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Literature / North and South

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An 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.

After Richard Hale, a minister, leaves the Church of England, the Hale family moves from the genteel South of England to the industrial North. The story deals with clashes between the cultures of North and South, the workers and their masters, and between protagonist Margaret Hale and the wealthy local factory owner John Thornton.

The book has twice been adapted for television, most recently in 2004, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Although it was poorly publicised, it was a surprise smash hit with BBC viewers, who ended up crashing the BBC website with massive amounts of rave comments.

Not to be confused with the John Jakes trilogy of novels and miniseries of the same name (which starred Patrick Swayze), set in and around the era of the American Civil War. Or the Strategy/Action video game.


North and South contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: More like Adaptational Jerkassery, really, in the case of Henry Lennox, who is much nicer in the book than he is in the 2004 adaptation.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Margaret Hale and John Thornton first meet when she is 18 and he is 30.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Margaret Thornton, at least what some characters think of her as. The Thorntons seem to get the most affected by the "aloof" aspect of her personality.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Margaret has to deal with this twice: Henry Lennox at the start of the book, then John Thornton in the middle of the book. Mr. Thornton's 2nd confession by the end of the book is a lot more successful.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Fanny Thornton to John Thornton.
  • Ascended Extra: Mr. Bell appears more frequently in the 2004 adaptation than in the book. His fondness for Margaret is expanded upon in more detail in the adaptation, so it makes more sense for him to pass on his significant wealth to her.
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  • As the Good Book Says...: Naturally, due to Mr. Hale being an ex-clergyman and Margaret being a faithful clergyman's daughter. Nicholas Higgins receives a Bible from Margaret as her farewell gift when she leaves Milton.
  • Back to School: After leaving the church, Mr. Hale makes his living educating Milton boys who have come back to their studies after spending most of their youth in trade. Mr. Thornton is one of his oldest and brightest students.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In the beginning of the book, Mrs. Hale grows tired of Helstone and wants to leave. That's exactly what Mr. Hale wants to do—unfortunately for her, he's taking his family to the distant, industrial town of Milton.
  • Belated Love Epiphany: Margaret doesn't realize that she's in love with Mr. Thornton until months after she's left Milton and she has the time to think through why she values his opinion so highly.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, in a style that might be familiar thanks to another book.
  • Benevolent Boss: Hard to find in Milton. Mr. Thornton gets closer to this near the end, but he is cut short by his bankruptcy. Margaret helps him out.
  • Big Damn Kiss: In the adaptation. One of the most famous in period drama. Margaret practically faints. So does the audience.
  • Big Fancy House: The Thornton house, befitting their nouveau-riche status. Subverted in that instead of being out in the country with the kind of expansive grounds to complement it, it’s placed right next to their noisy cotton mill.
  • Big Secret: Margaret is seen at a train station at night with a man. She cannot explain to the Thorntons that he was her brother, as he is wanted for treason and was not supposed to be in the country.
  • Book-Ends: In the 2004 adaptation, at least. The story begins with Margaret going to Milton unwillingly after a decision her father made for their family. The story ends with Margaret willingly going back to Milton with Mr. Thornton.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Fanny Thornton, John's sister. She meets Margaret not long after John talks in length about his difficult childhood, and Margaret wonders if maybe Fanny was too young to remember the hard times.
  • Break the Haughty: Both John Thornton and Margaret go through this.
    • John comes around on his attitudes regarding his workers near the end of the book through getting to know some of his workers, Nicholas Higgins in particular.
    • While Margaret suffers through the loss of her parents and father figure over the course of the book's events, it's her lying to a constable to save Frederick that ultimately breaks her as she realizes she's been a Hypocrite and that the lie was cowardly.
  • Bumbling Dad: Played less comically than usual. Mr. Hale focuses on his studies and his work, and leaves managing his house's affairs to Margaret. Despite spending the most time between them, he misses that Mr. Thornton likes Margaret until long after she had already rejected him.
  • The City vs. the Country: The North and the South, or the industrial north of England and the genteel south.
  • Canon Foreigner: Ann Latimer in the 2004 adaptation.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Margaret Hale, with her own confusion in navigating through Milton mirroring the tumultuous time of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Most of the cotton mill owners are this. When talking about installing a fan to extract cotton dust, most mill owners mention that it is costly and they don't want to bother, despite the fact that it can reduce chances of lung disease in the workers.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: When they try, Margaret and Mrs Hale struggle to find the words to praise Milton with. Mrs Thornton notices.
  • Dances and Balls: A total absence of these in Milton; Margaret only enjoys them in the beginning of the book, while in London and again when she returns to London after the death of her parents.
