Shelf Love

Look Back at Me: North and South with Helena Greer

Short Description

Trains! Fruit! Allusions to Hell abound! Victorian industrialist city mortality rates! Writer, sex educator, and librarian Helena Greer is here to discuss North and South. Did the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 serialized novel make the heroine more likable and everyone else less nuanced? This conversation is serialized just like the original text. We compare and contrast the romantic moments in the book and adaptation, highlighting how the adaptation focuses more on negative emotions and drama, while the book emphasizes character growth and acts of romantic love.


book discussion, film discussion

Show Notes

Trains! Fruit! Allusions to Hell abound! Victorian industrialist city mortality rates! Writer, sex educator, and librarian Helena Greer is here to discuss North and South. Did the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 serialized novel make the heroine more likable and everyone else less nuanced? This conversation is serialized just like the original text. We compare and contrast the romantic moments in the book and adaptation, highlighting how the adaptation focuses more on negative emotions and drama, while the book emphasizes character growth and acts of romantic love.

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Thanks to the contributors to this episode:

Discussed: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and North and South the 2004 BBC adaptation starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe

Guest: Helena Greer

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Helena Greer is a long time librarian and romance reader, and recent romance novelist. She has a degree in mythography and is interested in deconstructing the social context around the decisions storytellers make about how to frame --or reframe-- their stories.


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] The camera work in the book sucks compared to the camera work in the adaptation.

Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape, desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I'm joined by writer, sex educator, and librarian Helena Greer to discuss North and South.

Did the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1854 serialized novel make the heroine more likable and everyone else less nuanced?

Thanks for being here, Helena.

Helena Greer: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited. I'm a very long time listener.

Andrea Martucci: You have been contributing online to the Shelf Love conversation for a long time, so I'm excited to have you here today.

Helena Greer: I am too.

Andrea Martucci: Can you introduce yourself for those of you who do not already know who you are?

Helena Greer: Yes. I am the author of Season of Love, which came out in October of last year, which is a sapphic, Hallmark inspired Jewish Christmas tree farm book and the upcoming For Never and Always, which is said in the same world. And I, yeah, I'm a writer and a children's librarian and online pain in the butt.

And I'm really excited to talk about this book and the movie, because I had never interacted with it until really recently.

Andrea Martucci: And I get to claim credit for why you watched North and South.

Helena Greer: Yeah. It was because you tweet about it all the time. I think I knew it existed, but I kept seeing these tweets about, especially the look back at me moment that were really fascinating. And I thought I love British, 19th century literature and BBC adaptations and beautiful women staring longingly at beautiful men.

I don't know why I've never watched this before. So I watched it and then I had like a lot of questions after watching the adaptation. So I then I read the book.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. And so you have actually done much more digging into the source material of North and South than I have. Despite the fact that I tweet gifs from this adaptation all the time. I, at one point tried reading it and stopped somewhere in the middle and never went back.

You have some interesting theories about the characterization differences between the novel, which again, it was initially serialized. We consume it now as a novel, but originally it came out via editor Charles Dickens as a

Helena Greer: I did not realize that. That's fascinating.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. But so this was definitely in the heyday of serialized stories, which people were consuming these in bits and snatches. So it's just to be clear, it's kind of a different experience now sitting down and reading it in novel form from how it was originally intended or created to be consumed.

Helena Greer: That actually explains a lot about how incredibly prosy the novel is. My work, for anyone who's read my novel, it tends to be pretty prosy. That is a way that I write. So I have a pretty high tolerance for [00:03:00] unnecessary prose. But there were times in the novel where I thought, my God, why are there so many words in this?

And it's because Dickens was editing it.

Andrea Martucci: or not editing it

Helena Greer: Or refusing to edit out any of the excess words.

Or somebody trying to fill up a certain amount of column inches.

Andrea Martucci: So what is North and South about? Let's describe what the adaptation is about, and we can talk about differences between it and the source material later. But let's stick with the thing that I think more people might be familiar with.

Helena Greer: Yeah. So North and South is about a young woman who has recently moved back in with her parents after not living with them for quite a while. And her father leaves his position as a vicar in a small town in the south of England, which she has built up in her mind as this perfect place where she spent her childhood and she wants to grow old there.

