Hello, Friends! It's my pleasure to be the next stop on the Northern Rain Blog Tour! Nicole Clarkston is visiting with a comparison between Elizabeth Gaskell and two women from Gaskell's North & South, Hannah Thornton and Margaret Hale. Followed by an excerpt of her new book Northern Rain which is a North & South Variation! (I love variations!) Make sure you make it down to the bottom of this post for giveaway details!!
Elizabeth Gaskell and Hannah Thornton
Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of North & South, created some remarkably deep, passionate female characters who still continue to fascinate the modern reader. Although it seems unfair to examine only one work of such a talented writer, Gaskell’s most famous book boasts a number of interesting personalities. One of the most unique, in my opinion, is the person of Hannah Thornton.
In all her crusty magnificence, Hannah Thornton is the character the reader just can’t make up their mind about at first. Is she truly as jealous and stern as she appears? How in the world does her son put up with her, and what a dreadful consequence for Margaret Hale to have to share a house with her if she marries that draconian woman’s son!
A careful reading of North & South reveals that, in fact, Hannah Thornton may have more layers of complexity to her than any of the other characters. She is an utterly exquisite creation, and certainly crafting her personality was a labour requiring sensitivity and much care. Margaret Hale is set as the contrast against her, and she, too, is a person of many facets. Where does a writer acquire such a measure of experience to so accurately and elegantly bring to life these varied characters? A quick summary of notable events in Gaskell’s life, compared with some highlights from North & South, sheds a little light.
At just over a year old, Elizabeth’s mother dies, and she goes to live with her aunt.
Margaret Hale spends many of her formative years in the home of her aunt. Her mother also dies, but she is a young woman by then.
When she is twelve, her only brother joins the Merchant Navy. Six years later, he disappears at sea, never to be seen again.
Margaret’s only brother leaves for the navy while she is a young child, and because of his actions there, can never return.
At age eighteen, Elizabeth’s father dies. Although she is a young woman by now, she is basically an orphan. Elizabeth remains with family in London, but does do some traveling.
Margaret’s father dies when she is still a young woman, leaving her essentially an orphan who goes to live again in London.
In industrial Manchester, she meets her future husband- a Unitarian minister like her father. They marry a year later.
Margaret also meets the love of her life in an industrial city. He is not a minister, but a highly moral manufacturer who eagerly befriended her father, the former parson turned Dissenter.
Her first child is stillborn. Interestingly, her second living daughter she names Margaret, probably after her mother-in-law.
Hannah Thornton lost a daughter to fever in early childhood.
Her fourth living child, a boy, dies of a fever at ten months of age. Four daughters survive.
Hannah Thornton’s only daughter is said to have a weak constitution, but her son is strong.
After 22 years of marriage to a minister, working among the poor, and building connections to some of the elite writers of her day, she publishes North & South.
The characters are constantly torn between the needs of the poor and the pressures and expectations of the middle and upper classes.
The heroine of the novel, Margaret Hale, immediately leaps off the page when we look at the plain facts of Gaskell’s early life. It is clear that Margaret’s life is largely modeled after Gaskell’s own. In Margaret, we see a youthful, innocent Gaskell, who has been gently bred and born, and is still appalled at the squalor she sees in her new industrial surroundings. She at first recoils, then flings herself wholeheartedly into social concerns wholly unbecoming to her status as a lady.
That is all well and good, but what do we do with Hannah Thornton? There are a few details above which seem obvious enough. Gaskell was said to have begun writing to deal with the heartbreak of losing her only son. Hannah, too, has experienced much grief and loss. Besides losing one child and having another who is not strong (in body or in spirit), Hannah Thornton suffered the tragedy and subsequent disgrace of her husband’s financial ruin and suicide. These events plunge this fascinating character deep into a world of hardship, where she had to rely on only her grit and determination- coupled with a hearty measure of faithful dedication on the part of her son- to claw her way back to respectability.