  • Death Glare: Mr. Thornton gives a mean one when Mr. Bell teases him about the affections he supposes he has for Margaret.
  • The Ditz:
    • Fanny Thornton. The 2004 adaptation gave her a rather chav accent to hammer the point through.
    • Edith as well, overlapping with It's All About Me. This trait becomes more obvious when Margaret returns to her Aunt Shaw's house after her father's death, and Margaret starts to tire of London life.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Despite their reduced circumstances, the Higgins refuse handouts from Margaret.
  • Doting Parent: Mrs. Thornton treats her more irresponsible, silly daughter, Fanny, with more kindness than she shows her son. However, what she lacks in affection to her son she makes up for in the strength of trust between them.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • John Thornton's father before the events of the book, after losing a lot of money to speculation. John's own hesitation to get into speculation is due to his father.
    • Boucher, after the riot at Marlborough Mill gets violent. He drowns himself in a shallow creek.
  • The Dung Ages: In the 2004 adaptation, Milton is grey and dirty.
  • Dutiful Son: Mr. Thornton to his mother, in line with his Momma's Boy status.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time the viewer and Margaret meet Thornton in the 2004 adaptation, he's violently chasing down, beating up and firing Stephens, one of his employees, for smoking a pipe on the mill floor. Not the best first impression. It isn't until later that we learn Thornton reacted so harshly because he knows all too well what one little spark can do in a building full of cotton dust and fibres; plus Stephens had already had a previous warning for smoking in the mill, and even Mr. Higgins agrees the man was an idiot.
  • Everyone Can See It: The town clearly sees the affection Thornton and Margaret have for each other, especially after Margaret bodily protects Thornton from the riot. Subverted in that Margaret later insists that she meant nothing romantic by the gesture, and merely felt guilty about forcing him out to face the mob.
    • Mr. Bell sees it the first time he sees the two in a room together.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The book has two:
    • The first chapter starts with the days before Edith's wedding, and contrasts clever, thoughtful Margaret with silly Edith. Due to viewing the personal thoughts of the characters, as well as their interactions, the beginning reads like a typical novel of manners.
    • The next few chapters has Margaret's brief return to a quiet, pastoral life.
    • The true beginning of the book is when the Hales arrive in Milton and get overwhelmed by the city.
  • Fatal Flaw: Margaret's is Pride. She can't stand "shoppy people"—those in industry and trade, as she considers them deceitful and cowardly. Her Break the Haughty moment makes her realize she may be Not So Above It All after all.
  • Fish out of Water: The Hales in Milton. Mrs. Hale never gets the chance to acclimate; Mr. Hale comes to admire the people of Milton and their driven attitude. Margaret initially starts out put off by the attitudes of the people, but comes around so much over the course of the book that she finds herself thinking of going back.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Fanny and John Thornton respectively.
  • Funetik Aksent: The workers (most notably the Higginses) have it in the book.
  • Generation Xerox: John Thornton either learned or inherited his imperious manner from his mother.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: John Thornton for Margaret. He gets spasms of jealousy at mentions of the other gentlemen in her life but that doesn't stop him from helping her, either in giving comfort to her mother or father, or defending her reputation.
  • Gold Digger: Fanny Thornton marries a much older mill manufacturer, Mr. Watson, for his money. It at least takes her safely away from her brother's bankruptcy.
  • Handshake Refusal: Margaret doesn't know that in the North, it's normal for a man to shake a lady's hand; therefore, John gets this trope from her.
  • Heir Club for Men: Averted with Margaret and Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell is glad to set up Margaret to live comfortably, and entrusts his significant fortune to her upon his death.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mr. Bell for Mr. Hale. Mr. Bell was there for Mr. Hale's wedding, helped set him up in Milton, and was there to close his eyes when Mr. Hale passed away in his sleep. Mr. Bell's friendship and affection for Mr. Hale is given to his goddaughter Margaret as well.
  • Hired Help as Family: Subverted: Margaret struggles to properly place her relationship with Dixon, her mother’s faithful maid. Although in general they get along well, Margaret occasionally finds herself at odds with Dixon, and even competing with her for her mother’s affections. When Dixon lets slip some unkind words about Mr. Hale for their being in Milton, Margaret scolds her to remind her of her place in the family.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: John Thornton, especially after he Took a Level in Kindness. He installed the cotton dust extractor fan in his mill, and later even set up a canteen for his mill workers.