And all of a sudden that's ripped away from her. And she and her parents moved to a northern industrial town where he's going to be a tutor and she is a fish out of water. She doesn't. understand how to go about in this fast-paced town after living in the country. And all of the people have very different manners and very different expectations for what's civilized than she's used to.

she is sort of overwhelmed by her feelings about this new place. And her dad makes friends with a head of one of the cotton mills who is this sort of beautiful, angry man who has the opposite opinions on everything in the world that she has. And they argue, flirt for a long time while a bunch of other stuff goes on melodramatically in the background.

Like she has a brother who's on the run from the law and he has a strike going on at his mill. And then eventually through a series of very long misunderstandings, they fall in love. And she realizes that she's come to love this northern industrial town and she's given up her idealism of her youth.

And they both grow as human beings and admit their love for each other.

Andrea Martucci: and they smooch at a train station

Helena Greer: train station.

Andrea Martucci: it's beautiful. And the main characters are Margaret Hale and John Thornton, which is a mouthful. Thornton.

Helena Greer: There's a lot of ns. John Thornton.

Andrea Martucci: yes. There's definitely this whole like burgeoning industrialist movement happening.

Unionization. Very much this like capitalism intruding upon the feudalism of England's aristocracy and ideas around gentlemen and what those are. And [00:06:00] yeah, Margaret gains an appreciation for commerce? And also softens the capitalist hero in a way?

Helena Greer: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Which is interesting to think about in the context of modern romance novels.

Maybe that's why we find this so interesting.

But what we are going to talk about today is how the characterization in the adaptation has been tweaked from the original source material and what that might say about modern audiences and our expectations for maybe conflict or what we expect in our romantic characters, and also maybe what we consider a good reason to keep people apart.

Helena Greer: Yeah. So I do think that the adaptation, it has some places where I think for time sake or for whatever reason that has to do with just film, they cut information that would've helped an audience understand what was happening.

And it has some times when it, I think character motivations are much less clear than in the novel just because we get a lot of internalization from a lot of characters in the novel.

So why they're doing what they're doing makes a lot more sense. But I do think that the adaptation for the most part follows pretty closely beats that watchers of, historical romance adaptations or readers of historical romance are pretty familiar with.

These two people meet and they immediately dislike each other and are very judgmental of each other's lives. But they're also the only person in each other's lives who can have a full intellectual conversation with the other one and really challenges the other one on their level.

Margaret just been asked to marry someone else and she's has a freak out about it. Like she has no interest in marriage to this person whatsoever.

So she's deeply disinterested until she meets this man who meets her at her intellectual level. Thornton has no interest in the young women of the town that they live in, and so they meet and butt heads and pine for each other because they have a big misunderstanding and then they are apart for quite a while, and then they eventually come back together when they've gotten over their differences.

So I think it hits the beats of what a romance audience expects in a contemporary setting.

When I started reading the book, I started taking notes about how different some of the things are that happen because I'm so curious from a storytelling perspective about why these choices were made.

So in the movie, the first time Margaret meets Thornton, she goes to his cotton mill, which is this beautiful scene. There's like cotton in the air, and Thornton is played by Richard Armitage is standing there looking very dour and he's incredibly beautiful. And they sort of see each other from across this room full of noise and are struck by each other.[00:09:00]

And then he beats the living daylights out of one of his workers. Like that's the first information we have about his character, is that he's like beating the living daylights out of

Andrea Martucci: That seems pretty bad. Seems, seems like not romance, hero material.

Helena Greer: Yeah. so that doesn't happen in the book at all.

Andrea Martucci: which is interesting.

Helena Greer: Is my first ding, ding, Ding something's going on here from a choice perspective, because that's a big choice to make, right?

To put your romance hero into this awful situation that just does not exist in the book. So in the movie his reasoning is that the man was smoking and he's gonna light the mill on fire and Thornton's trying to protect everybody. But just none of that happens at all.

They meet because Thornton's trying to help them rent a house. And Margaret has found something that she likes, but she hates the wallpaper and Thornton gets it fixed for her without her having to do it herself. Cause it's really ugly wallpaper. And he just like quietly does it in the background, which to me is very romantic. Right.

Andrea Martucci: I really like that.

Helena Greer: I love it. And then he starts to come and meet with her father cuz her father is doing some tutoring of him because he's grown up as an industrialist and has never had formal schooling.

