me + mr thornton, episode 2

[The explanatory prologue to this post is here; episode 1 is here. Please note that this series gives a peculiarly personal reading of North & South, not the only one, and certainly not the one that I present in the classroom when I teach the series. Speaking as a historian, I’d agree that Thornton is more politically culpable than this reading allows him to be. I’m also considering here only the series as it unfolds here — not as a representation of history, or an adaptation, however successful or unsuccessful, of the novel. This interpretation thus concerns only my identification with the character as presented, though I throw in a few pieces of historical or literary commentary here and there because that’s the way I am. This is episode 2 of four episodes.]

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The same face as he wore for his encounter with Stevens in episode 1: Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) tries to wrestle Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) into safety during the confrontation with the workers in episode 2 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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In the previous two posts, I argued that North & South is a tale of vocational struggle and failure, and that I began watching it intensely at the point at which I felt myself to have failed most fully vocationally and was most fully unable to work creatively. Moreover, I presented an interpretation of vocational struggle as inhering strongly in a certain body of ethical principles which Mr. Thornton articulates in pieces throughout episode 1 of the series. As we move into episode 2, then, we see Mr. Thornton spending most of his time making these principles clear by justifying his ways to man, and mostly unsuccessfully. He’s doing what he thinks is right, but he’s constantly losing the battle for comprehension among his peers (though I think we can seek to understand what he is asserting). And many of the losses, quite frankly, are his fault. In this sense, the unsuccessful proposal at the end of episode 2 is simply a further example of his gathering inability to communicate effectively at the beginning of it.

To be fair, his interlocutors mostly lack the inclination to understand. His fellow bourgeois, for instance, won’t hold to any ethics, even a utilitarian one of collective interest. Their rapacity is demonstrated again at the beginning of the episode, in case we’ve forgotten it after the end of the previous segment, at another point where Armitage makes Thornton’s constant status conflicts highly visible.

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Mr. Thornton continues to demonstrate his willingness to combine with his fellow owners, even when, like Slickson, they’re not so reliable, in episode 2 of North & South.

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Mr. Thornton’s scorn of the pursuit of exclusive self-interest strides clearly to the front of this scene. His response to the sincerely puzzled challenge made by his interlocutor takes the form of an insistence on upright behavior. Would he have given into the workers’ demands? “No,” he says with defiance, “but I would ha’ told them straight.” Thornton’s almost religious rejection of pretense here is starting to look naïve, given that we as viewers have already seen both the manipulative conniving of the mill owners and the grim determination of the workers to force the manufacturers to fulfill their demands — but that’s precisely the point: Thornton concludes his conversation with the assertion that the goal is not the individual situation of any particular mill owner but rather, that holding together is supposed to prevent everyone from suffering, everyone including the workers: “it’s their lives and our livelihood.” But, given what we also already know about his connections to the other mill owners, this is not a true collectivist position, either. Even if a strike is bad for everyone, he’s still willing to let them strike if he has to. The value lies elsewhere.

Clearly under assault, holding himself in a physically defensive posture that reflects his reaction, Thornton then benefits from the narrative relief of a few moments of defense from his tiger-like mother. What she says, however, widely misses the mark of any apologia pro vita sua made in terms that we could imagine him mounting for himself here. No matter how his mother sees the world, Thornton does not see himself engaged in the bellum omnium contra omnes at this point, at least, and when we compare this third-person characterization to the man we have come to know so far, it seems — paradoxically — to point out precisely how uncosmopolitan this putative man of the world truly is.

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Mrs. Thornton (Sinead Cusack) explains to Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) what she sees at stake in the threatening strike in episode 2 of North & South.

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Mrs. Thornton may believe that her son is being challenged by jealous men who wish to tear him down, but that doesn’t seem to be Thornton’s own attitude. He’s relatively unworried about the challenges of others. Indeed, in the very next scene, when he encounters Margaret in the courtyard of Marlborough Mills, Thornton completes the trio of responses to a nitpicking world that’s suspicious of the way he conducts his business by offering a defense of his behavior to Margaret that’s a virtual encomium to honesty, transparency, duty, and non-interference: another nice chance for him to highlight several of the virtues of classical liberalism laid against a Calvinist / Reformed backdrop.