  • Honor Before Reason: One of the major themes is this contrasted with the results of being principled. Mr Hale's "matter of conscience" costs him his job, Higgins' faith in the union is destroyed when the workers break the strike and Boucher commits suicide, and Thornton almost loses his mill and the livelihood of hundreds of workers due to not engaging in speculation.
  • Hope Spot: Margaret returns from the Thornton dinner with her father happy and slightly more satisfied with their place in Milton; Dixon greets them at their door in hysterics and Mr. Hale abruptly comes to face with the certainty of his wife’s death.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: In the adaptation, Margaret to John in a moment so sexually charged the air almost crackles.
  • Ill Girl: Bessy Higgins suffers a lung disease from working in the mills.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Part of what attracts Thornton to Margaret is how she stands up to him and speaks her mind. Almost word-for-word in the adaptation.
    Margaret: You think that because you are rich... and my father is in reduced circumstances that you could have me for your possession? I shouldn't expect any less from someone in trade!
    John: I don't want to possess you! I wish to marry you because I love you!
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Bessy Higgins. She spends most of her scenes after meeting Margaret confined to her bed.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Nicholas Higgins when he learns of Bessy's death. Margaret and Martha keep him from it in respect to Bessy's dying wishes.
  • Inter Generational Friendship: Margaret Hale and Nicholas Higgis.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In the 2004 adaptation, Margaret's family all believe that nobody would ever want to wear cotton shirts.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Mr. Thornton to Margaret, although he struggles at the letting go part. He frequently offers comfort to her family just for the chance to see her; but the strongest example of this trope is when he shuts down the inquest into Leonard's death to protect her reputation.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Mrs. Hale in her youth, although she is apparently still quite so in her older years.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: More apparent for Mr. Thornton in the 2004 adaptation rather than in the book. The book does not show much of Mr. Thornton's everyday responsibilities in his mill, or how he treats his employees aside from being strict and cold; the 2004 adaptation has his first scene chasing down and beating up an employee for foolishly endangering everyone in the mill.
  • Karma Houdini: Frederick does not get to prove his innocence and that he was justified in the mutiny. By the end of the book, however, he's already set up quite happily in Spain.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Mrs. Thornton, despite her own wishes, convinces her son to get it over with already and confess to Margaret after the events of the riot, as she is convinced that Margaret loves him back. She is dreadfully appalled to find out the opposite.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Mr. Lennox graciously skips out on the business proposal meeting between Margaret and Mr. Thornton. Doesn't mean he's happy about it, though!
  • Last Minute Hookup: Literally in the last few pages before the end of the book.
  • Longing Look: Plenty from Mr. Thornton in the book; the 2004 adaptation dials it up even more.
  • Love Epiphany: John Thornton realizes he’s in love with Margaret after she protects him from the rioters.
  • Love Hurts: Even after she rejects him, John Thornton still has to see Margaret because she’s the daughter of his friend and tutor, and he sympathizes with the fact that she is losing her mother to illness.
  • Love You and Everybody: John and his mother believe that Margaret is in love with him because of the way she protected him when the rioters came calling to their door. When John confesses to her and points this out, Margaret defends herself by saying that she would have protected anyone else in a similar position.
  • Mama Bear: Mrs. Thornton. Woe betide anyone who insults her son.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Mr. Thornton sheds a few tears when he gets rejected by Margaret.
    • Frederick Hale holds up well when he arrives and sees his sickly mother; however upon her death he starts crying so loudly and endlessly in the day that follows that Margaret and Dixon have to hush him in fear that he’ll be discovered by their neighbors.
  • Marry for Love: Discussed in the book. Margaret's aunt, Mrs. Shaw, did not marry for love and bemoans this. Mrs. Hale married a poor clergyman for love and often bemoans her Rags to Riches status. Mrs. Shaw likes to think that her daughter Edith's marriage is for love, but Edith does not have altogether strong feelings for her husband. Fanny Thornton married her husband for monetary reasons.
  • May–December Romance: In the adaptation, Mr. Bell, a contemporary of Margaret's father, harbours romantic feelings for Margaret. Rather strange when compared to the book, in which he treats her more like a daughter to him.
  • Merchant Prince: Thornton is also the magistrate of Milton.
  • Momma's Boy: John Thornton and his mother. Mrs. Thornton takes great pride in how similar they are to each other, and how strong-willed her son is. While she isn't as explicitly affectionate to her son, the way they communicate with each other honestly over difficult topics shows the depth of their regard for each other.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Margaret Hale after she lies to the officer investigating Leonard's death and realizes that she acted cowardly. She becomes even more miserable upon remembering that Thornton had seen her on the day that Frederick left, and more so when she learns that Frederick was safely out of the country at the time that the officer came.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Richard Armitage as Thornton in the 2004 adaptation. Swoon.