And so he's studying the classics like Play-Doh and Aristotle with her father. So all of their in initial meetings are the two of them Having these like big meaty intellectual discussions about whether or not it matters to be highly educated and whether or not the union men are like formidable adversaries, which is how Thornton sees them. Or poor creatures, which is how Margaret refers to them throughout the entirety of the book because she does not think of them as human beings.

But they have these like big meaty conversations where they butt heads, but there's never a point where he's like physically violent with anybody. So that was my first kind of, what is going on here?

What's happening with the decision making, how to make these two people different.

Margaret in the book is incredibly judgmental all the time of kind of everyone. She's goes around all the time and preaches to people. In both the book and the adaptation she has a friend who's dying of like a lung condition from working in the factories. And in the book, she just sits next to this woman and tells her how it's fine cuz she's gonna be with Jesus soon.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think in the adaptation, the Jesus preaching definitely gets ratcheted down to a level where you're like, okay, I get that. Like in this time period and especially a character who grew up with a father who's a vicar, although he's very much this like intellectual version of a religious figure where he cares about the ideas more than I think the dogma.

But anyways, this is like heavily infused in this culture and in her household, you [00:12:00] get that, but she's not going around and saying the things that I think, especially to modern audiences we're like, that is just callous.

Helena Greer: Yes. So I think it's interesting because I think that Margaret in the adaptation is a much easier person to sympathize with for modern audiences, which is curious because in the book you have a lot of information about her interiority. She has been foisted off on her richer aunt because her mom married someone poorer.

Her mom was beautiful and had option to marry anyone and married a poor vicar. And so her aunt has taken her in and she spent most of her teenage years acting as like an unpaid companion for her cousin

Andrea Martucci: In London. and, and London physically is the middle point between the north and the south. So it's very much infused in like the center of English culture. But as you were talking about before, Margaret has that idealization and romanticization of the south and the agrarian historical roots of England and whatever.

it's very clearly like the past and the future. And then Margaret starts out in the present.

Helena Greer: Yes. And she lives in a house with people who do a lot of socializing in London society. But because she's a companion, she's on the outskirts of that. And then her cousin gets married and she's no longer needed as a companion, which is why she goes back to living with her parents.

And she talks in the book about how she doesn't really have a relationship with either of her parents, cuz she hasn't lived with them for so long. And she has this like intense desire to be close to both of them. And she has been waiting to go back to the south of England to be with them and reestablish a loving parental relationship with them for years. And dreaming of it as she's treated like this semis servant in her family's household. This poor relation.

And as soon as she goes back and does that her dad has this disagreement with the Church of England about policy and quits his living and gives up his parsonage and moves them to this northern town.

So she starts out the novel in like complete emotional disarray and she's been proposed to by someone that she sees as like the guy that she sits in the corner with at parties and makes bad jokes with about other people.

Like he's her snarky friend and she has no interest in marrying him. And so her head is everywhere. She has to leave her home. Her dad is like having a crisis of faith and she's a super Christian person. So that's messing with her. And then she goes to this place that she sees as like a circle of hell, right?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Which, okay, so it's called Milton. And not only is there heavy symbolism about hell, but who was it? Milton, who wrote about Hell.

Helena Greer: Yeah. Yeah. Milton's not a real place. It's just made up to be hell.

Andrea Martucci: It's modeled after Manchester, which is in the north of England. And because I listened to the director's commentary [00:15:00] of the adaptation, I can tell you that visually how they tried to represent the Hellishness of Milton when they first arrived is they literally brought the saturation down on all of the colors.

And then as Margaret's perception of this place changes over the course of the four episodes of this miniseries, the saturation comes up. There's more color infused in there.

Helena Greer: That's really interesting. So she gets to Milton and she's trying to make friends, but she doesn't have any, she's never had friends. Like she's just, she's been like a poor relation and she's was a vicar's kid before that. She runs into Nicholas and Bessie Higgins, Nicholas is a union boss, and Bessie is his daughter.

And they are by far the most sympathetic characters in the novel or the movie Adaptation. , I'm gonna argue

Andrea Martucci: I think they're like, I think they're the meek who are gonna inherit the earth. Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like, we're not gonna talk too much about class, but I think that Margaret's kind of like, who can I be friends with here? It speaks a lot to she was of a particular class, she was like part, I don't know what you call somebody who's a vicar, but not aristocracy, but

Helena Greer: she's a gentleman's daughter

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.A gentleman's daughter and her mom was part of society in a way, right? And then now there's like this emerging class of industrialists who


Helena Greer: she's broke now. Like they are broke. Broke,

But there's still this like perception that even though they have literally zero money, that they're like better than other people, or that's how they feel.

