I couldn’t believe my eyes while I was reading a comment of one of my students to a post on Gaskell’s “North and South”. It was not a comment, actually, but rather, a deliberate attempt to pull apart piece after piece the romantic aura that surrounds Mr Thornton, who actually shares the top step of the podium along with Mr Darcy for the most iconic and beloved male character of 19th century English literature. He found faults in a man who has always been considered fault proof; he regarded weak the one who has always been the epitome of strength for any woman; he even found immoral traits in the uncontroverted picture and quintessence of moral behaviour.
LADIES (angry): To the gallows!!!” “Blasphemy!!🤬🤬🤬
MRS TINK : “But, my dear ladies, calm down! I believe that even this irreverent young man has the right to be tried first, so let’s hear what he has to say. He asserts that our minds have been clouded by the romantic charm of this character – well, that could be, especially since Mr Thornton took the semblance of Richard Armitage, we must admit it – and that, let me read, “the man appears systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”.
LADIES (super angry):To the gallooooows!!!🤬🤬🤬
MRS TINK : C’mon ladies, don’t rush into conclusion. He may have some good points! Let him speak his mind first and eventually we will decide what to do. Just cool down!(whispers) Ohhh, good ….so, he was just saying that some of Mr Thornton’s decisions were wrong…..
STUDENT (aside): All!😑
MRS TINK (To the student): Oh! Shut up! I’m m trying to save you from this angry bunch of ladies!🤨
STUDENT (boldly to the ladies): It is under everybody’s eye that Mr Thornton’s business fails, can you prove the contrary?😏
MRS TINK and The Ladies: No, we can’t. But…..😧
STUDENT (more audaciously): Furthermore, he does not prevent the strike and hires the Irish in the mill provoking violent reactions.😏
MRS TINK🤨 : How could he have prevented the strike? He had no means to give the rise in salary the workers demanded and he was not alone in this, after all, there were other manufacturers.
STUDENT: “Yes, but he was the most influent one, wasn’t he the magistrate of Milton? But, I have not finished yet. He proposes to Margaret even if he knows that she will probably refuse him and then he commits an abuse of power deciding not to investigate the same Margaret!😧
LADIES (in unison): But he did it for love! He wanted to protect her! How insensitive!😮
STUDENT : I know, but that was actually a crime, or do you have another word to call it?😏
LADIES: We cannot listen to this nonsense any longer!😤😤😤
STUDENT (raising his voice): One more thing! He does not join his brother-in law’s speculation and doing so, not only he loses all his wealth, but he also does not overcome the trauma of his father’s death. The very few good decisions such as hiring Higgins, for example, derive, directly or indirectly, from Margaret. Please forgive me ladies, but I did find hilarious seeing your romantic hero, the strong self-made man, the passionate lover with the endless sideburns, saved by a presumptuous 20-year-old girl from the South. Now I’m done. Thank you.😏😑😑😑
MRS TINK: (trying to break the silence). So you mean that Thornton is a loser .🤨
STUDENT: That’s what I mean.😑
MRS TINK: Well, I guess you should have thought about what makes Mr Thornton a loser first, in your eyes at least . To make you understand my point, I want to compare him to one of the greatest “losers” in world literature.
STUDENT: Who is it?🤔
MRS TINK: Hamlet. If you remember his story, we may say that Hamlet, to use your own words, appears “systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”: father, mother, Ophelia, the revenge plans etc. He, actually, never truly acts, and if he does, it’s just because he cannot avoid it. Three seconds after talking to his father’s ghost, the initial flame of rage starts to put out and soon he feels unfit for his demand of revenge. Even in the last act, when he finally revenges his father’s death killing his uncle, he doesn’t even know how he found himself in that situation, as the duel with Laertes is actually his uncle’s trap in order to kill him. Have you ever considered Hamlet a loser?🤨
STUDENT: A victim maybe?🤔
MRS TINK: In a way he is a victim, but he is the victim of his conscience and conscience , he says, makes us all cowards, that is, unable to act freely, because we cannot avoid the burden of the moral implications of our actions. The ethical dilemma between what is right or wrong consumes our will, and thus “ the native hue of resolution, is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. Undoubtedly, the name of the comet star that guides Mr Thornton’s action is: ethics. He always tries to do what is right, even if he knows that it will not end up as he wishes, as in the case of Margaret’s rejection or when he hires the Irish. Had he been ruthless, he would have employed them much before, it is also because of this delay in taking this decision that he loses all. It’s in this constant search for the correct thing to do, his attempt to overcome the trauma of his father’s death.🤨
STUDENT(puzzled): So you mean that ethics and success cannot go hand in hand?🤔
MRS TINK: Correct.🙄
STUDENT: And that Mr Thornton‘s comet star is ethics.🤔
MRS TINK: Exactly.🙄
STUDENT: So, he is a loser.😑
MRS TINK😒: If you measure a man by means of his profits, yes, he is. But a man is more than the money he can make. I’m talking about other qualities such as sensibility, reliability, courage, sacrifice, the capacity to love; Mr Thornton is all this and more. Hence, he could never be a loser for us all, my dear. Never.😍😍😍
LADIES: To the gallows?😡😡😡
MRS TINK: No…….Student, stand up! You are sentenced to watch the BBC series again twice and read the book. You will produce then another comment on the topic and if we can spot some evidence of your redemption, we might even let you live. Off you go!