  • The Mutiny: The whole reason Frederick hasn't come back to England after more than 6 years. Discussed by Mr. Hale and Margaret: even if the captain was cruel and no one was harmed in the mutiny, the captain was still the authority on ship, and the Navy is bound to enforce its own rules and punish any mutineers.
  • Nature Lover: Margaret, which is another reason why she's less than pleased about moving to Milton.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Mr Thornton, who not only leads his mill owner peers but serves as a magistrate in Milton.
  • Nostalgia Filter: When she first lives in Milton, Margaret constantly dreams of going back to the beautiful and idyllic Helstone. Her later visits there reveal that it is not as perfect as she remembered. She has to remind herself not to do the same to Milton.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Poor Margaret. Her actions constantly get misinterpreted. First she tries to save Thornton from being torn apart by the mob after she forces him to confront them. This gets taken as her displaying her romantic intentions way too openly. Later when she tries to take her brother late at night to the train station to escape, several witnesses (Thornton included) mistake her as going out on a late night date.
  • Nouveau Riche: Henry Lennox sees Thornton as this. In Thornton's family, only Fanny explicitly displays the trope's characteristics.
  • Not So Stoic: Mr. Thornton, when it comes to Margaret. Margaret, on the other hand, causes people to talk when she does not demonstrate this during her mother's funeral. Mrs. Thornton becomes a little more sympathetic to Margaret when she can get her alone and see that she is quite affected after all.
  • Oblivious to Love: Margaret often doesn't know that her words and actions have been mistaken as romantic gestures by the men around her.
    • Margaret misses the flirtations that Henry Lennox sends her way when he visits her in Helstone, flirtations that he is sure a London girl would understand. Margaret only saw Henry Lennox as a friend and is disappointed and annoyed when he confesses to her.
    • When John Thornton confesses to her, she is surprised and offended.
    • It takes her several months of introspection after leaving Milton to understand her own feelings for Mr. Thornton, and why she worries so much over his opinions of her.
  • Odd Friendship: Margaret and Bessy Higgins, and even more so Margaret's friendship with Bessy's father, Nicholas Higgins.
  • Old Maid: Dixon, Mrs. Hale’s faithful maid, although she naturally doesn't care for the "old" part.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: An in-story example in the adaptation: John's accent gets more Northern when his control over himself slips (most noticeable in the rejection scene).
  • Oop North: Milton (Expy of Manchester).
  • Opposites Attract: Margaret and Thornton.
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Mrs. Hale tears up the paper denouncing Frederick for his mutiny when she reads it.
  • Parental Favoritism: Mrs. Hale expresses a great deal more longing for Frederick due to the circumstances in which he had to leave his country and family. Mrs. Thornton favors her son more, but willingly coddles her daughter because she understands that her daughter is less strong.
  • Parental Substitute: Mr. Bell when Mr. Hale passes away, not long after Mrs. Hale. Of course, with Margaret's luck, Mr. Bell passes away not long after too.
  • Parents as People: Margaret's father and mother. Margaret's father is strongly principled, but ultimately fails in his duty to provide for his family. Margaret's mother has become frail and unwell ever since her son's being charged with treason. Margaret has to pick up a lot of the slack to take care of the house.
  • Perpetual Frowner: John Thornton. Several characters comment on the scowl on his face.
  • Pet the Dog / Took a Level in Kindness:
    • Thornton becomes a lot less indifferent to his workers' plight after seeing that they actually do have lots of starving children at home.
    • In the 2004 adaptation, when Mrs. Thornton demands that a sick child working at the mill be sent home and her mother protests that they can't afford to lose her income, Mrs. Thornton says that if they can get one of her siblings to the mill within the hour, they can keep the job in the family.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mr. Hale’s crisis of faith is not communicated to his family until just a fortnight from when they’re scheduled to move, and he leaves it to his daughter to communicate to his wife. When they move to Milton they are almost unprepared to do so, and Margaret and Mrs. Hale are overwhelmed by the change in scenery.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: When the mill workers go on strike. After negotiations goes unresolved for weeks, the hungry workers turn into this instead, to Higgins's horror.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The 2004 version changes a lot of little details about the story.
  • Private Tutor: Mr. Hale's profession, after he leaves the church. Mr. Thornton becoming his pupil and friend is how he meets Margaret. This becomes a little more awkward when Margaret rejects him.
