me + mr thornton, episode 4(a)4

[Previous pieces of the argument: the prologue; here episode one; here episode two; continuing with (episode 3a), (episode 3b), (episode 3c), and (addendum to episode 3). Same disclaimers / warnings apply as in previous posts. A short reminder of the way I started this series in the prologue: “What I write about Thornton … I also write of myself.” This is not a historical, but rather a personal, interpretation. Also, a quick reminder that in my interpretation I’m reading from the series alone as a document and my capacity for critical perspective on it as a human and a historian — I don’t consider the book centrally in these interpretations because I didn’t read it until I had seen the series approximately twenty times.]

[This episode is also going to require more than one installment of analysis. I’m thinking that this piece will be primarily about work. The previous parts of this piece are episode 4(a)1 and 4(a)2 and 4(a)3.]



The position that little has changed in Thornton’s makeup is also consistent with the two subsequent scenes in which he appears: his walk to the Princeton District, and the conversation with Higgins to offer him work. At this point I have to express a rare but relatively strong disagreement with the makers of the series, who say in their comments on the episode that in Thornton’s descent to Nicholas’ lodgings, we see Thornton journeying back to his childhood and being confronted again with his own past. They may have given Armitage this stage direction, and he makes it emotionally plausible, but it’s historically inconsistent and also at odds with the Thorntons’ general behavior in the present of the series. A draper’s assistant would not have lived in a setting like this one, nor would Mrs. Thornton have worked as a cloth dyer, nor would Fanny have begged for coins. A better reading for this scene would be that Thornton’s walk down the stairs to the Princeton District reflects a sort of commentary on the insecure foundations of his pride.


 Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) visits Higgins (Brendan Coyle) to offer him work at Marlborough Mills in episode 4 of North & South.


This scene offers the key evidence for both arguments that Thornton is being transformed by his contact with Margaret, and for evidence of some kind of transformation in sum. But this scene is read much more convincingly as another sort of concession that Thornton feels himself required to make in response to a challenge to his pride, this time in reference to his sense of his own virtue. In other words — the principled person concedes his mistake and apologizes for it: “I spoke to you in a way that I had no business to. I did not believe you. I couldn’t have taken care of a man such as Boucher’s children. I have made inquiries, and I know now that you spoke the truth. I beg your pardon.” The apparent principled quality of that last statement thunders through the episode; Thornton admits he was wrong? To someone like Higgins? It makes it seem like he’s really changed. Or capable of it. But has he? Is he?

Thornton’s explicit statement of his reason for coming has nothing to do with charitable impulses: it is to offer Higgins work. Indeed, Thornton’s statement articulates his perception of Higgins’ virtue and rather than acknowledging the needs of the children, per se, or even Higgins’ desire to support them. Thornton’s words recognize Higgins as a fellow human and his proposed actions atone for the transgressions caused by his pride by proposing an avenue toward accomplishing what Thornton has said he could not do (take care of a man like Boucher’s children). Higgins’ statement in response (a list of the charges with which that Thornton has impugned his virtue — by calling him “impudent,” “a liar,” and “a mischief maker”) also specifically points out Thornton’s failure of honor. Higgins then queries whether Thornton is proposing to get along “for the sake of these of these children,” and Thornton explicitly rejects the idea that his offer involves a proposal to get along well together. Thornton thus broaches neither a charity operation nor an offer of friendship. Higgins, too, insists on his equality in the transaction, not as a recipient of charity, but as someone with principle, who will work honestly for a wage, when he describes himself as thanking Thornton, which gratitude he in turn feels is “a good deal from me.” As Thornton stresses when he shakes Higgins’ hand, he makes only an offer of work, conditional only upon Higgins’ promptness (that is, Higgins’ capacity to make good his claims in the earlier scene about being a steady worker) and upon his willingness not to make labor trouble at Marlborough Mills. In essence, what’s happened here is that Thornton is fulfilling the ethos of a classical liberal about the nature of human (or at least masculine) equality, much more than seeking to undertake any kind of charitable provision for Higgins or Boucher’s children. Margaret may have put this problem in his path, but if we take seriously what Thornton says her, what we perceive to be her charitable ethos is not the motor of the action he takes. Thornton does what he does because he finds Higgins, after checking (“I have made inquiries”), to be worthy of recognition within the scheme of the personhood of all men and the dignity of work. Or, if we want to make reference to the moralistic statements Thornton made in the tea scene of episode 1, Higgins is engaging in the sort of activity for which Thornton so admired his mother and at which he looks back with such self-satisfaction in himself. It’s not the children, or the need to address the social problem that moves him — it’s the principle. And the self-recognition that Thornton feels on the descent to the Princeton District, if it’s occurring, manifests itself differently than in a general conviction about social solidarity or his charitable obligations to his workers.


Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Higgins (Brendan Coyle) catch each other’s eyes at the end of a shift in episode 4 of North & South.


There’s a short scene where Thornton encounters Margaret at her home that I’ll discuss when I get around to their romance, but, sticking in this post to the work theme and its relationship to ostensible transformation: From this point, Higgins is employed at Marlborough Mills, and the explicit confrontation of worldviews that Gaskell so loves finally comes into full force, though not truly between North and South, because both Thornton and Higgins are North. Instead, the confrontation is supposed to be one about attitudes toward work. All of Thornton’s next appearances are about work, and his responses to and attitudes about it. The general visual tone of these scenes is fascinating: dark, as if at best Milton manages a dreary, grey light filtered through coal dust during the day, but simultaneously warm and lamp-lit through the evenings. The people of Milton, it seems, are most loving in the workplace, or in the gloom, or both.

