In Chapter 3 of North and South by I had no idea what was going on. I could not have told you the name of anyone, except maybe Margaret. Was Margaret the one who got married in Chapter 1? I recall something about a wedding and her mom not coming because of clothing.
People, not good. Not good at all. So, for the first time in Book Club history, I started a book over; and I’m so glad I did! I am not sure why I missed everything the first round through, but I’m guessing I was thinking of other things as I read and (clearly) not paying attention.
Now I know that it was Margaret’s cousin Edith who married Captain Lennox for love and that Margaret’s mother, Mrs. Hale, is sister to Edith’s mother Mrs. Shaw. Margaret’s dad came to fetch her after nine years of living with the Shaws and having lessons with Edith.
In the first 13 chapters we also met:
—Henry Lennox (brother to Captain Lennox)
—Janet (sister to Captain Lennox)
—Fredrick (Margaret’s rebel brother)
—Dixon (long time servant of the Hale’s)
—John Thornton (a business man in Milton, Mr. Hale’s contact in Milton)
—Mrs. Thornton (John’s mom)
—Fanny Thornton (John’s sister)
—Bessy (a poor girl in Milton)
I’ve noticed four themes that I will be curious to watch:
Since the title is North and South, it is fitting to list this one first. In Chapter 10 Margaret tells Mr. Thornton “’Now, in the South we have our poor, but there is not that terrible expression in their countenances of a sullen sense of injustice which I see here. You do not know the South, Mr. Thornton,’ she concluded, collapsing into a determined silence, and angry with herself for having said so much. ‘And may I say, you do not know the North?’ asked he, with an inexpressible gentleness in his tone as he saw that he had really hurt her.”
Up to this point, it is understandable that Margaret and her mother have noticed all that is unpleasant about Milton. Going from London and a certain level of high society (Margaret) and the hamlet of Helstone and being a pastor’s wife (Mrs. Hale) to a factory town would be quite the adjustment for anyone.
Even within the Hale family, we get a sense of class tension between how Mrs. Hale feels about her circumstances when she compares them to her London based sister, Mrs. Shaw. When the Hales were still living in Helstone, they looked for ways to help the poor that lived there. But it is when they move to Milton and Margaret comments often on the “factory town” and how dirty it is, that this theme of class seems to jump to a new level.
Margaret has such distain for Mr. Thornton because he is a tradesman. Even when Mr. Hale tells Margaret and her mother about John’s background—father committing suicide leaving large debts, John’s resilient mother moving to a cheaper area and John apprenticing, years later returning to Milton and John quietly paying off all of his father’s debts—Margaret doesn’t seem overly impressed.
When Mrs. Thornton and Fanny visited the Hales in Chapter 12, the feeling was mutual!
Will it be Henry Lennox or John Thornton that wins Margaret’s heart?
I would say, “Obviously it will be one of them.” But since this was originally written in serial format, thus the cliff hanging endings at each chapter that tease me to read the beginning of the next chapter, maybe another fella will be introduced. We are, after all, still early in the book.
Of all the themes, this is the one I am most curious to watch. And the most pained. I am not entirely clear what Mr. Hale’s crisis of faith is, since he did say, “Margaret, how I love the holy Church from which I am about to be shut out!” He also said, “I suffer for conscience sake.” I think we will learn more about this crisis of faith as the book unfolds.
Also, if one of you can explain it, please do!
I have known a small handful of people who had a fairly serious faith crisis while on the field (and we have written about it before too!). Like Mr. Hale, it is one thing to have a faith disorientation or shift, but when you are in full time ministry, it can be isolating, especially confusing, and costly. As I said, I’m curious to see how this theme unfolds.
These are not to the “theme” level, but I
- Wonder what has happened to Fredrick and why he can’t return.
- Do not like how Margaret’s parents triangulate her. They both confide in her when they should confide in each other. AND I know this is a novel and she is the main character so this is a way of furthering the plot and keeping us (the readers) informed. Still, I don’t like it.
- Am curious how much editorial license Dickens takes. I read that he did not like her original title (Margaret Hale) and insisted on North and South. It is a better title! I’m curious where else he might have left his fingerprints.
What stood out to you? Next week we will discuss Chapters 14-26. You’re also welcome to join in this Summer Reading Challenge.
- June—North and South by
- July—Hope was hereby Joan Bauer
- August—My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
- September—Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali by Kris Holloway