Andrea Martucci: And then they go to this place where all that matters is how much money you have. And she's like, I don't know how to relate to people because they are not impressed by me being a gentleman's daughter. They're not impressed by the fact that I have no money. So who can I be friends with?

Helena Greer: Yeah. Yes. So she befriends this firebrand union organizer and his daughter who's dying. And this happens in the book and the movie. It's a really interesting point where she offers to bring them a basket, which is what she would've done as a vicar's daughter to like poor people in her community.

And they just like laugh at her, like they make fun of her about it.

Andrea Martucci: And they're like, why are you inviting yourself to our house?

Helena Greer: super weird that you're inviting yourself to our house.

Andrea Martucci: and this is we don't want charity. Like we work for our money. What are you doing? Yeah.

Helena Greer: So in the book though, Margaret forgets that she invited herself over and Bessie is like waiting for her

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God.

Helena Greer: and is like telling Nicholas she's gonna come, she promised me she would come, she's gonna come. And I think Nicholas eventually goes and finds her and is what are you doing?

What's your problem? You invited yourself to our house and then forgot about it. Which is another moment of Margaret just being this like weirdly unlikable character in the book that they made her more likable in the movie.

So Thornton though I think there's, there are a few places where I think they made decisions that make [00:18:00] him more sympathetic.

There's a character at the end of both a book and adaptation who kills himself because he can't find a job. And in the book that's kind of Thornton's fault. It's no one's fault that he kills himself. It's no one's fault, but Thornton says, I'm not gonna charge him. I'm not gonna let anybody else give him a job.

So this man is like without any recourse with six children in a town where no one is gonna hire him on Thornton's say-So.

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm.

Helena Greer: and in the movie it seems maybe more like Nicholas has more to do with that, or it's not as obviously Thornton's fault, but for the most part there's a pattern of Thornton getting these decisions that are either belonged to other people in the book or are invented for the movie.

So for instance, there's a scene where he goes to dinner with all the other owners of the.

Andrea Martucci: what do they call themselves again? The masters?

Helena Greer: masters. Yes. The masters of the mill. And they're talking about the upcoming strike that's coming. And this is a sort of interesting dynamic because Thornton really thinks of his workers as human beings who are on the opposite sides of an industrial war with him.

And Margaret thinks of them as serfs or like lower class levels of human beings. And it makes her less sympathetic, I think, because she keeps referring to them as creatures. And she keeps talking about how the masters should be like making their workers into better human beings by bringing them to Jesus and giving them education.

And she's doesn't allow for the fact that these people are thinking, feeling fully formed human beings.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, so I had a note on this. So I think what you're talking about with Margaret, it's like the paternalism, right? Like on the one hand, these people do not have free will, but on the other hand, we, the betters have some responsibility to take care of these people, to guide them because they don't know any better, blah, blah, blah.

I think John, at the beginning and like you could convince me on this, doesn't maybe necessarily see them as people, he sees them as machines that do work for him. And you put money in, you're supposed to get work out. And so he wants them to behave predictably, fairly, according to the terms that they set.

And he doesn't like that they're bringing in emotions.

I don't wanna say he views them as machines and not like purely as people, but he views them in a very utilitarian way. Like I don't care what these people do when they're not at work. I pay them to come to work. I want them to do good work. They go home. I don't care what they do with the money, I don't care if they believe in God. I don't care.

Helena Greer: I don't even remember if that conversation where she asked him if he cares what they do happens in the book or if it just happens in the movie. But he does talk about how they're in a war, but he also talks about how he started as a worker in a [00:21:00] factory and he sacrificed. He worked all the time. He never spent any money. He and his mother, who he's obsessed with

Andrea Martucci: in the book too?

Helena Greer: Yeah. Oh my god, everything he does is for his mother. The like last line of the book is, your mom's gonna be so mad about this because she hates Margaret anyway.

Andrea Martucci: so I'm hearing bootstraps and I'm hearing we're all machines. I'm just a better machine.

Helena Greer: So he is really believes that if these men wanted to, they could be masters, but the reason that they're workers and not masters is because they don't have the discipline to do it and they're not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps enough.