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Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in the courtyard at Marlborough Mills, in episode 2 of North & South.

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Mr. Thornton shines here and gets his message across to us clearly, responding effectively to all his critics, although it’s not clear from later scenes that Margaret’s entirely convinced. What about the practical espousal of self-interest, the owner seems to have asked, and Thornton’s response refers to how everyone uses work to rub along in the world, lives and livelihood all caught up in one unavoidable tangle. It’s really about the struggle for dominance, his mother points out to Margaret, when she asks, politely and one suspects, somewhat uninterestedly, about the strike. Thornton’s implicit response to a philosophical description of him made out of his earshot lies in his ironic reference to Margaret about her willingness to cast him as the “overbearing master,” a role to which he juxtaposes what he calls his honest answers to what he is willing to understand as her honest questions. What about compassion and concern? seems to be Margaret’s worry — shouldn’t better-situated people like Thornton take an interest in the lives of workers? — and Thornton points out that he doesn’t seek to stand in relationship to his workers that way. “In the North,” independence is also a moral value. And he’s not abashed in the least by any of these admissions. He doesn’t apologize to anyone, he says, under pressure of having his employment practices and conditions examined by (government) examiners: what he’s doing is open for all to see. We thus conclude, at the close of a series of scenes that make the subtlety of Thornton’s position extremely clear, that his duty lies with the project he’s involved in: “the efficient runnin’ o’ the mill.” This is the task that will bring the greatest good to the greatest number.

In the end, the endearingly innocent quality this stance gives Thornton — who’s worked hard since his father’s suicide, but somehow managed to avoid not only the hard shell of bitterness that his mother has understandingly developed but also the vivid greed of his fellow nouveaux riches colleagues — is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He’s suffered, but he’s stayed pure, somehow, and involved in what he’s doing. He thus succeeds in making the well-disposed viewer think that all of this striving after wind really could be all about the integrity of the work of a cotton producer and his duty to his project as seen in the mill, and not about anything else to be gained from it. So his belief in his principles makes us admire him, and strengthens his own determination, but it is also the point at which he is ultimately most vulnerable when he can no longer afford their luxury and should probably descend into an attitude that more clearly resembles a politics. Episode 1 seems to suggest that he has learned to live, more or less, with the fact that no one really “gets” him. The more pressing problem for Thornton in episode 2 thus seems not so much to be any actual ethical dilemma in which he would acknowledge that he finds himself — he knows what he’s doing, and believes in his reasons, and can say why — but the ways in with he has to live in the world with others and the uses to which his actions get put by them. Therein lies his greatest naïveté: simply, that he can’t — or won’t — look at the bigger picture as long as he’s satisfied he’s doing the right thing by his own lights, and the right thing is always the principled thing. He won’t acknowledge the lesson that every encounter in episode 2 should be teaching him: that ethics and politics can’t be meaningfully separated, or that sometimes politics are necessary.

Mr. Thornton’s problematic innocence comes to clearest expression in his side conversation with Slickson, made before the dinner party, which is a much more important index to his character than his smoldering look at Margaret a few moments earlier.

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Slickson and Thornton discuss the preparations of soldiers to protect the Irish strikebreakers as necessary in episode 2 of North & South.

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“I take this risk for myself,” Thornton tells Slickson, who expresses his worry about will happen if anyone learns of his activities. “You need not join in. I can and will protect myself and anyone tha’ works for me from any kind of violence.” Thornton worried about the effect of violence on his workers? Perhaps he’s more of a paternalist than he admitted earlier in the episode. But it’s all undertaken in service of the big project: the Irish have to be secure enough from the strikers to work. They have to be made able to keep the bigger project going.

