“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.



66 thoughts on ““That Woman!”

  1. “Now, if it is true that men end up marrying women who resemble their mothers”.
    Reading I focused on this, making me think that Mr. Thornton had not completely overcome “the Oedipus complex”, a theory of Freud which consists in having a desire to be with a person very similar to the parent of the opposite sex. So having very similar characteristics there is a clash between Mrs Thorton and Margaret … this is one of the reasons why the mother did not like the girl but this thought changed over time ..

  2. I think Mr. Thorton’s mother is very protective because she doesn’t want to see her son unhappy, after all the suffering he has passed. She does not want to “lose” her son, perhaps not to feel, once again, alone. I am convinced, however, that she wants the best for her son.
    Margaret is a strong, intelligent and determined woman. Of course, she can be compared to Mrs. Thorton.
    In the end, however, Mrs. Thorton must let her son “go”. She must put away her jealousy.

  3. Looking for a partner who has the character of their parents is perhaps a natural thing since since childhood the first people from whom we receive love are just the mother and father. Maybe we feel we can be loved more by a person with those characteristics or maybe we feel better because we are already used to sharing our life with them. It has never happened to me personally, but for these reasons I think there is nothing strange. However, I believe that two people with the same character do not always get along as in the story the mother does not love Margaret.

  4. Mr Thornton’s mother has a character to envy. Strong and determined, she defends her son on every occasion. Surely this protective aspect arises after her husband’s suicide. In fact she sees in her son the man of the house and has a great respect for him. Despite her disappointment with Margeret,she accepts their marriage only because she sees her son happy.

  5. In my opinion Mrs. Thornton was the kind of person that everybody would love to have as a mother, she was protective with her son, severe, firm, but that made Mr. Thornton a respectable man with value. In fact when Margaret protects him, he was bound to marry her, because of his education, given by a lonely mother who grow a kid by herself. She was proud of her son, she put her son before everything, and that’s why she was always by her son’s side.
    When Margaret refuse the Mr Thornton marriage proposal, Mrs Thornton starts to hate her, to despise her, because she disrespect him, and from that point, she was happy whenever Margaret was away, in fact when she leave Milton she was plead to be rid of her.
    And because of so I think that Mrs. Thornton was the worst Mother-In-Law of the History we have studied in these five years.
    And I also think that just like we have seen in some of the Netflix series,for exemples, when a series, a book or a film is too long, it risks to be repetitive and it doesn’t leave you with a sense of “imagine on your own”, which is amazing to have sometimes, because our imagination is what makes everything funny, because we can decide what will happen next!!

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