Andrea Martucci: right?

Helena Greer: So where Margaret thinks of them as in this paternalistic, these poor creatures we have to take care of way, Thornton thinks if I could do it, they can do it and they need to be able to pull themselves up as well.

Andrea Martucci: So then where that makes him less sympathetic in the movie, and I don't know how this makes him in the book, but in the movie he's not as concerned about the plight of can his employees survive on whatever he is able to pay them. He's like, not my concern. If they want more money, they should work harder.

What he understands and I feel like the movie takes great pains to show that he is like, fair in as much as if he paid them more, he would go out of business. So he pays them as much as he can. He does what he can to put a fan in so that fewer people die of what Bessie, her friend is dying of.

But also like he's like, they're asking for more than I can give, which makes them unreasonable. They should just work harder.

Helena Greer: yeah. So in both five years ago, all of the mills gave a pay cut to their employees, and none of them have raised it back to the wages that they were at before. And at no point does he acknowledge that people are gonna have a hard time living if you cut their pay and then keep it lower than it used to be for five years.

So there is, I just wanna acknowledge that there's this whole undercurrent of like they work in cotton and the reason that they cannot make money anymore is because the American cotton market is undercutting their prices. And there is a reason that the American cotton market in 1850 is undercutting their market, is because Americans are not paying their cotton employees because of chattel enslavement.

So I just wanna say that like the nowhere in this movie ever mentions that's what's happening, but they are like, the Americans are selling cheaper cotton than we can.

Andrea Martucci: they're flooding the market. They do say that, like they're flooding the market with cheap cotton.

Helena Greer: Anyway, I just wanna acknowledge that it's a weird thing to be reading that as an American and be like, I know why there was so much more cotton and it wasn't good.[00:24:00]

One of the greatest monstrosities in human history that neither of the book nor the movie, like acknowledges is happening.

Andrea Martucci: To be. Okay, sorry, this is gonna sound like a weird to be fair,


Helena Greer: sure.


Andrea Martucci: at the time, Gaskill was shining a light on something that wasn't talked about a lot, which was essentially the plight of these industrial factory workers, which was terrible.

Helena Greer: A friend of mine today, as I was talking about this, said, Gaskell is basically like, how can I write a book about unions, where I make all the union workers like the heroes of the book and just frame it as a romance, but it's actually just about unions, which in some way, this book really is just about

Andrea Martucci: It is. It is. And we were like, we can't get into the union stuff. It'll take over the conversation. Okay. So if we look just at the things that make our romance hearts sing about the adaptation. There's all these moments in the adaptation that are just like, oh, the pining and the looks and this, and ugh.

And my understanding is like most of those scenes do not happen in the book or do not happen in a way that is like overtly romantic.

Helena Greer: Thornton, he loves Margaret from very early, and we see from his perspective that he loves her. Now it's interesting because she doesn't express emotions outwardly. And he seems to love her because she's like a beautiful, nothing.

He's like, she's so elegant and I could never touch her because she never expresses emotion.

Andrea Martucci: She has like very like queenly, haughty bearing. So in a way, at the beginning then, is he viewing her as a possession that would symbolize how he has made it?

Helena Greer: Maybe. I think it has to do with him feeling like he's not good enough for someone like her to ever look at him because he's proud to be a manufacturer, but because he came from nothing, he thinks he's not good enough to be loved by her.

Andrea Martucci: So he has internalized a bit of that belief about class essentially where Yeah. Like she is better than him

Helena Greer: And she's, educated and she has this bearing. He already has feelings for her at this point. There's a union strike, and he's gonna bring in Irish workers to keep the mill going. And there's a riot in front of his house because the union workers are upset that he's brought in Irish workers and she like, throws herself in front of him.

First of all, she goads him to go out and talk to them. She's like, you have to go talk to them. You have to put a stop to this.

Andrea Martucci: Because of these poor creatures, they're desperate. Yeah.

Helena Greer: Yeah, you have to try to talk to them and reason with them. And they start throwing rocks and she throws herself in front of him and she's like holding onto him, like around him.

That happens, I don't know, in the first third of the book maybe. It happens pretty early. Like it, it seems like it's late into it, but it's in the first half for [00:27:00] sure. And then for the rest of the book, he thinks a lot about, like her body pressed up against his, a lot for a book that came out in the 1850s

Andrea Martucci: nice,

Helena Greer: about how much he wishes that her body was pressed up against his.