In the end, as we will learn later, it’s precisely the frightened kibitzers who profit most from this particular action by Mr. Thornton — even as it’s the first step toward his own mill’s bankruptcy, and even though none of them will step in to help him, as we learn later. At dinner, Thornton outs himself at first as a sort of traditionalist — he doesn’t want to manufacture abroad, he says, but it’s logical that others should if they’re dissatisfied with profits at home. Even as he acknowledges the movements in international cotton markets, as he has in a previous conversation with his mother intended to explain why it is that he’s experiencing difficulties (“the Americans are floodin’ the market”), he thus seems to think he can carve out his own little niche. Thornton as Candide will wait for the difficulties in a “young” industry — that’s seventy years old by now — to iron themselves out. The capacity of the self-interested to profit from his position, in contradiction to his own principles, seems foreshadowed at the dinner table, where Mr. Thornton advances the classical liberal argument against charity in situations like this (it prolongs the suffering of the needy) and is applauded, loudly, by owners who’ve shown repeatedly that they’re more worried about their own capacity to manufacture than about the lives of their workers, and whose primary concern is the work that’s not getting done and, one assumes, the profit that’s slipping through their fingers.

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The dinner table conversation at the Thorntons’ in episode 2 of North & South.

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That Thornton ends up the victim of precisely the kind of manipulation by his fellow owners that they have accused Margaret of falling prey to in taking a basket to the Princeton district thus escapes him. His dinner guests accuse her of giving material aid to strikers and dismiss her justification that children are starving with the insistence that their father “knows what to do” (go back to work). Joining in this chorus, Thornton characterizes her as naive or potentially illogical — and yet, surrounded by connivers on every side, he himself sticks to a similarly obdurate stance that is also being manipulated for the pursuit of personal or factional advantage. We do not like him, here, not only because he seems so ridiculously blind to the nuances of the conversation going on around him, but also because he conspicuously abandons her to her conversational fate by turning to the women on his left. Yet none of this is malevolent. On the contrary, he brings in scabs from Ireland, not out of malice, or the sort of vengefulness that his mother articulates in an earlier scene when she says, “I’d teach them that I was master and could employ who I liked,” but rather to insist on his point — which he articulates as “not giving in.” This is a man who lives every second in the grip of principle and will deal with the associated difficulties.

On this reading, then, Thornton’s ongoing problem at the end of episode 1 and throughout episode 2 is thus not so much any inherently problematic nature of his own stance, but the ways in which other people interpret the opinions he embraces (the Hales, and especially Margaret, who can’t accept what seems to them like an abdication of conscience) or benefit from his actions (the other mill owners, who are nowhere near as ethical as Thornton but nonetheless profit from the broken strike). That his action against the workers is not personally malicious is underlined by his refusal to prosecute Boucher, as well as his insistence to Margaret in the proposal scene that the rioters “will get what they deserve.” Unsurprisingly, given his social status and class / milieu, the sufficiency of the rule of law looms large in his thinking. But the problem threatening on the horizon at the end of episode 2 is the way that his inability to see anything but principle — whether details, whether the big picture, or even at times the content of the principles themselves — is starting to catch up with him. He’s made his arrangements with regard to the strikers, and yet falls victim to Margaret’s entreaties to go out there and speak with them, to consider the detail of the situation over the inflexibly articulated problem. And once he’s in the situation of standing before them, even so, he won’t concede his point, or even a conversation on that point. When will he send the Irish back? Never.

The issue of how he feels about Margaret in the wake of her injury immediately runs him up against his convictions again, and his gets his mother’s back up as well, though finally, we see where all this manipulation of moral and ethical abstractions comes from. In response to his openly emotional concern about Margaret — a detail problem — Mrs. Thornton insists that “everything was done properly,” and as he later discusses with his mother his plan to propose, they agree about what Thornton insists “he will have to say” because, as Mrs. Thornton says, he is “bound in honor.” Mrs. Thornton, in turn, notes the significance of having to overcome pride as a reason to admire Margaret — presumably because she knows how difficult it is to free oneself from certain sorts of abstractions.