The rhetorical function of these scenes in the series is an attempt to create a sensitive “balance” around the political issues that separate the class interests in Milton (and this objective is one matter that makes this piece an effective one for the classroom). Mr. Thornton has to see the mill workers as industrious and virtuous, and not merely pursuing their own interests at his expense; Higgins (who stands in for the mill workers) has to come to see through Thornton that at least one master can attempt to be more than a parasite. I have to point out that if the series wants to maintain Thornton as a plausible marital prospect for Margaret, as someone whom she can come to see as a gentleman, it can’t simultaneously ask us to see Thornton as a typical master — and thus the project of the series is doomed to failure, simply because Thornton can never be convincingly “north” in the sense of fully embodying the actual ethos of the Milton factory owners. For a meaningful resolution to this faulty problem, and Gaskell’s failure to make North and South really confront each other, the series substitutes the Thornton / Higgins romance, which is founded on a rapprochement that relates to work and the ethos of manhood that surrounds it, and which the series, I think, feels it resolves acceptably.

And this theme is something to which I confess that, despite my reservations about Thornton’s position with regard to financing early in the episode, I respond with the deepest possible emotion, more potent for me, I think, than even my response to the scene in the billiards room with Latimer, in which I see all of my own failures articulated and framed. My response to that information: on the one hand, I adore Thornton for his principles, and I know exactly where he’s coming from; on the other, I am brought to tears by the pride and principle and fear — and guilt, and anxiety about guilt — that kept him from doing what he should have seen he needed to do to keep the mill running.

But here, where he moves back to work, I am never ambivalent. Here is the romance of work as I know it from my childhood, here we see the way that personhood is constituted through activity and commitment, we see how ethics makes us into the only kind of people we can tolerate being, here we learn where all the principles come from and why Thornton can be so unreasonably, unpleasantly tenacious about fulfilling them. Honest work makes an honest man. I see it in the fact that he’s tied himself to his desk, in the way he looks at his accounts, in the way he rubs his forehead and wearily checks his watch, and in the step he takes away from the desk once the mill whistle blows to end the shift. From the point of the series, we see these pieces to set us up for Higgins’ recognitions in the next scene; from my point of view, we see everything here that makes Thornton truly lovable. And Thornton’s sympathy for the child, waiting for Higgins, the seeds of an identification are set that are not about sympathy for a helpless child, but instead about hard work, self-improvement, fidelity — and memories of the past. Steadfastness. Being there. Because, I assume, the reason the child is out so late at night, in the millyard, is that he, too, has been working. This is the real Thornton — not the one distracted by financial problems from the details of what’s happening in the mill yard, but the one who’s on top of every detail, who knows exactly what’s going on, who takes the time to pause and admire and superintend the orderly running of the mill at shift end.


Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) makes a late supper for Higgins (Brendan Coyle) and Tommy (Spencer Wild), in episode 4 of North & South.


Higgins gradually recognizes all of this about Thornton, too, after he starts working at Marlborough Mills, and he’s willing to express more than a grudging admiration for his employer. Even more than providing a foundation for Higgins’ softening political position, his recognition of Thornton’s work ethic is important in building up the romance of work because we can finally see Thornton positively through the eyes of someone who is neither his mother or a potential romantic partner, but indeed, an adversary. Higgins may not like Thornton, quite yet, but he has certainly moved toward respect, even noting Thornton’s developing interest in the Boucher boy, who, it seems, Thornton thinks is smart. Again, note that the point here isn’t a general interest in the education of the workers, but a desire to foster growth in someone likely to respond to it.


Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Higgins (Brendan Coyle) discuss the possibilities of a factory cafeteria when Thornton learns after a delayed shift end that Tommy (Spencer Wild) hasn’t eaten, in episode 4 of North & South.


I’m always amused that my students want to call the project that Thornton proposes a “soup kitchen,” and thus turn him into a socialist do-gooder as opposed to a utilitarian liberal. This scene offers the best evidence for the “Thornton’s moral transformation argument,” but it’s still a weak one. Again, it’s really another piece in a mosaic about work that the series script is building for us, one that started in episode 1 with a conversation about a ventilating wheel in the sorting room. The scene here is weighted toward proving to Thornton that even people with union sympathies have an interest in delivering good work — although after his principled declaration that “work wasn’t finished,” Higgins offers a self-interested reason for justifying his desire to keep Marlborough Mills from going under and (apparently) working overtime without pay, thus undercutting his own point. Thornton isn’t suggesting a communal cooking scheme because he feels he’s responsible for paying for it, nor due to expressing any general idea that people should not go hungry, but for purely utilitarian reasons: if men eat well, they work well (something he sees some of his fellow masters as being too short-sighted to recognize — exactly the same argument he made earlier with regard to the ventilating wheel). And feeding Tommy is justified not in terms of supporting children in need of assistance: but so “he’d have fit minds to do his studying.”Again, we see Thornton the detail-oriented master, caring about every detail in his operation, lurking around corners, late at night, when he certainly could be in bed. Thornton, who will work out every detail. Because that is what a principled person does.

