North and South Read-A-Long: Week Two

I forced myself to slow down my reading this week and not finish chapter 27 on Wednesday, which I completely wanted to do!  This section just had so much more rising action and climactic events, no?  Also, the reading was bookended by two deaths – well, one was only foretold – Mrs. Hale and Bessy Wiggins.

So Margaret’s mom is going to die and she really doesn’t want anyone but Dixon to know.  But darling daughter won’t be put off and forces the good doctor to explain the truthfulness of her mother’s condition.  All agree not to tell Mr. Hale who eventually finds out anyway – I mean, she only has a few weeks to live.  Does Mrs. Hale truly believe her husband can’t handle the truth or is this some kind of payback for his keeping her in the dark about quitting the Church and moving to Milton?  Either way, Margaret’s always in the middle, playing liaison between her parents.  It’s almost as if she’s the parent and they the children.  I think this role creates a hardness in Margaret that otherwise might not exist and even gives birth or motivation to her lack of tact.  Her parents are so wishy-washy and always want to hide the truth or require Margaret to relate bad news that it’s no wonder she doesn’t have a tactful bone in her body.

The most physically climactic event was the strike and the altercation at the Thornton residence.  The factory workers have left Milton’s mills quiet desiring the wage they were paid two years past.  The factory owners are having hard times due to competition from America and have lowered wages.  When the workers go on strike, Mr. Thornton hires a group of Irish immigrants to replace those on strike.  Obviously, this doesn’t go well and the replaced Englishmen and women show up at his door a bit blood thirsty.  Both sides are villains and victims alike.  The labor dispute is no black and white matter.  Businesses can only exist by turning profits and workers can only survive by putting food on the table.  It’s almost as if there really is no solution to this problem.

And Margaret is once again caught in the middle.  She listens to the plight of dear, upstanding Bessy Higgins who is near death – her factory job literally having killed her due to terrible work conditions.  And yet, she brazenly stands between Mr. Thornton and the angry mob getting a rather nasty head wound to defend his rights as mill owner.  And I love that Margaret totally copped a feel, boldly throwing her arms around Mr. Thornton’s neck so publicly.  I was good and properly scandalized!  I also kind of chuckled at her head wound caused by the ‘pebble’.  Seriously?

Of course, the major result of the angry mob is that Mr. Thornton has now decided that he can no longer live without his precious Margaret who has never offered him a kind word.  But since she thrust her body up against his, it’s only proper that he propose marriage.  Mrs. Thornton’s heart is broken because she will no longer be her son’s number one beloved woman.  Entirely creepy.  Margaret refuses his proposal.  She’s offended by his proposal.  Someone explain this to me please?  What is wrong with this girl?  In a modern day novel, I’d swear she was a lesbian.  She wants Mr. Thornton to believe she would have acted the same way for any poor mongrel when faced with certain bodily harm by way of belligerent factory workers?  Snort.

And lastly, Bessy takes her last breath.  RIP Bessy Wiggins.  Your life was hard, but your faith persisted until the bitter end.  Your last dying wish was only to be buried in something of Margaret’s.  And that’s not disturbing at all.  Who else was offended that Dixon wanted to give the poor, dead girl something shabby?

A few minor observations:

Boucher – is this guy a douche or is it just me?

Frederick – what is so special about him?  Why do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Thornton have such bias towards their sons?

I felt so much for Mr. Thornton when he takes that basket of fruit to Mrs. Hale.  Loved that he didn’t pay Margaret any attention.

Margaret still annoys me.

Excited to begin next week’s reading!  We’re halfway to the finish line and things are getting exciting.  Will Margaret ever learn how to say yes to a marriage proposal?  Will she find another female companion to call friend?  Does Mrs. Hale die before Frederick finds his way home?

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11 thoughts on “North and South Read-A-Long: Week Two

  1. I admit Mrs. Thornton’s love for her son – or should I say her obsession with being the one woman in his life – always freaks me out a little. I think there’s a remark on a woman’s special love for her son in the BBC miniseries, Bessy says it. I somehow remembered it as being in the novel too, but as Bessy is now death, I think I might simply have seen the miniseries too often. In an inappropriate attemp to explain the novel from the author’s life, perhaps it was the fact that Gaskell lost her son before writing her first book makes her write so particularly of both the mother’s love for their sons? I don’t know, it feels like speculation to say that. I will say that I felt a ltitle bad for Margaret: “don’t take this the wrong was Margaret but I love Frederick especially” seems to be what her mother and Dickson are constantly telling her. And then if she had accepted Thornton, she would have had to deal with his mother’s jealousy all the time..

    Was it you that remarked on the sensuality of Margaret’s bracelet in the tea scene with Mr. Thornton? I can’t remember who mentioned it last week. But I feel this is the next really intimate scene: the scandal of Margaret throwing her arms around Thornton to protect him. And then him thinking back to it so often.

    • I didn’t know Gaskell had lost a son, but I’m sure it colored her writing at least unconsciously and would help make sense out of the overwrought devotion. I also get that women had this co-dependency on the men in their life more often than not. Mrs. T. clings to her son as the only man in her life and Mrs. Hale’s husband is mostly good-for-nothing. And even today, mothers often have this soft spot for their sons. But Margaret having to constantly hear about darling Frederick is troubling and knowing she’d be handed off to hear the same such things from Mrs. T. if she marries John is almost too much.

      It wasn’t me who commented on Margaret’s bracelet, but now I want to go back and read it!

  2. I admit, I just hunted and pecked through your post because I’m SO BEHIND, but I am LOVING THIS BOOK. Seriously love. Gaskell’s writing style has grown on me and she’s just so darn clever with her telling analogies and her insightful dialogue! Awesome stuff!

  3. Mrs. T creeps me out, too. Mrs. Hale just annoys me. I want to stick her with Fanny just to see how the two of them would cope. I’m envisioning constant fainting spells and crying.

  4. I think that everyone pretty much agrees would we not want Mrs. T to be our mother-in-law! And Mags, she’s just so proud. Also….I don’t get the vibe that she’s looking to settle down. Marriage has never been a priority (like the first proposal she turned down). Finally, Boucher…DEFINITE douche!

    • Yes, Mrs. T. might even give my real life mother-in-law a run for her money! I guess Mags just really doesn’t even think about marriage which is odd for a girl her age during Victorian times, but I kind of like it! And I’m glad you agree with me on Boucher!

  5. Yep, Mrs. Thornton is definitely way overattached to her son. Margaret’s not my favorite person, but I feel kind of bad for her potentially marrying into that family. Fanny is a total brat, too.

    I felt like we got a much better glimpse into Mr. Thornton as a character in these chapters, and I like him a lot more than I did at the beginning. I think he’s already growing on Margaret, too, not that she’d admit it.

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