I was like, oh. Every time it came up, I thought, I'm surprised by this.

Andrea Martucci: do you think he's ever gotten a hug from his mother? He probably doesn't know what it's like to have a female body pressed

Helena Greer: has ever hugged him before and he is like, oh my God, somebody hugged me. I'm dying and I like, can't sleep at night thinking about being hugged again.

Andrea Martucci: So that happens in the adaptation and the book and my interpretation of the adaptation is he has been into her and now he's like, I think she likes me too.

And also now it's like we've been caught in a compromising position and oh no, we have to get married now.

Helena Greer: And she's like, no, we don't. So yeah. So he goes and proposes to her and we as an audience in the book know that he has these really intense feelings for her and he has had this whole time and he finally thinks, oh God, maybe she actually likes me back. Cuz this whole time he's been like, there's no way she likes me. There's no way she likes me.

His mom was like, you have to go ask her to marry you because she's compromised herself and he's like, do you think maybe she loves me? And Margaret, once again, has a full freak out at the idea of marrying anyone, which is interesting. Maybe it's because I'm a modern reader of historical romance and we have this sort of Heyer AU that we all read historical romance in.

But also Mrs. Bennett is obsessed with getting her daughters married off, right? In Middlemarch, everybody's obsessed with getting married. So in the 18 hundreds, poor young young women, gentlemen daughters were generally like expected to get married at some point. And every time somebody asks Margaret to marry them, she's like, how dare you infringe upon my inner palace with your feelings about me.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So like I have done enough Googling about this where I have seen people speculate that from an internal motivation standpoint, Margaret feels not opposed to marriage, but feels like I'm too young. I'm not old enough for this. This isn't

Helena Greer: she's 25 though. She's not.

Andrea Martucci: I think it's very much that like she's still yearning for this childhood that she didn't quite have and she's still not getting it. So I think she's stuck a little bit not to psychoanalyze a book that happened before psychoanalysis, but I think she's like, I'm still a child.

The same way that like millennials, which I am a millennial will, do the like, oh, look at me adulting. It's like, oh my God, I'm an adult. Like,

Helena Greer: 40, so I'm adult. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. Yeah. It's,

So weird. Okay, so there's like that sort of maybe this is why she's freaking out all the time about marriage because she's a little stunted there.

But then also, apparently Mary (lol - It's Elizabeth) Gaskell felt very strongly that Margaret would not be receptive to an emotional relationship until she could meet somebody on equal [00:30:00] financial footing or like power, let's just say on equal power. And she, at this, at the beginning and in the middle of the story, and for most of the story is just at such a disadvantage when it comes to like, position in the

Helena Greer: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, so he continues to pint for her, and he goes away. He's hurt that she's turned down his proposal,

Andrea Martucci: can we talk about the proposal?

Okay. I think the proposal is my most romantic moment because there's so much emotion in it and it's not all positive emotion. He's all like dreamy and he's like ruminating about like the color of fruit and like how bright it appears because essentially his eyes have been open to love and she's she is not giving off like receptive vibes.

And he proposes and she reacts like, uh, there's no reason for you to do this at all and implies that the reason, no, straight up says that the reason that he's asking her to marry him is because her family is in reduced circumstances and you think you can buy me the way you buy whatever. And his voice cracks and a burst of emotion comes out of him.

And he says, if this is not a direct quote is close I do not wish to marry you, to possess you. I wish to marry you because I love you. I'm speaking of feelings because I have feelings for you.

And the fact that it's hitting on the themes of emotion and capitalism and her idea of him as like he just wants to buy and sell everything and he thinks he can buy me.

It's great. But also he's just a man with this like deep well of feelings that he doesn't know how to do anything with. He's either pining or he is proposing marriage and he like doesn't know how to do anything in between.

Helena Greer: Yeah, he doesn't. And to be fair to Thornton at that time, he could have courted her, right? But he's been hanging out, coming to her house twice a week. He invites her to tea at his house. Like he's made sure that his mom and sister try to befriend her, like he has been courting her.

She just hasn't noticed that's what's been happening because she is deep in a trauma trance that gets worse as the book goes on rather than better. There's all these moments that in the movie that hit when he finds out that she is moving away from Milton, he like, clenches his fist and puts his face into it.