These scenes move us in a number of different potential directions as viewers. On the one hand, which warms my heart, we see here a rehabilitation of work as an ordering principle for building a society, one that can unite both manufacturer and worker. Moreover, we see Thornton once again taking refuge in, defending, and living out the sort of principles that he seems to have abandoned — to his own self-disgust — in episode 3. It’s as if, after having his foundation shaken by after his self-betrayal with regard to Margaret, Thornton’s finally realized again what’s important and come back to the roots: work, and production. And, as we know, we are seeing him go down with the ship. If it’s pride that’s at work here, at least pride in something we can subscribe to. If, on the other hand, we suspect that this was a road he would not have to go down, one which he is traveling due mostly to his pride, what we see through the trajectory of his failure as a manufacturer is a stronger, even more insistent insistence on the kind of ethos he espoused at the beginning of the series, particularly in episodes 1 and 2. In short, I would argue, Thornton does not really change. Or, if you must have that he changes: in the face of strike, failed proposal, and financial downturn / failed financing, he becomes in the end more fully the person he was all along, more fully committed to the things he had always believed. And the fact that he does so when they serve nothing at all, when they can bring him little or no hope for gain, either in terms of winning fair maiden or even keeping control of his factory, makes me respect, love, and identify with him even more.

Perhaps the most concrete demonstration of Thornton’s reinvigorated capacity to live up to his own principles can be found in the scenes that follow, which depict an apparent developing collegiality or even friendship with Higgins.


Waited upon by Mary (Kay Lyon), Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Higgins (Richard Armitage) eat together in the makeshift cafeteria at Marlborough Mills in episode 4 of North & South.


The script really falls down on the audience here — Thornton’s musing here that he wouldn’t have eaten “stew” recently is a laughably blatant social and cultural history boner — but beginning with this scene, we see that emotions between the men, which started on the basis of a willingness to acknowledge each other as principled actors, and then the verification on both sides that the other was honest, steady, industrious, and not solely self-interested, can now move further. They have recognized each other as men of principle. Again, I don’t think this represents a transformation on Thornton’s side so much as an acknowledgement, or awareness, that he has finally met someone in Milton who is fundamentally at least potentially like him. And here we see, also, that Higgins has become able to see Thornton as a person, and to notice not only his principled industry, but the way in which it makes him lonely …


Higgins (Brendan Coyle) informs Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) of the death of Mr. Hale in episode 4 of North & South.


…which is why it is significant that Higgins (rather than anyone else in the series script) is the one who recognizes what a shock Mr. Hale’s death will be to Thornton. Higgins can see Thornton’s pain and struggle because he, too, has struggled to serve a vision that ultimately was not convincing enough to his fellows that it could be realized; Higgins sees in Thornton (and gradually, Thornton in Higgins) a man of romantic principle. In the end, then, it’s the theme of work that brings Thornton and Higgins together precisely because it is the single thing that could allow both of them to see each other as principled people who have, and will, suffer for their espousal of principle: with the misunderstanding of their families and their fellows, with the need to work long hours, with the imminent threat of the failure of personal and social vision. In the end, then, the friendship with Higgins is not an index of Thornton’s capacity to change so much as it is a reaffirmation to Thornton, and the viewer, that the principled, proud person Thornton was all along is who the renewed focus on work of episode 4 rehabilitates him to be. Thornton does not change substantially in episode 4; he becomes even more, returns to being the person he was all along.


to 4(a)5, which I hope to post tomorrow


Don’t forget about the North & South global rewatch, scheduled for June 1 and 2! Times are here. Directions for connection are here.

~ by Servetus on May 29, 2012.

57 Responses to “me + mr thornton, episode 4(a)4”

  1. Oh, I’m swooning with pleasure in reading this. So much to say about it. But for the moment I’ll just point out two small issues that gave me special frissons of delight: your terrific note about how Thornton observes the Boucher boy, and your analysis about Higgins’ understanding of what Hale’s death will mean to Thornton. These are tiny matters considering the larger point you’re making, but sometimes it’s the small insights that really buttress the larger argument … and I’m in heaven.

    • You know I’m always reading to start a conversation. Glad you like the details. I think one thing that’s really excellent about this particular production is the placing of details. They’re neither penetrating nor hidden — so you get a chance to think about what they mean instead of being bewildered or annoyed by them.

  2. Servetus – I have REALLY been looking forward to this post – that is, 4(a) Part 4 – not the least of which is because I knew it would include scenes which held (for me) many of the most emotionally poignant dialogue exchanges of the series.

    One line that always struck me in this series – and you have highlighted it above – is delivered by Thornton to Higgins upon his visit to offer the latter work. And that line was simply, ‘I beg your pardon.’ Woah. What’s this? Mr. Thornton begging for someone’s pardon?

    Although you postulate this is a principle that Thornton must have had all along in the series, this is certainly the first time the audience is able to witness this particular variety of virtue from Thornton – that is, admitting to a mistake and begging sincere pardon for the transgression. Sure, he may have had it all along, but when else have we seen Thornton apologizing for a mistake and making amends?

    I also agree with your argument that it is in Higgins that Thornton FINALLY finds a mirror of man that he recognizes, and it’s this mirror that helps him rehabilitate back into the man he feels himself to be. It’s not any of the ‘social’ mirrors he’s been exposed to – as when Thornton looked around the Master’s dinner table to explain the ventilation wheel, he is respected for his business success, but certainly not understood or emulated by any of them.

    While the Hales may have represented something aspirational for Thornton, Higgins saw, identified, and respected Thornton for those traits that made him who he already was.

    Thanks also for mentioning that it is Higgins that recognizes Thornton’s isolation / loneliness due to his adherence to his interior principles, since Higgins himself suffered this same isolation among his own class of workers for his own adherence to romantic ideals (or union principles).

    A “Bro-mance”, indeed!! I always love me a good bromance. 😀

    • I agree that this is the first time we’ve seen him beg pardon — and that would probably be evidence *for* the moral transformation position. Also, too, in arguing for this position which I assume to be a minority one, I’m making my case as strong as possible. Really, I am a both / and girl, so even as I tend to give one reading here, I don’t want to be understand to be saying that no other argument is possible.