This problem of his principled inflexibility or inflexible principles is signaled again in the proposal scene, not so much by Margaret’s revulsion at his suit: he anticipated this rejection, despite his mother’s reassurances, potentially because he believes in principles and well knows that Margaret’s exclude him. But the communication difficulties over principle re-emerge immediately as the proposal conversation begins, for example, in his wrong-footing of Margaret, which begins with insistence on another principle — his right to feel grateful or express gratitude. His back is up by the time that she insists that he should “only be reasonable” — but obviously, she’s pushed the “principles” button with this question, as he responds: “Are you sayin’ that I’m unreasonable?” He’s able to finesse to some extent her accusation that he is not a gentleman — the main reason she offers to try to forestall what she experiences as an unwelcome proposal — by relativizing it: “I’m well aware that, in your eyes at least, I’m not a gentleman” (my highlights), but his next line is only comprehensible in light of his position about principle: “but I think I deserve to know why I am offensive.” You have articulated my behavior as an example of a rule, he seems to be saying, that I don’t understand. Tell me the principle that turns me into an offensive man.

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Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) responds to Margaret’s (Daniela Denby-Ashe) statement that Bessy Higgins is dying in the proposal scene, episode 2 of North & South.

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The next conversational turn in the scene is fascinating, and it reveals just exactly how badly Thornton has misunderstood Margaret. She plays her own role in this miscommunication, naturally. My students always insist that she rejects him for exactly the reason she states (“You shouldn’t [love me]. Because I do not like you. I never have”) even as I confront them with an argument that the “gentleman / tradesman” binary means that the money she smells on his paws prevents her from seeing him as honorable in the way she would her father, or Frederick, or even Henry Lennox or her brother-in-law. Whatever we believe about her reasons, in any case, it’s clear from this scene that Margaret has not yet “seen” Thornton, and as romantic viewers, many of us don’t quite believe her reasoning for her earlier action (would she rush out into that mess to protect him solely on principle?). We end up sorry for him, the sincere lover so badly misunderstood. But he also misunderstands, badly, as his own next statement reveals. He is completely incapable of processing the reproaches that she appears to be making, even after she tells him she’s sorry. She offers him a detail — Bessie’s illness — as an explanation for her clumsiness in dealing with him, and then apologizes — an apology that he immediately interprets on the level of a principled concession in which he refuses to believe.

Because he cannot understand it as anything than a further articulation of a principle, her apology only angers him. “For what?” he expostulates in response to it. “That you find my feelings for you offensive? Or that you assume because I am in trade I’m only capable of thinking in terms of buying and selling? Or that I take pleasure in sending my employees to an early grave?” You do not know who I am — he seems to be saying in conjunction with his rejection of her definition of gentlemanliness — but by hitting these specific points (unspecified behavioral objectionability and his right as a person to put the question to her; a putative excessive or exclusive market orientation; and the kicker: exploitative behavior, which I suspect he feels is the most unfair of the three points, and the reason he articulates it at the end, by this point in clear anguish) he also indicates: you do not know what my principles really are. You do not see who I am because you will not understand my principles.

He says he is asking her to marry him because he loves her, not because he has any thought about her reputation. I think the dialogue in the scene, its organization, and its inclusion of all of these objections on his part to specific assumptions she’s made about him indicates something additional, however. I am principled, I do live up to your standards, he seems to want to say. Look at me for these things. They are the best things about me. And you do not see them.

He wants her, I think, to love his principles as much as he does.

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To episode 3a (Episode 3 is published in three parts).

~ by Servetus on February 1, 2012.

34 Responses to “me + mr thornton, episode 2”

  1. Enjoying seeing your take on N&S–thank you for posting the series.

    For myself, I usually think of N&S in terms of Margaret’s struggles to understand that the principles and actions she, as a parson’s daughter in the South, has taken for granted as correct aren’t read the same way in Milton (bringing baskets for the poor as an expression of “Christian charity,” for example) and what to do about it (try and convince everyone? question them herself?)–which I’m sure is as much about me and what I grapple with as much as your take is related to your struggles at work, etc!

    It’s been interesting to see a different focus.

