answered. This happens more frequently, of course, when the narration focuses on the development of a love story, so when the longed-for happy ending comes, which often coincides with the very last page, you cannot help but wonder : “What will the wedding be like?”,” Will they live happily ever after”, “What did he/she do when…..”etc. , well, this kind of stuff.

Elizabeth Gaskell‘s “North and South” is somehow and exception. As when at the end of the book the romance between Mr Thornton and Margaret Hale comes to its deserved happy finale, well, I didn’t find myself speculating about the future of the now merry couple, not at all, but rather about Mr Thornton’s mother and her face at the sight of her beloved son in the company of his fiancée when they come back home to Milton. I may say that a couple of chapters more wouldn’t have been enough to explore the new family scenario, she could have written another novel at least about it.

The development of relationships is indeed very interesting in this novel as characters here work also as metaphors of nineteenth century England: the industrialized, productive north the Thorntons’ belong to and the charming, refined, aristocratic south Margaret Hale was raised in. These two worlds will inevitably collide, making first all their contradictions emerge to move forward then. However, what I found remarkably intriguing is the mother son relationship here. It is a solid bond which has grown stronger and stronger in time as they are, actually, survivors.The both survived the consequences of the storm of the suicide of Mrs Thorton’s husband and poverty, managing to achieve fortune and status with had work and discipline. Proud, cold and hardened by experience and now rich she wants the whole town of Milton to respect her family and her son in particular .

Despite Mr Thornton is about 30, his mother is still over protective and something more, I dare say: “she looked fixedly at vacancy; a series of visions passing before her, in all of which her son was the principal, the sole object—her son, her pride, her property” (2.1.5). Certainly, she is a woman with an infallible instinct as well, as, even before meeting Margaret Hale, she feels her as a threat to whom she considers her property.  For her it is enough to see his son back home to change his clothes before calling on the Hales, to understand that this unusual and unnecessary attention means something more : “Take care you don’t get caught by a penniless girl, John” (1.9.26) She is right to be alarmed, as page after page Margaret gains influence over Mr Thornton’s actions as he wishes to please her despite she rejected him. But why, is it only for love?

Now, if it is true that men end up marrying women who resemble their mothers  ( I am an exception, for sure), as this is a man’s very first relationship with the other sex, hence; I have to say that Mr Thornton is undoubtedly part of this lot. Margaret is, in fact, herself very proud, determined and speaks her mind very decidedly without fear of being contradicted just like Mrs Thorton. Furthemore, she is protective. She throws herself in front of an angry mob in order to protect him and she wants to prevent him from facing another financial disaster offering her love and support once become a rich heiress.

So, if I want to follow Sandy Welch’s amazing intuition for the finale in the adaptation for BBC and get on that train that goes northward to Milton with the happy couple, I often find myself picturing out a scene like Mrs Thorton waiting for his son at the railway station platform, Mr Thorton getting off with a radiant smile first, followed by…….. “that woman“! Do you think she would have thrown her arms round her neck? I have my doubts.



20 thoughts on ““That Woman!”

  1. You make me want to read some Gaskell now! (I’ve only watched the BBC Cranford series so far.) But I’ve still got several Bronte novels and the last Austen to go, so how can I fit it in?! A rhetorical question, I know …

  2. I love both this book and the filmed version! It was the BBC’s Cranford that got me started on reading Gaskell, and she’s perfect for anyone who can’t get enough Bronte books. Gaskell provides more sturm und drang than Austen, but not quite to the level of Emily B. Very satisfying reads, indeed.

    • I have to confess I read the book after watching the series. As I said I did appreciate the work Sandy Welch did in adapting the book even if sometimes she seemed to fall into temptation of re-proposing the pattern of Pride and Prejudice, as in Mr Thornton’s proposal for example. I believe Elizabeth Gaskell really mastered in the making of the characters in this novel.

  3. I am also not a fan of where hero and heroine are finally reunited after oodles of tribulation, and they run towards one another … and that’s it. End of novel. I like to wallow in the happy bit for a while. I give my own readers this opportunity … well, mostly, when I don’t spring a surprise instead.
    Cusak’s expression there is SO Thornton!

    • The ciircustamces of the reunification are actually developed in less than a chapter, which is quite unsatisfactory in my humble opinion. As the novel appeared first in serial form, had Elizabeth Gaskell been a little more generous in details, I guess she would have been rewarded with more public and money.

  4. As an Elizabeth Gaskell fan who hasn’t read this one, I can’t wait to get a copy… your review and insights into both book and fillum are very tempting, and raise all sorts of questions … some I could answer myself, having in my first marriage, married a mother and son like you describe –
    it only lasted five years !!!

  5. I think that mothers in general have a sense of protectiont toward their children especially towards their male children as can be seen in the novel where Mrs Thornton shows an affection and a sense of over-protection to her son. I also believe that it is true that the men often fell for women who look a little like their own mothers, of course it is the same for me and Mr Thornton who is fascinated by Margaret Hale’s strong character.

  6. Despite the splendid conclusion the curiosity lies in the reaction of Thornton’s mother when he returns home with Margaret.
    But, even if she doesn’t appreciate Margaret , they aren’t very differenti. They are two strong and determined women , but the differences beetween them there are because they have dad two different lives.
    For me Mr Thornton’s mother is one of most interesting characters. In fact she is very strong with everyone but she is also very sensitive . Her sensibility comes out in the relationship with her son of whom she is very proud and protective.

  7. I also think that the end of the story should be different. I would also like to see the reaction of Thornton’s mother, seeing his beloved son get off the train with Margaret Hale.
    the characters I liked the most were: Thornton and his mother.
    the mother because when she started to speak in public she looked like a strong and severe woman, but when she was alone with her son she was a very thoughtful mom ready to shake her son.
    Thornton was my favorite character. because even if he had the role of controlling his workers in the end he was the only Milton factory owners to worry about the health of the various employees.
    But I liked him overwhelmingly in the end , because he managed to conquer Margaret Hale’s love.

  8. I agree with what you think about the relationship between Mr Thornton and his mother. They are very close to each other and the way she protects him explains how much she cares. She is always on his side even more when he loses everything. I admire the way she raised him after what happened to his father and she made him stronger after this disgrace. She is a very strong woman and she is a very good mother for managing to establish such a relationship with her son. So I think that she is the hardest character to love but the most beautiful as well.

  9. This woman is an example for all of us, because she gets her life back with his son and creates a wonderful and strong family. Margaret does the same thing, thanks to this experience, she changes her way of thinking and she learns to love every person, even if they are different from her. I like to imagine that also Margaret will build a harmonious relationship with her son.

  10. I think that this TV serie was for me very usefull to understand the differences between north and south of England during 18th century. I also think that whatching videos is more effective then read on books to learn. I agree with you on that Mr thornton’s mother is a very important and strong character at all, also I think that she could accepte their relationship even because Margaret’s mother said to take care about Margaret before die.

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