      It’s interesting, I think, that the series eliminates so much of the principled discussion that goes on between Mr. Hale and Mr. Thornton in the book. At least theoretically as you imply we could also see Hale as a mirror to Thornton of his focus on principle. But in the book it’s a bit clearer exactly how class issues differentiate Hale and Thornton — and how much Hale continues to condescend to Thornton over his lack of cultural education throughout. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why …).

      I just love these scenes, and the darkness in which most of them play. I love this particular Mr. Thornton.

  3. Just finished reading your last 2 posts and my first response is that both are much more interesting than either the original book or the series. Especially the parts about how Thornton really becomes a more throughly evolved form of himself instead of actually changing and how he and Higgins come to appreciate each other because they finally see something of themselves in each other. I hadn’t really thought about how at this point Thornton doesn’t see himself ever reconciling with Margaret and the interaction with Higgins is what actually motivates his evolution. I assume part of the analysis of how Thornton responds to the child reverts to the conversation re how people’s emotions are historically different from what they are today because what I hear you saying is that Thornton still sees the child as a “resource” instead of in any sort of benevolent way. Although I think from RA’s physical interpretation of the scene, you would assume Thornton has a more kindly reaction to the child which would indicate benevolence.
    And because I don’t normally go much further than the surface, I still see a lot of his actions as just a means to further the plot which culminates in the romantic scene at the end. I consider a lot of books (e.g. Jane Eyre) as basically romance novels because the bottom line is boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl. Speaking of superficial (me, not Jane Eyre), 50 Shades of Grey finally made its way into my household…my daughter bought it. I may be tempted to take a peak to see what all the fuss is about.

    • Because I’m doing this from a personal standpoint, not every analytical perspective I take is necessarily fully consistent. That is, I allow my own historical knowledge into this analysis and clearly my historical concerns are different from the makers of the series. (I am doing this because I’m writing about what caught me, but it’s not entirely supportable from any other perspective.) As a consequence, there are a ton of epistemological problems with the kind of analysis I am making here, several of which your comment brings up nicely: things like: what did Armitage think Thornton was doing? What did the director tell Armitage about these scenes? and since the 1850s are a period *before* psychology, what can we say at all about these people’s emotions? One thing I love about the series is how much the scriptwriter and set designers obviously did know and incorporate about the 1850s, so when they make a mistake, I assume it’s deliberate, because they are trying to say something they think the audience won’t “get” otherwise, unless it’s rubbed in our faces.

      The “stew” line is one example. “Stew” isn’t the right noun — the scriptwriters assume that at least parts of their intended audience wouldn’t understand what Higgins was referring to if he had used the more accurate term for that time and place, “hot pot.” Also, an English bourgeois family like Thornton’s at mid-nineteenth century would certainly have eaten something like stew (affordable cuts of meat stewed with or without vegetables and served with a starch of some kind) regularly on weekdays — this meal has only been coded “poor” in our own days, and as the scene that sets up this one (the conversation about the availability of meat) demonstrates, working families would more often have been eating meatless meals or meals with only a very, very little bit of meat. It’s not like the Thorntons are eating the sort of fare they offer their guests at their dinner party on a daily basis (as the script also indicates, when noting the expense of the party in episode 2). The script writers must know this, but they want to say something in this scene along the lines that Thornton eats better now than the workers do, which is certainly likely, and a stray remark about not having eaten stew in a long time is a marker of Thornton’s perceived distance from his workers and perhaps a musing about his past.

      The comment in the commented episode that the walk down to the Princeton District allows Thornton a sort of glimpse back at his childhood would be one example of a problematic statement where I would tend to read whatever the director / script writer thought as working at counter-purposes to the series. Class differences worked differently in the nineteenth century than they do now. It’s just not credible, historically, that a shop assistant whose mother was trying to keep up appearances would have essentially lived in an industrial slum. For one thing, they wouldn’t have the necessary infrastructure in a setting like that to keep the young draper’s assistant dressed correctly. If the Thorntons were bourgeois before the senior Thornton’s suicide, they would have fallen into some kind of grinding, genteel poverty, but if they were saving three shillings a week, they weren’t in the situation of people like the Higginses. What the series seems to ignore, both materially, and on the level of the script (my students always fall into the trap of taking what Thornton says about his struggles in the tea scene at face value), is that the Thorntons had tons of cultural capital that facilitated their survival — they had resources the Higginses could only dream of.

      Re: Tommy Boucher, I do agree that Armitage’s body language signals benevolence, though not necessarily pity. Though his language certainly doesn’t signal pity. I tend to read the scenes with Tommy more as meditations on passing time — Tommy is the equivalent for Thornton of Margaret’s yellow rose. I’ll say more about this in the chunk on romance.

      And yes, the work is essentially a romance, and from our post-psychological perspective a fairly flimsy one, written originally for serialization in a bourgeois magazine. We could debate about the legitimacy of the attention I’m paying to the whole thing — except that scholars have gone over to the position that even less weighty fictions deserve serious analysis (I wrote a post about this at some point — why I analyze things so closely) and, of course, that this particular fiction grabbed me and won’t let go.

      • I hope I didn’t come off as flippant because I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t appreciate classical literature and/or indepth analysis — because I do. But (IMPO) while there may be lots of layers to a novel, one of the reasons we’re so attracted to a book and/or a character is because of the romance and the fact that the boy gets the girl. Or more likely, girl gets the boy. I’m especially enjoying this series of posts. tks

        • no, not at all. Just that romance is a reason for me personally to read a book or see a film once — but when I watch it dozens of times, for me other stuff is at work. I’ve never been all that interested in romance; I read plenty of romance but it’s always a one-shot affair.