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    • Yes. I think we all see this series through our own prism. Which is totally legitimate. My friend Didion and I had a lot of conversations about the Margaret / gender politics question which relate to her primary concerns as a person and as a thinker. I am not writing about Margaret because she’s never been my primary identification, but even if I were to write about how I read her as a character (who knows, maybe it will happen some day), I wouldn’t see the same aspects as you do (I was a kid who was constantly pushed into unfamiliar settings by parents who were worried that I was too shy — so I watch her dealing with the Higginses and think, why is she so awkward?). I have other issues with Margaret, I think. I know about being in that situation where nothing you can say will change how someone else sees you — that she’s in after Mr. Thornton sees her with Frederick — and that’s the point at which I feel the most sympathy with her, probably.

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      • It’s funny that I, too, was a kid who was constantly pushed into unfamiliar settings by parents who were worried that I was too shy–didn’t make me any less awkward, though, and if anything just extended the impression that everyone else knew how to play life in a way, I for reasons I couldn’t quite understand at the time, just couldn’t figure out! Good thing I’m an adult now with a nice, functional home of my own, but it definitely leaves me more sympathetic to Margaret who, as I see it, was forcibly thrown into a place she just didn’t “get” the rules for, be it charity baskets, hand shaking, what does or doesn’t make a person “respectable” or a gentleman, or even how to choose wallpaper for a parlor.

        Although, to be fair, being forced to cope there did seem to change her life for the better by the time she hit that final scene….

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        • I guess it’s all in how you react to it.

          Yeah, she got the prize in the end, I guess. Maybe.

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          • Well, more change than just getting her prize, but now I’m really curious to find out where you’re taking this 🙂

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            • well, I don’t think he’s that much of a prize, really.

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              • WHAAAAAAAAAA????????? What blasphemy is this?? Oh where are my stones that I could start casting them!! 😉 Of course, I am kidding here. 🙂 But indeed, I too would love to hear your thoughts on this – maybe you can include it as an Epilogue post to this series (oh please, oh please!) 🙂

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              • I gathered that–very interested to see why! A hard working man of principle (as well as one who you identify with so strongly, yourself!); really wondering how you’re coming to this?

                I’ll give you the mother-in-law would be really, really, really hard to live with, and *if* his temper outside the mill matches his “master” persona in the mill that would be bad. Ok, now that you’ve got me thinking, he’s somewhat inflexible and maybe a little self-righteous…I may be able to damn him all by myself.

                Maybe most of us tend to believe “happily ever after” in our fiction without questioning how likely it may be. In a lot of ways I was more happy to see Margaret out of Aunt Shaw’s stifling home and away from that weirdly passionless Henry Lenox, I haven’t done a lot of questioning about what happens after the train arrives in Milton. Very interesting.

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                • Truly principled people are extremely hard to live with. So yeah, you’re getting there. Inflexible, self-righteous, near impossible to influence, problematic mother, debtor to his wife, proud, workaholic … nothing in the series indicate that much of this is likely to change. I think the major reason she has to hope is that she’s a lot *like* his mother, i.e., he’s used to having a strong woman in his life. In the novel, however, Mrs. Thornton muses on JT / MH at some point before they come together, and says to herself that had they married, her son would have had to be very proactive in addressing Margaret’s headstrongness (or something along those lines).

                  Fanfic is the primary place where people envision the “ever after,” and it’s interesting that I’ve never read a fanfic that really reflected what I suspected would happen.

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                  • All true, but in a more general sense, I’d have to say that there probably isn’t a difficult set of qualities as much as there are difficult matches–whether or not this is one, I don’t know. Would Margaret see him as inflexible and impossible to influence, or is he steady and reliable? Workaholic or hard working? Are principled people truly hard to live with, or are unprincipled people the ones who are impossible and lose respect?

                    I’ve not read any fanfic, but do find it interesting, too, that the “ever after” seems to take pretty much only one shape. I wonder if that’s just that people tend to crave that kind of ending, or if its more about how different temperaments/values/histories see these two?

                    No answers from me, but all things I think a lot about.