Gaskell spent much of her life in two worlds. She was well educated, with close friends in the literary community as well as the Unitarian Dissenters. She spoke of what she called the “millocracy”- wealthy tradesmen and their families who dressed in ball gowns and jewelry to make the social elite of London turn green with envy. At the same time, she was fully immersed into her husband’s business of teaching and ministering to the very poorest of the poor. The contrast must have been staggeringly convicting.
Gaskell spent her influence wisely- that is, when she was not properly chastising the upper classes with her scathing treatises on society, cloaked as fictional works. She employed her connections to obtain subscriptions to assist in the social and living condition reforms that William Gaskell championed. With such a humanitarian bent to her own constant efforts, we would naturally look for such thoughts and expressions in her heroines. Margaret Hale steps right into line. Hannah Thornton, on the other hand, does not at first seem to.
Hannah’s main interest in life is seeing her son successful and respected. It is only natural, given what we know of her character from the book. Her son was all she had left, and he became the man his father should have been for her sake. However, I personally find it more than a little interesting that this woman of fierce, almost savage pride in her son was created by a woman who lost hers. In this, Gaskell creates one who is almost the antithesis of herself.
Hannah Thornton speaks of the working class as her son’s adversary, and therefore her own as well. One gets the impression, after listening to her, that anyone who does not make the sacrifices she and her son made, and who does not in the end find the success earned by hard work, are not worthy of her respect. We would not expect to see Mrs Thornton volunteering to teach young mill workers to read, as Gaskell and her husband did. We are certainly not going to see Hannah Thornton scolding the masters for their harsh treatment of their workers, as Elizabeth Gaskell did in her books. She is entirely set against anyone but her son, and if their will should not be aligned with his, they could count Hannah Thornton as an enemy.
It would be tempting to leave her there, but Gaskell does not allow us that. Again and again, Hannah Thornton displays a nobility that we must admire. Early in the story, she tells Margaret how she went boldly and alone to warn a man for whom she had no particular regard that his life was in danger during a long-ago strike. She led her household in nightly devotions, faithfully instructing and shepherding as she could. She referred Martha to the Hales as a house-maid, and later in the course of the story, it comes out that Mrs Thornton had shown remarkable generosity and kindness to Martha’s family. She kept promises to Mrs Hale and to her son which she would much rather not have, for they required a sacrifice of her pride. We are also repeatedly reminded of the gentle, loving mother she had been to her son. He drew sustenance from the truth and wisdom she poured into him, and when facing financial devastation once more, he begged her to recall those old days and to encourage him once more.
By the end of the story, a thoughtful reader might look at Hannah Thornton and conclude that many of Gaskell’s principles really did find their way into her character. Perhaps it might be said that Margaret Hale reflected Gaskell’s outspoken, progressive ideals, while Hannah Thornton comprised the backbone of Gaskell’s morals. She has essentially the same sort of strength and idealism, but she has been so shaped by the harshness of life’s circumstances that we barely recognize her.
Is it possible that Gaskell is leaving us a subtle message here, that a small twist of fate can alter a person so profoundly that we must examine them very closely to understand their motives? Whether Gaskell intended such a concept or not, I find great enjoyment in chipping away at this interesting character. She is a remarkable creation of depth and complexity, and I believe she deserves a great deal of the credit for the scope and intricacy of Gaskell’s most famous work.
Excerpt from Chapter 11 of Northern Rain
Mr Thornton, good evening!” Genevieve quickly lifted her hand for him to take, and this time she was not disappointed.
Margaret’s wide eyes flew to his face. How foolish of her not to have expected him to be in attendance! It was easier now to speak with him in private, or if she were prepared, but an unexpected meeting in public was a great deal more than she had anticipated. She took a deep breath, calming herself. Who was she to be so rattled?
“Good evening, Miss Hamilton,” he returned the greeting smoothly, but his attention moved to Margaret even as he withdrew his hand from Genevieve.
Extending it in his customary handshake to Margaret, his voice carefully measured, he smiled. “Good evening, Miss Hale.” Before he could stop it, his gaze swept from her strong, delicate arms to her bare, sculptured shoulders, held square and proud, and brushed lightly over her exposed décolletage before returning to her face. It was a treat to again see her so attired.