          • Seems North and South had the same affect on you that the 2006 version of Jane Eyre had on me. I couldn’t get enough of that movie and it’s what eventually lead me to discovering RA. After sitting up at night watching JE for hours and hours, I started looking for more Toby Stephens on youtube and found the RH series. However it took me awhile to notice RA because I was so captivated by TS. But never to the extent of my reaction to RA — once I noticed him.

            • Yes. For about three weeks I was using all of my spare time to watch it.

              • I don’t have much spare time, so I was sitting up into the wee hours of the morning watching JE. It was like an addiction…I couldn’t help myself. Thank goodness, RA came along and took all that away…the healing power of RA at work again.

  4. I am really enjoying your analysis! I started yesterday and have read it all with a some breaks in between (in addition to sleeping and working) to think about it. Now it finally make sense to me why I’m totally fascinated by Thornton, and to a lesser extent Higgins! It’s their principles! Just like so many of us, I see myself in Thornton. I can get, as my dad says, bull-headed because I’ll stick to my principles even though by doing so, I could get into trouble. My principles and pride also get in the way at work. I judge my co-workers and congratulate myself because I don’t do this or that. Sometimes, it can be very lonely, too. My co-worker across the hall and I are like Thornton and Higgins. We finally realized a couple of years ago that we have the similar mind-sets and it often sets us up against the rest of the dept. (Did you get hit me in the head with a pan or does it just feel that way?? LOL)

    I don’t know how many times I’ve sat here with my head shaking in agreement while reading your thoughts. Thanks for this! Can’t wait to see the next part!

    • Thanks for the kind words. People certainly pay for their adherence to principle — if they can’t find other likeminded people.

  5. Just wanted to let you know, that I am on your line again, Servetus. It seems we only disagree about Mr. Thornton’s ability to do the necessary financial planning for his company ;o)
    I am even fully on your line that Mr. Thornton in essence does not change throughout the film (still only started the book, sorry). I even see the purpose of the story and film not about a personal change or character development of Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton.
    I am very much looking forward to your further parts of your analysis!

  6. I don’t have anything to add to the discussion. From someone who has always viewed N&S from a purely superficial perspective, I just wanted to say that I am finding your analysis very interesting. 🙂

    • Glad it’s interesting to you, Mezz. But be aware that I’m arguing here against the more conventional reading of the piece — I don’t think that I’d get the general agreement I’m getting here if I were (say) writing this on C19.

      • Oh I would love a discussion such as this at C19!
        On the surface, it does appear that Margaret ‘changed’ him (a very romantic notion). But I believe, as you do, that the foundational principles which Thornton lived by were always intact. What I think Margaret’s role in all this is to awaken him to be his more human self, to stop rigidly analyzing everything (including his workers) into his theories of work and business. I think her compassion for the workers as individuals shakes him out of his time-worn dullness to the fact that his role as master has the potential for so much more than just business progress. He has been seeing his workers as mere cogs in the wheels, keeping himself utterly closed to knowing them on a personal level.
        I see time and again in the whole series/book the importance of seeing each individual for who they are despite class, gender, etc.
        I think Thornton inherently recognizes that Margaret is bringing out the moral principles that he cherishes (indeed he must, given his past), but has not been practicing in regard to his workers – to see each man as an individual with potentialities and challenges instead of judging them en masse, or smugly theorizing about them.
        I think that he admires that compassionate view that Margaret espouses. And everything about her softer side (compassion, innocence, sweet helpfulness to others) and her more ‘masculine’ side (her keen intellect, boldness, strength) rings all his bells. That’s exactly the life companion he wants. She embodies all the qualities he admires – the qualities that he has within himself. She does not add to his character but enhances it, bringing out HIS softer side, which has been buried in work, work, work for so long.
        No wonder he longs for Margaret with such intensity. She represents that fuller life which engages mind and heart in equal measure.
        I could go on….

        • I’d love to read that! I loved this part especially: “She does not add to his character but enhances it, bringing out HIS softer side, which has been buried in work, work, work for so long.”

        • Trudy!

          You bring up quite a few points that I believe lovely Servetus might be addressing separately in a future post on the romance aspect of Episode 4 (independent of what this section (a) represents – work).

          However, if you would allow me to piggy-back off the thread of your observations – I’d like to postulate that a few of the ideals espoused by Margaret could equally apply to Thornton’s aspirational relationship with Mr. Hale and what the Hales represent for Thornton as related to his work (this, in turn, supports the ‘bro-mance’ conclusion already reached above).

          Within the series, there are a few occasions where the on-going conflict between ‘masters’ and ‘men’ is highlighted. One such scene occurs when we are first introduced to Mr. Bell. In this scene, Mr. Hale explains to his friend the quandary of the class conflict between Milton men – as he can clearly see the validity and plight of each side within the conflict. Margaret is actually far less sympathetic to Mr. Thornton’s explanations than Mr. Hale is, and to that end, I’d say that Mr. Hale actually allows Thornton far greater freedom of expression and latitude than his impetuous daughter.

          Thornton’s interactions with the Hales, meanwhile, give him the great luxury to re-examine and discuss the moral implications of his own principles, which is equally important to him as a man of principle.

          There is a scene in the book (not in the series) wherein Thornton’s outlook is decidedly ‘Hobbesian’, likening workers to children, requiring the authoritive hand of a parent (even if tyrannical). While Thornton agrees that in some distant future, a greater ‘Utopia’ of understanding might be attained between classes; his own experience with workers up to that point has led him to a far more pessimistic view. Whether or not Thornton was ever “TRULY OPEN” to seeing the commonality between himself and his workers BEFORE THE HALES ARRIVED in Milton is, of course, open for discussion.

