Normally on Saturday I host an author of a recently published novel. This week’s author stood me up, but to be honest, the timing is pretty good because I’m getting ready to start posting Becoming Mrs. Thornton, my sequel to North and South, the 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. I want to share the first meeting between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, partly because this scene is vastly different than the scene in the BBC mini-series. Quite frankly, I think the filmed scene, where Mr. Thornton beats up an employee for smoking in the mill, is the only point in the screenplay that does a real disservice to Gaskell’s characters and story. In the book, Mr. Thornton is strict, severe and shows a fiery temper at times, but he is never violent.
In any case, here is Gaskell’s original first meeting between Mr. Thornton, who owns a cotton mill in Milton, and the confident Miss Hale, a new resident in the area who is helping her father find a house to rent.
Her father took her through the entrance of the hotel, and leaving her at the foot of the staircase, went to the address of the landlord of the house they had fixed upon. Just as Margaret had her hand on the door of their sitting-room, she was followed by a quick-stepping waiter:
'I beg your pardon, ma'am. The gentleman was gone so quickly, I had no time to tell him. Mr. Thornton called almost directly after you left; and, as I understood from what the gentleman said, you would be back in an hour, I told him so, and he came again about five minutes ago, and said he would wait for Mr. Hale. He is in your room now, ma'am.'
'Thank you. My father will return soon, and then you can tell him.'Margaret opened the door and went in with the straight, fearless, dignified presence habitual to her. She felt no awkwardness; she had too much the habits of society for that. Here was a person come on business to her father; and, as he was one who had shown himself obliging, she was disposed to treat him with a full measure of civility. Mr. Thornton was a good deal more surprised and discomfited than she. Instead of a quiet, middle-aged clergyman, a young lady came forward with frank dignity,--a young lady of a different type to most of those he was in the habit of seeing. Her dress was very plain: a close straw bonnet of the best material and shape, trimmed with white ribbon; a dark silk gown, without any trimming or flounce; a large Indian shawl, which hung about her in long heavy folds, and which she wore as an empress wears her drapery. He did not understand who she was, as he caught the simple, straight, unabashed look, which showed that his being there was of no concern to the beautiful countenance, and called up no flush of surprise to the pale ivory of the complexion. He had heard that Mr. Hale had a daughter, but he had imagined that she was a little girl.
'Mr. Thornton, I believe!' said Margaret, after a half-instant's pause, during which his unready words would not come. 'Will you sit down. My father brought me to the door, not a minute ago, but unfortunately he was not told that you were here, and he has gone away on some business. But he will come back almost directly. I am sorry you have had the trouble of calling twice.'
Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared, yet now he calmly took a seat at her bidding.
'Do you know where it is that Mr. Hale has gone to? Perhaps I might be able to find him.'
'He has gone to a Mr. Donkin's in Canute Street. He is the land-lord of the house my father wishes to take in Crampton.'
Mr. Thornton knew the house. He had seen the advertisement, and been to look at it, in compliance with a request of Mr. Bell's that he would assist Mr. Hale to the best of his power: and also instigated by his own interest in the case of a clergyman who had given up his living under circumstances such as those of Mr. Hale. Mr. Thornton had thought that the house in Crampton was really just the thing; but now that he saw Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales, in spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the time of his looking it over.
Margaret could not help her looks; but the short curled upper lip, the round, massive up-turned chin, the manner of carrying her head, her movements, full of a soft feminine defiance, always gave strangers the impression of haughtiness. She was tired now, and would rather have remained silent, and taken the rest her father had planned for her; but, of course, she owed it to herself to be a gentlewoman, and to speak courteously from time to time to this stranger; not over-brushed, nor over-polished, it must be confessed, after his rough encounter with Milton streets and crowds. She wished that he would go, as he had once spoken of doing, instead of sitting there, answering with curt sentences all the remarks she made. She had taken off her shawl, and hung it over the back of her chair. She sat facing him and facing the light; her full beauty met his eye; her round white flexile throat rising out of the full, yet lithe figure; her lips, moving so slightly as she spoke, not breaking the cold serene look of her face with any variation from the one lovely haughty curve; her eyes, with their soft gloom, meeting his with quiet maiden freedom. He almost said to himself that he did not like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he told himself he was--a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a refinement about him. Her quiet coldness of demeanour he interpreted into contemptuousness, and resented it in his heart to the pitch of almost inclining him to get up and go away, and have nothing more to do with these Hales, and their superciliousness.
Just as Margaret had exhausted her last subject of conversation--and yet conversation that could hardly be called which consisted of so few and such short speeches--her father came in, and with his pleasant gentlemanly courteousness of apology, reinstated his name and family in Mr. Thornton's good opinion.
END OF EXCERPT
So begins the two years of tempestuous interactions between Margaret and John. If you are curious enough to read all of North and South, it is available in the public domain at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4276/pg4276.txt and is also free at many ebook vendors.
I am planning to start posting my sequel, Becoming Mrs. Thornton, on January 29, 2014 and will add a chapter weekly until all 23 are posted. (Each segment is only about 1,000 words, which may drive some of you crazy, but I want to make it last!)