Margaret caught her breath at his warm touch. The way he was looking at her... it was like his own dinner party all over again. She forced herself to speak, but her voice trembled slightly. “Good evening, Mr Thornton. How does your mother this evening?”
“Very well, Miss Hale. I believe she is just through the next room.” He stopped short of the quip he had been about to make regarding his mother’s intentions to keep a close eye on Fanny. Margaret might, perhaps, have found it amusing. He would admit to a nearly insatiable desire to see her laugh again, but he had to remind himself that he was not alone with her.
Genevieve, watchful now, observed the shy smiles and tense greetings the pair exchanged with a twinge of displeasure. Goodness, they were both nearly blushing! She had looked for such a reaction from Margaret, but not from Mr Thornton himself. Clearly Emmeline was right, that there was, or had been, something between them. A diversion was certainly in order.
“Oh, look, Margaret, just over there!” She placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “That is Mr Draper, the gentleman you wished to meet. You will excuse us, will you not, Mr Thornton? Come, let me- oh! Mother, what is it?”
Mrs Hamilton, looking greatly disturbed, approached and leaned near to her daughter with low words. The others watched her face change to a look of annoyance.
Genevieve at length turned back to them, after a brief struggle to compose her features. “I beg you would excuse me, there is a matter my mother in which my mother begs my assistance.” She smiled at Margaret and dipped gracefully to Thornton as she took her leave.
Thornton was elated to have Margaret all to himself for the moment. Never before had it required his concerted efforts not to stare at a woman, but when Margaret Hale was at his side, he could not drink in her presence enough. Everything from her rich, heavy coils of shining dark hair, framing delicately around her angelic face, to the form-fitting white gown he remembered so well... ah, here was the Creator’s masterpiece. Except... yes, except that she was not quite perfect. He must remember that, and not make a fool of himself again!
He led her to the sideboard. “May I help you to a drink before dinner, Miss Hale?”
Margaret glanced hesitantly over her shoulder before answering.
“Your father is still talking to Mr Hamilton,” he supplied. “I believe he has already seen us and will find
us again shortly.”
She looked back in mild surprise. “Of course. Thank you,” she said as she accepted the drink he offered. She took a hurried sip, for no other reason than to break his intense eye contact.
“I was pleased to discover that you and your father were in attendance this evening,” he continued
lightly. “It is always agreeable to find good friends in such a gathering, is it not?”
Her eyes darted back to his strangely. She swallowed hard and lowered her glass. “It is, indeed, Mr
“I did not realize that you were such intimates with Miss Hamilton.”
“I have only just become acquainted with her. I believe we shall come to be very good friends.”
“Do you? I would not have imagined her to your taste,” he mused thoughtlessly.
“I beg your pardon!” she set her glass down a little more roughly than she had intended. “What business
is it of yours?”
“None at all, Miss Hale,” he backpedaled quickly. “Perhaps I am mistaken in the sort of company you prefer.”
“What can possibly make you think I would not be pleased to know an educated, well-traveled, and intelligent lady of nearly my own age?”
“It is not the peripherals, but the particulars I think of. Her disposition strikes me as quite different from your own.”
Margaret was truly becoming irritated now. “If you know her so well, then, do enlighten me! I am curious about the nature of your relationship with the lady, Mr Thornton.” She tipped her chin up and stared him down.
His eyes widened and he wished he could tug at his collar again. “I can claim no such intimacy as you presume, Miss Hale. My opinion is merely based on observing you both. I make it my business to learn characters quickly.”
She cocked a brow. “And have you never been mistaken, Mr Thornton?”
He gulped and set his drink down to purchase him a second. “I have, Miss Hale,” he murmured quietly. He raised his eyes again to hers. “I hope I have in some measure made amends for my wrong assumptions.”
Her expression softened. She inclined her head gently, allowing him the point without a verbal concession. Thornton reclaimed his drink and began swirling it as a distraction, and soon Margaret did
likewise. They stood uncomfortably for a moment, looking anywhere but at each other.