  • Rags to Riches: Mrs. Hale used to be wealthy when she was younger, as a lady of the Beresford family, but she chose to marry a poor clergyman for love.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Thornton, despite being introduced to the audience in the 2004 adaptation beating up a mill worker, is actually an example of this. The mill worker had been lighting a smoke in the cotton dust filled mill, an action akin to juggling guns in a munitions factory. Later conversations revealed that he had also made an effort to install a cotton dust extractor in the mill to reduce lung disease in his employees.
  • Relative Error: John mistakes Margaret's brother for her lover.
  • Rescue Romance: [[spoiler:John Thornton's Love Epiphany comes abruptly when Margaret saves him from an angry mob.}}
  • Right Behind Me: Margaret voices her disappointment in Thornton that he's not as kind as she thought, just as he's walking in to the Higgins' residence behind her.
  • Romantic False Lead: Henry Lennox for Margaret and Ann Latimer for Thornton. Henry Lennox wanders into Romantic Runner-Up territory though, he has a bit more character, and is led up the garden path a little.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Richard Hale spends some time in denial of how sick his wife is. He comes around eventually, and never quite recovers after her death.
  • Self-Made Man: After his father lost the family fortune in speculation and subsequently committed suicide, John Thornton had to start from scratch, working hard to repay the family debt and starting the mill.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Not that she dressed poorly before, but Margaret catches the attention of other guests when she attends the Thornton’s dinner in a lovely dress, at her mother's wishes.
  • Shipper on Deck: Edith's entire family hope Margaret marries Henry Lennox. Yet at the end of the book it's Henry who creates a Contrived Coincidence for her and John to be alone.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Fanny Thornton is silly, weak-willed, and shallow; her brother John Thornton is The Stoic. In the 2004 adaptation, this is emphasized further with Fanny being blonde, while John Thornton is as dark-haired as his mother.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Margaret, and how. She starts showing off her steel when her father announces the move to Milton, and she starts taking on more responsibilities around the house. This comes to a climax when she's forced to lie to the police in the belief that she's protecting Frederick, and faints from the stress.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Margaret’s style of fashion, at least when she first arrives in Milton; her clothes get appreciated even by the common folk and factory workers in the textile mill town of Milton. When she goes back to London, Edith bemoans the state of her wardrobe.
  • Slut-Shaming: Margaret's mother had hoped Mrs Thornton would have guided Margaret in life after she dies. Pity the first lecture Mrs Thornton gives is this instead.
  • Snow Means Death: Played with in the 2004 adaptation; Margaret's narration in a letter to Edith talks of "hell white as snow" over a shot of the factory filled with flying snow-like cotton (the very cotton that causes the Incurable Cough of Death).
  • Spirited Young Lady: Margaret, naturally. In their first meeting, while John Thornton knew that Mr. Hale had a daughter he was completely unprepared to meet a young lady like Margaret.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Edith Lennox, who combines this trope with The Ditz. She loves Margaret dearly but is also clingy and bursts into tears at the idea of Margaret leaving her and going to Spain, even for just a while.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Margaret is occasionally mentioned to be tall, if not as beautiful as her mother.
  • Stepford Smiler: Margaret has shades of this when dealing with her family, especially with her soft-hearted father. She finally gets to reflect on her own sadness when her father goes to Oxford; and more so when he abruptly passes away.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Once she returns home to stay with family, Margaret becomes defensive of the North.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Margaret, at least to most of her acquaintances in Milton. Her manner is often compared to a queen or an empress. She doesn't show too much emotion outside of her family circle; so the times that Mr. Thornton catches her smiling fondly drive him crazy.
  • Taking the Veil: After all that's happened in her life in just the 2-3 years the book takes place, Margaret briefly considers becoming a nun, but decides to explore her own freedom instead.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: John Thornton at least has the first two. Definitely in the case of the 2004 adaptation, where he's played by Richard Armitage.
  • Title Drop: In Chapter 8, by Nicholas Higgins.
    "And yet, yo' see, North and South has both met and made kind o' friends in this big smoky place."
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Yup. A doctor’s diagnosis of Mrs. Hale’s illness is delivered off-screen but upsets everyone due to the certainty of death.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Mr Thornton misinterprets Margaret's clandestine goodbye to her brother as this.
  • Wealthy Ever After: Margaret ends up with a huge inheritance from her father's close friend Mr Bell, which she in turn uses to help save Thornton's mill.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: The Hales. Thorntons get rather offended by the way they are treated as lower-class because they are in trade.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Margaret's soft eyes are occasionally complimented on.
  • What Have I Done: The reason why Margaret rushes to save John from the mob is that she talked him into going out there in the first place.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Margaret, which causes her to clash against the industrialist John Thornton.


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