          Which brings us back to the character of Nicholas Higgins – who happens to possess not only the same steady principles Thornton lives by (early in the series, Higgins verbally agrees with Thornton’s violent treatment towards Stephens, for example) but through the circumstance of Boucher’s death, Higgins also embodies the more compassionate nature which Margaret espouses – something Thornton admits to not having the capacity for himself – when he takes on the responsibility of raising Boucher’s 6 children.

          So while the arrival of the Hales does bring to Thornton the felicitous opportunity to examine his own principles against a framework for commonality and “Christian ideals among men”, without the explicit example of Nicholas Higgins as concrete proof, it would have been very difficult for Thornton to simply embrace. Not only is it enough to have an idealistic strategy, but the successful implementation of that strategy must also be possible and feasible.

          So it’s just another return to the importance of the Thornton / Higgins Bro-Mance for me, although the Hales do serve an important role here as ‘messengers’ in this case.

          Sorry for thread-napping, Trudy! 😉

          *Side tangent* I’m waiting with baited breath for the next chapters of ‘In Consequence’! *Side tangent over* 😀

          • Yes, UK Expat! Higgins is indeed the vehicle in which Thornton can see how the theories espoused by the Hales might be made practical, both in witnessing Higgins’ own personal self-sacrifice of compassion and in beginning to relate to Higgins man-to-man instead of man-to-master (or Hobbesian ‘child’-to-man).
            I still think Thornton has these capacities within him naturally. He knows self-sacrifice for the welfare of others – that was/is his life, providing for his mother and sister. He knows how to value the individual despite society’s labels – he he befriends a cast-off vicar (never disparages Mr. Hale for his choices), and (in the book) he and his mother take care of a sick maid like a family member, treating her as a fellow human being worthy of their care.
            As an aside – my next chapter should be up very soon. 😉

            • Trudy –

              Yay for another chapter!

              I should mention that one of the things I appreciate most about your stories is how they make the character of ‘Margaret Hale’ so much more accessible and sympathetic than either Gaskell’s original or the series version of ‘North and South’ (since this is what causes so much grief and suffering in the novel and series).

              I’ll admit that so unsympathetic did I find the character of Margaret in the series that after the tea scene in which Margaret refuses to shake Thornton’s hand, I almost hit ‘EJECT’ on the DVD player. 😉

              So for this character enhancement, I must say a heart-felt ‘thank you’! 😀

              • Sorry for the threadnap, Servetus, and for delving into any subject you’ve not yet covered….
                Poor Margaret is easily misunderstood from watching the miniseries. After a recent comprehensive study of the book, I finds myself identifying/sympathizing with Margaret with a more clear comprehension of what she was dealing with at the time Thornton enters her life. She’s not yet 20, and everything solid about her life is fracturing. I give her a lot of sympathy for this alone, not to mention all the layers of social expectation that is thrust upon her for being a female in Victorian times. It’s a wonder she gets out if bed every day to face it all! I give her due credit. I’m glad you can see some of that in my writing.

                • good point about forgetting that she’s only 20. The series really obscures this point.

            • Hi Trudy,

              I’m going to have to give further consideration and contemplation to your representation of Margaret (as Servetus has also jotted this down as a future topic). The fastest explanation I have of the benefit of ‘your’ Margaret is that she is simply accessible to me – whereas I found myself quite at odds with the Margaret Hale of the series.

              This could, however, be due to an unfair and modern ‘instant gratification self-awareness requirement’ I have imposed upon Gaskell’s character – something I believe your version does a great deal to bridge the gap for. In short, you’ve modernized Margaret, while keeping her constrained within the Victorian structure.

              I (like Servetus) primarily identify with the character of Thornton in the series and also like Servetus, I try to evaluate my principles as they relate to my job in order to better understand how these principles may in fact serve (unknowingly) to my detriment.

              North and South had some foundation shattering lessons for me last year in that regard – and I feel I have actively corrected course in response to these conflicts – which has been to my great advantage, I should also add.

              I’m boarding a plane for LA in a few hours and will miss the global watch, but I do look forward to that next chapter of your book!


              • I think you’re right in that I’ve modernized Margaret a bit in my story, but I’ve also been able to navigate past most of that teeth-grindingly annoying part of the story where Margaret fights to the hilt her growing attraction to John, which seems so incomprehensible to the modern viewer. (Or wait, is that not what annoys?)
                I’m a sympathetic soul, having been brought up to constantly put myself in others’ shoes. I think I want my readers to understand Margaret better, so I make her think/act in a way that connects to the modern mind, but still put her in Victorian modes of modesty and restraint which have erstwhile evaporated and now seem ‘quaint.’
                I think I can identify with both Thornton and Margaret in different aspects. I adore both of them for their desire to live by their principles. Maybe the lesson of the book is keep your eyes wide open to ‘adjusting’ those principles when new enlightenment occurs, which often happens when forced to meet, acknowledge, and respect others who view and experience life differently.

                • read economically / socially, an important piece of the book (and the series) is the whole question of which of our principles continue to be valid in the “new” age where (in Marx’s terms) all that is solid melts into thin air. I don’t think either deal especially well with that, but it’s not surprising.

          • nice point about Higgins’ agreement w/Thornton about the endangerment in the mill and the potential consequences.

            also agree that Trudy makes Margaret a lot more sympathetic. Although I’m not sure that’s why I am a Trudy fanfic addict. I’d been turning that problem over in my mind for awhile. (Writes down another post topic. Have to finish this series! Have to run after nieces! Grrrr.)