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                    • yeah, ok, there’s never a pot so crooked there isn’t a cover to fit, etc., my mom says that, too, but the fact that it’s hard to fit a cover to that particular pot points to the difficulties. I’m not saying it’s wrong to look for a principled man, it’s just that principle has to be tempered with other stuff or it’s hard to bear.

                      I think most people who really like the novel / series are much more romantic than I am, and that’s probably even more true for fanfic authors. Dystopic N&S fanfic is much rarer than dystopic RH fanfic, for instance.

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                    • Love the pot expression, elegant than what I was thinking which was more like…”Wow, looks like people that really bug me have relationships about as much as people who don’t!” No doubt he would be difficult in a lot of ways, but I guess “worth it” is in the eye of the beholder.

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  2. It was only a detail in the context of the larger picture -but I hadn’t thought consciously of the philosophical difference between Hannah Thornton and her son, until it was clearly articulated here.

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  3. Re: caption for tdreams9, wasn’t he bringing in the soliders to protect the strikebreakers from his workers who were on strike?

    Your interpretation is very interesting and I am looking forward to the rest. When reading this installment it made think of the saying, ‘so right you’re wrong’ or something like that.

    I lost my previous job over an unwillingness to remain quiet over medical practices that were causing harm. Everyone (my ‘rents included) told me I shouldn’t say anything but keep trying to help people as best as I could while looking for another job, play the politics as was mentioned in this episode. I guess I was like Mr.T in this episode and valued my health and being able to sleep at night (my principles) over having the monetary security. Even after I got fired and was denied unemployment (still fighting with them over the retroactive $ almost a year later) I never had a night I didn’t sleep well over it and my health dramatically improved.

    I agree that it’s naive and probably stupid on a practical level to live by one’s principles if it puts one at odds with their livelihood; however some of us can’t live with ourselves if we don’t live by our principles. Funny thing is, I consider my life outlook as a lot of shades of gray with a little black and white, but when it comes to how I choose to live, I have a lot more black and white and a lot less gray.

    Fascinating. I really love how you articulate so many things that I’ve never been able to articulate. I’m not trying to steal how you relate to Mr. Thornton, I just never realized the similarities between myself and him.

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    • re caption, yeah, the caption extrapolates past that point in the narrative. I’ll try to remember to change it.

      Talking about it isn’t stealing it. I wondered how many nerves this reading was eventually going to hit. It’s not, for example, a very romantic reading and it minimizes many of the things that some dedicated fans of the series love the most. I can only say that I’ve never been a very rosy kind of gal. It’s a reading that suggests that Thornton doesn’t undergo the transformation that the majority of readers feel he does, and that is going to anger some readers. I can only say that my experiences have caused me to read the piece in this way, at first unconsciously, and later, as I realized, because of my own career conflicts. I’ve been vague about those and am struggling about how much to say about them, because I think they make the reading as an interpretation of Thornton as me more plausible. But we’ll see.

      So: I think your story is directly appilcable here, and I thank for sharing it (more openly than I have mine). I don’t want to imply that I think that people should live without principle (or even that I can)– only that very principled people face particular kinds of life difficulties — as your own story testifies.

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  4. I feel a bit like Jael too, reading your interpretation I relate to Thornton.

    From your post about Ep 1, what resonates most with me is that sometimes I sense some people might see me as arrogant (or close to) and I find myself trying to explain my ‘principles’ so they might understand the way I see things and my actions. I’ve also found myself with the realization (when listening to other points of view) that I can be very naive.

    (As Thornton) I’m proud of my principles (I’m not implying you meant we shouldn’t) and I admire people in who, I find those and other virtues I’d like to have. Just as I admire those in others, I want that people that matter to me admire them in me.

    OML 🙂

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    • in a way, adhering to any kind of principle is a choice to be blind to something. The question is how grave it is to be ignoring something sort of on purpose.