Margaret was about to make her excuse when he spoke again. “Did Miss Hamilton intend to introduce you to Mr Draper?”
She looked up in surprise. “Yes, he apparently operates some sort of a charity. I asked to learn more of it.”
He pressed his lips tightly together, looking back at his drink.
Margaret lifted that delicate brow again. “You do not approve of Mr Draper,” she observed.
“I think he could do better with his time,” he answered in a neutral tone.
“Better than helping his fellow man?” she challenged.
He looked down without speaking for a moment. At length, he replied, “There are charitable organizations which are useful, and those which are not, Miss Hale. I would not like to think of you wasting all of your worthy intentions.”
“Something is better than nothing,” she insisted. She glared blankly across the room, seeking to control her tongue. “You may take books to one family, Mr Thornton, but what of the others?”
He turned sharply in mute surprise.
“It was good of you,” she continued more gently, “but there is so much more to be done. I must applaud Mr Draper’s efforts, even if they yet bear little fruit.”
His face darkened. “An organization such as that is no better than the man at the head. You gain little by condescension and compromise.”
Margaret felt a swell of fury. “You speak so of another gentleman! You, who have done so little yourself! How do you dare, sir?”
Little! He bristled. “I only try to warn you, Miss Hale! Do you presume to have never been deceived or misled?” He leveled a significant gaze.
She narrowed her eyes and stepped nearer. “Never, sir. I will thank you to allow me to depend upon my own judgement!”
He rolled his eyes and turned away in disgust. She, who had so many times proven herself wise and mature beyond her years, could be so naive! She seemed to have a terrible knack for trusting the wrong people.
A laugh from another corner of the room brought him the sudden realization that they had once again been standing toe to toe in a heated debate. Their voices might be low, but all of the room could see if they cared to. “Let us speak of this another time, Miss Hale. I do not wish to argue with you at such a gathering as this.”
She glared at him. “You are correct, sir. It is so much more pleasant to argue in privacy.” She handed him her drink, reclaimed her elegant bearing, and swept away.
There is nothing like a long walk in the rain to guarantee a little privacy… unless the last person you wish to encounter happens also to be in search of solitude.
John Thornton is a man of heavy responsibilities who has many things on his mind, but the most troublesome of them all is Margaret Hale. She wants nothing to do with him, and he wishes he could feel the same. When a moment of vulnerability allows her a glimpse into his heart, she begins to see him very differently.
Is something so simple as friendship even possible after all that has passed between them? Thornton has every good reason to move on, not the least of which is the lovely Genevieve Hamilton and her wealthy father. Will Thornton act according to duty and accept an opportunity to save his mill, or will he take a chance on love, hoping to change Margaret’s mind?
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Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask).
Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.
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Blog Tour Schedule:
7/8-9: Launch Vignette & Giveaway at Fly High
7/ 10: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
7/11: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
7/12: Author Interview at More Than Thornton
7/14: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
7/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
7/17: Vignette & Giveaway at Laughing With Lizzie
7/18: Author/Character Interview at From Pemberley to Milton
7/19: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at So little time…
7/20: Vignette & Giveaway at Stories from the Past
7/21: Vignette & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
7/26: Guest Post & Giveaway at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life
9/10: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
(The date is correct for the review at The Calico Critic. It will have a separate giveaway as the ‘official’ blog tour and its giveaway will end on July 28th.)
* * * GIVEAWAY * * *
It's giveaway time! Wow! There's a lot up for grabs! Nicole Clarkston is generously giving away paperbacks and e-copies of her new book, plus audiobooks of a couple of her past books. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below! This is a group giveaway and winners will be picked at the end of the Blog Tour.
Many thanks to Nicole Clarkston for stopping by today! I enjoyed seeing the similarities to Gaskell and her two characters, Hannah Thorton and Margaret Hale! And for having such a generous giveaway!
Also, thanks go to Janet Taylor of More Agreeably Engaged for organizing this blog tour!
Remember, to enter the giveaway you must fill out the Rafflecopter above!
Please, show some love to Nicole by leaving a comment! Thanks!