        • You have a way more positive reading of Margaret than I do, Trudy, and I think the book makes her less rather than more sympathetic; more trapped in her class prejudices; more self-righteous. Also, I don’t see how Thornton isn’t practicing his moral principles with regard to his principles right from the beginning, because I don’t see how his moral principles ever require him to be in personal contact with his workers. He may develop them more, but in the series, that occurs in response to the encounter with Higgins, not in response to her. And the point taken away from the relationship with Higgins, I think, is not that Thornton should be in personal contact with all workers, but rather that he and Higgins share central personal qualities.

          Since this seasonal living with my parents thing, though, I also have developed more sympathy for her. I suppose that’s one thing that would replay in her marriage with Thornton: being forced to live in a house and support the activities of a man of crazy principle who will only justify himself when under pressure.

          • I have to agree with your perception of Margaret. I never could “get” why Thornton was attracted to her other than a physical attraction. Even though she was portrayed as a character who “always did the right thing” and she showed compassion to the Higgins, she certainly was prejudiced and self-righteous (as you described). Actually in the book the whole family was less appealing. Their flaws, father’s weakness and mother’s pessimism, were more apparent. As for her age, wouldn’t 20 have been considered almost middle-aged in the Victorian era?

            • Edith was married by 19. Margaret is 19 when they move to Milton. Not an old maid yet, still fairly prime. Maybe getting old for Regency standards?
              Margaret’s prejudices against tradespeople come from those years living with the snotty Shaws. Quite a normal class prejudice. It wouldn’t have been much of a story if she was friendly and attracted to him right away. She has to learn to think for herself and judge others as individuals, just as Thornton learns to with Higgins and vice versa. I also think she was clinging to her prejudice because: it was something she felt she ‘knew’ as she tried to make sense of everything new around her; she didn’t like Milton and didn’t want to be there – she needs something to rant about; she can keep JT safely at arm’s length labeling him as a tradesman – she can assure herself she won’t fall for him.
              I would propose that John is also rather self-righteous. Margaret is also proud of trying to abide by her own strong principles. I don’t see it so negatively. She’s certainly more admirable than Fanny! I defend Margaret only to a point. She’s not perfect either. But I think Thornton (besides her beauty and grace) is attracted to her intelligence, strength and her own strong adherence to what she feels is right – her good heart.

              • Yes, I think he shared Margaret’s flaws and that may have been a reason why he would have overlooked them except in the case of her prejudice toward the tradesman — or more specifically him.

              • I hope it’s clear from this reading of episode 4 that I also think Mr. Thornton is (often unattractively) self-righteous (and that this state of affairs is the basis of both my attraction to him and my suspicions about him). If not, I certainly need to go back and make that clear.

                20 is not an “old maid” by Victorian standards, quite — but it’s certainly the age at which all her friends would have been getting married. The series obfuscates all this a little via Fanny’s statement that she will never get married, which mentions Margaret’s “older” age. My students always have real problems processing that a 20 year old woman would have no problem giving a 30 year old man such set-downs — probably because US-Americans have such bizarre notions about class.

                Class and its influence is something the series varies in its success at portraying. At points it’s really successful (as in the marriage proposal scene), but the decision to put the violent factory scene near the beginning was a big risk in light of this problem — it’s hard for the American viewer in particular to read class issues into Margaret’s dislike of Thornton because they think, more or less, than any kind woman who saw that kind of violence would simply dislike the person who committed it.

                • Servetus –

                  I agree that a modern American audience might specifically have problems making the temporal and cultural leaps necessary to identify with the class issues of 19th century England (not to mention basic reminders of gender expectations during that time period – as Trudy explains after her comprehensive re-reading of the book).

                  It might have helped me greatly if a pre-cursor explanation came on-screen before the start of N&S – you know, something like the marquee words floating in space preceding the start of ‘Star Wars’ ;).

                  I’ve worked in London for the past 3 years and the subtle ‘accepted bias among classes’ STILL grates on my nerves unbearably at times (this is MY bias as an American working in London), so I can definitely relate to how as Americans we have our own cultural identity and beliefs – which can then put us in direct conflict with accepting the constraints and mores that define our British friends.

                  • A modern American audience might find the class issues hard to identify with, but growing up in a small southern town I had no problem at all identifying with the bias among classes. There was bias among the classes and races. Of course that was over 30 years ago and times they are a changin….thankfully!

                    • yeah, actually, the racial situation in certain parts of the U.S. isn’t a bad parallel — justifying certain kinds of hierarchies that militate against both age and economic status as rationales for particular kinds of subordination.

  7. I’m just happy that you brought some of my unconscious thoughts to the surface and added some new ones. 😀 thanks.

  8. Thank you for all these posts which are so thoughtful but also entertaining. I have 2 thoughts I would like to share.

    First RA. What a gift he is. I had always liked TV, but had never thought of it as art, in the same way as a painting in an art gallery (especially given the crass inanity of reality TV). But he has opened my eyes through his performances and I’m really grateful.

    Second, I will be really interested to see your posts on the rest of episode 4. My analysis (as far as it went) was that by this point all the things he had seen as the bedrock of his life (his principles) had failed Thornton. Hale was gone,Margaret had spurned him and then been unveiled as inferior to his expectation of her, and most importantly, hard work and devotion to his (perceived) duty as a mill owner had failed to secure its financial success. So following the mill’s failure he is ready to travel to Helston, to see what else life might have to offer, and that then leads to the final scene.

    (Would Victorians really have kissed passionately in public?).

    • Thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog!

      You’ll find plenty of people here and around the web who agree with you about Armitage.