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  5. Wonderful to read, Servetus. You open up such a lot of aspects.
    I so very admire how you interpreted the proposal scene. I flatly interpreted it as an effort on his side to gain her trust and understanding, while completely misunderstanding her and not appreciating her values in full. So they meet quite at a dead end here and I always feel relieved, that with such a lot of misunderstandings between them, she rejects him at that moment.
    I am very much looking forward to your further parts!!!

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    • she probably should have stuck with the loan and not married him, but I know I am in a serious minority opinion there. 🙂

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  6. Pls analize Thornton and Higgins. For some reason there relationship is far more interesting to me.

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    • I will analyze them (grins), when the issue comes up — ep 4. That relationship is a major point in my perception that very little change is going on for Thornton, so I won’t leave it out.

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  7. I think about fictional characters for two days and I feel great. I know that in your company(in our ‘party’ of friends) I will not be disregarded,I will not be mocked. Thank you for ‘food’ for thoughts,Servetus!

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  8. You know my sp gets wonky late in the day. It was a two glass maybe three kinda day yesterday. For me, Thornton changes most during his relationship with Higgins. Margaret is a bit of a whinny weenie. Altho I enjoy her fish out of water moments. I love that she just soliders on acting life life is status quo.

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  9. Okay NOW I SEE IT. Hilarious. I wish I could be that intentionally funny.

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  10. […] explanatory prologue to this post is here; episode 1 is here; episode 2 is here. Please note that this series gives a peculiarly personal reading of North & South, not the […]

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  11. […] not make sense. Previous pieces of the argument: here the prologue; here episode one; here episode two; there'll be one more piece of 3 coming up. Same disclaimers / warnings apply as in previous […]

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  12. Sorry so late to the party…..We most definitely see things from our own individual perspectives, sometimes blindingly so. I think a major theme of the story is how the various characters learn to see things differently – from other’s perspectives.
    I see the outcome of the dinner argument differently. From Thornton’s facial expression I get the definite impression that he concedes Margaret’s last rebuttal. He acknowledges in the shifting of his eyes that her principles in this case are higher than his. He covers this uncomfortable recognition by diverting his attention to Ann Lattimer, brushing off the vexation she has once again caused him in challenging his principles.
    It’s my perception that every time Margaret and he clash over principles (and Margaret also has very strong principles – they are humanitarian not utilitarian), he is hearing her more clearly, beginning to open his mind to her point of view.
    By the time she insists he goes down to face the rioters, he’s struck again at the forcefulness and logic of her own vehemently-held principles. And he goes because he sense a spark of truth in her words. (this is validated in the book but I see it in his face in the miniseries.) Why else would such a principled man go down there, just because he wants to please the girl he has a crush on?!
    Of course, when he’s down there, he’s out of his element and doesn’t know what to do next, standing there defiantly with crossed arms. It was Margaret’s initiative and he only partially heeded her demand.

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    • I think that while I don’t see him conceding to her in the dinner scene on anything like the level you describe here, I would agree that he is made uncomfortable. He’s also in the presence of his coterie of fellow manufacturers, so his spectrum of responses is limited. However, acknowledging someone else’s position is not the same as agreeing with it — and I just don’t see evidence that he moves his position in the strike scene (it doesn’t matter so much why — if it’s that he doesn’t want to, or he’s incapable of it / lacks the language / lacks the intellectual capacity to figure out what he should do), given his statement that he will never give in to the workers. The subsequent lines also offer the first sign of a disturbing tendency toward self-pity on his part, as if he hadn’t played a major role in causing this situation in the first place. Re his decision to go down to speak to them: she insults his honor.

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  13. […] of the value of art). But to demonstrate this point about being autotelic, we might consider that an appropriate subtitle for episode 2 of North & South could be “Mr. Thornton’s auto…” On this view, Mr. Armitage knows what he wants, works hard to get it, and does what he […]

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  14. […] about Mr. Thornton’s blinkered qualities (a point I strongly agree with, incidentally — Mr. Thornton’s inflexibility and insistence that he’s right and knows best were major sy…) — is that it’s not ever quite as simple as that for this character. He’s not […]

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  15. […] To episode 2. […]

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