      I don’t know if you read all the way to the beginning of this series, but this particular group of post is gauged specifically as a non-romantic reading of the series. So I doubt I’ll come to the conclusion you’re hinting it, although I wouldn’t reject it out of hand as a reading. These posts are really about the factors that caused me to start watching this series nonstop for three weeks in January of 2010. Hence it is a very individual reading!

      Hope you enjoy the reading and meeting people here to talk to.

  9. What did Thronton want, require or expect of those with whom he had relations, which developed into more personal relationships? Thinking mostly of the film, but the book with its more reticence about personal relationships is in the background. Thornton’s personal relationships, in the film, appear to have to have been with his mother, the shadow of his his father, and just providing for his sister. Until the Hales intruded on his demesme. At which point, it seems that a wider world opened, and one that was not completely in conformance with the opinions, principles of the world of the mill Master.

    What did he expect Margaret to offer him? What did he expect from Mr. Hale? The “superficial” parapace of an educated gentleman? Of Higgins, who intruded on his “Master” image of wrought principle, linked with his own determination to meet a challenging and tranisioning age. What was he to make of Higgins, and his family? What did he expect of Higgins? To whose world, he had been introduced by Margaret? Even when Margaret’s “virtue” was indicated by Higgins “her brother!”. Was Thornton not still caught in an evolving world.

    And, above all, what did he expct – exepct – of a wife. (And, of course, how might Margaret have fulfilled such expectations when they married? Well, that is for others. Mrs. Gaskell didn’t write further.

    But what did Thornton want and need from these new and important relationships? Particularly Margaret?

    • Since we already discussed the “what does Margaret represent to Thornton” question, I’m tabling a response to this problem until I get to the romance theme.

      I don’t know if I’m on record as having said this, but I would not have been optimistic for the success of this marriage. Maybe I’ll get to writing more about that soon.

      • Just imagine Mrs Thornton as a mother in law! Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. And I don’t think Margaret would have much in common with Fanny either. John and Margaret might have been in love, but blending the families would have been much trickier.

        • Interesting comment. My mother is a lot like Mrs. Thornton, and I don’t think she’s a very good mother-in-law by most lights. That is, she’s not terrible. But my sister-in-law feels only messages of “you’re not good enough,” which is really hard on her. I’ve tried to speak to my mom about this, to little avail.

  10. @Fitzg: What did Thornton want from Margaret?
    I got the impression that predominantly he wanted to create many new and noisy Thorntons . 😉

    • OMG – I LOVE this response, Joanna! I am in complete agreement with your impression. 😀

      • Ha ha! RA portrayed that repressed sexual thing very well, didn’t he? He most definitely did want her in that way. But for me, I think what he really wants is her companionship. You get the impression that this man has had no real friends all these years while he’s worked and struggled. Finally, he meets a woman who he perceives could meet all his needs: intellectual, emotional, and physical. At last! – someone who he can talk to and who, he feels, might understand him because they are both so similar. I think he craves her to wipe away his loneliness in every way.

        • I think we have to be careful on this terrain (sex + the Victorians). I think *Armitage* did a great job of suggesting that Thornton wanted her sexually. It also makes the series fun to watch and I would never deny that those pregnant glances are a major reason for me to enjoy watching it. Richard Armitage playing “I want you” is a major source of positivity for me ever since I discovered it. However, although obviously the Victorians / Thornton experienced sexual desire, I would read it somewhat differently historically.

          • “Richard Armitage playing ‘I want you’.” These words give me goosebumps! He does do it so well, doesn’t he?!!

          • “…although obviously the Victorians / Thornton experienced sexual desire, I would read it somewhat differently historically.”

            Servetus, I SO HAVE my copybook open and pen at-the-ready to take notes on the details of this future post (perhaps it can be a sub-partition of the N&S romance angle?) 😀

            No rush, obviously – I still have a mountain of commentary to develop in response to existing posts – but just wanted to say this is probably a very common question among viewers of N&S (for example, RAnewcomer asked this same question above) .

            I suppose any observations you can provide as Historian would be appreciated. 😉

            • it’s been on my list for awhile. It was actually a question on the list of possibles for my doctoral exams, back in the day, so I have notes on the literature on the topic through 1994. I’ve been meaning to write about it but I need to make sure that I’m up to date on what scholars are saying now. (I have an idea of how the scholarship has changed but I want to be responsible.) I will say that the wedding night scenes in Trudy’s fanfic come pretty close to comprehending how two Victorians from higher social spheres might have experienced sex if they were in love when they married.

  11. @Joanna Two sons – heir and spare. Two or three daughters to spoil, not too many to marry off. Noisy kids? Seen, but not heard, when working. Mill noise is white noise to Thornton. Kids’ noise – hmnn… – “Margaret!”:D

    • yeah, the Tommy Boucher scenes seem to be taken as an index in fanfic that he would be this really great father. Maybe. There are arguments in both directions.

  12. […] be primarily about work. Previous parts of this piece: episode(s) 4(a)1 and 4(a)2 and 4(a)3 and 4(a)4. Apologies for the delay on this. There are also some great comments on the posts in these series. […]

  13. […] based on the theme of work. Previous parts of this piece: episode(s) 4(a)1 and 4(a)2 and 4(a)3 and 4(a)4 and 4(a)5.  There are also some great comments on the posts in these series. Do not neglect them; […]

  14. […] headed in that direction since our tomorrow is their today. Anyway, speaking of Australians, Mezz remarked the other day that “Richard Armitage playing ‘I want you’” was one of his best […]

  15. […] To episode 4(a)4, which is coming tonight after we’re done with all the solemnities and festivities of the day. […]

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