And it's this beautiful moment and I don't think that happens. But what happens instead are all of these moments throughout. So her mom is really sick because she lives in a terrible town and it's like making her ill to live in Milton. The air is making her sick

Andrea Martucci: Also because it's really convenient for plot reasons to have basically everybody die around her, but like,

Helena Greer: Everyone in [00:33:00] Margaret's life dies like one after another. So her mom is very sick and he finds out that a thing that will help her is fruit. And so there's this scene in the book where he goes fruit shopping, which he does not normally do. Like he has a maid who does his shopping for him. So he's like never been to the market and he like spends a bunch of time picking out the exact correct plums or whatever for her mother because he's friends with her dad.

And so he cares about her mom. And I mean, he wants to impress Margaret, but like he truly is just this family means a lot to me. And so he like brings this fruit to her to try to make her feel better. and we see him show up with a pineapple in the adaptation, but we don't see all of the behind that, which is this moment where he goes way out of his comfort zone, like shopping at the market, and like trying to figure out what the sweetest fruit would be for her mother to feel better.

In the book at the time period, women wouldn't normally have gone to funerals. So when her mother dies she's not allowed to go because she's a woman. And either her godfather, who's a important character we haven't talked about, or her dad or somebody goes to the funeral instead.

But Thornton goes, but nobody ever tells her. So he like goes to her mother's funeral just to witness it for her and she never finds out.

And he goes to the town that she lived in when she was young, to find out more about her. And we know that in the adaptation, but in the book, he like stays at the inn where people know her and he talks about her with them and he like gives them the news of her mother's death.

He like puts himself into this town to try to get to know her better. So there are all these incredibly big sort of romantic things that get cut for time or whatever. And it's not that they're better or worse necessarily than the moments that we get, but it's interesting that we got a bunch of made up moments rather than these moments that exist in the book that are maybe I don't know if they're quieter or if they're more nuanced.

We know the shorthand as romance readers and watchers of the look back at me, right? We understand that moment and we get to have this one pining moment, which is beautiful. I would never want us to lose that look back at me moment or that fist clench. But we do lose some of him constantly over time trying to figure out how to be the kind of person that she would wanna be with.

Andrea Martucci: And this is actually interesting cuz this is also like a common romance shorthand. Something happens about halfway through that is like a big misunderstanding where he sees her with a man, it is her brother who she can't tell anybody was in town because he could get arrested and killed by the military

Helena Greer: He's gonna get court marshaled because he was part of a

Andrea Martucci: a coup, what do you call that? No a mutiny!

Helena Greer: Captain of the boat over.A mutiny.

Andrea Martucci: A mutiny, a naval mutiny. The Navy might literally [00:36:00] hang him if they find him. So she can't say that her brother was in town when her mom died.

But John sees her with a man and then lies for her, which I find incredibly romantic even though he's abusing his power as like the magistrate or whatever but like where I think a lot of the like, oh, we get that he really loves her and had a deep well of emotion for her comes from his sort of like jealousy and anger at her over this situation. When that misunderstanding is resolved, that is when he goes to Helston in the south and he, his eyes are opened up to like, oh, she's not a duplicitous harlot.

But I feel like the adaptation spends a lot of time giving John jealous vibes where she's like, I haven't learned how to say no. And he's like, oh, you've had to say no to a lot of marriage proposals. There's been other people? And they play up these dramatic moments with Henry who was the first guy who proposed to her and play up this love triangle dynamic, right.

Where it is drawing that drama and emotion much more from the negative associations as opposed to the positive associations that you're talking about from the book of showing caring and showing his growth as a human as opposed to, again, in the adaptation, he does grow as a person and they show that through his relationship to his workers, but they don't show him growing in his capacity to love Margaret in the adaptation.

Helena Greer: Yeah. So I think he actually goes to Helston before he knows that it's the brother in the book, I think so. I don't, I might be wrong on that. And a listener can tell me if they remember the book better because I've only read it once. But it takes a while for him to find out. So her mom dies and then her dad dies

Andrea Martucci: Bessie died, then her mom died. Then Boucher, the union guy dies and that causes drama, and then her dad dies. Yeah. It's literally just like death. Is it in the third part of the adaptation that just like everyone dies.

Oh, and then Mr. Bell dies, her her dad's friend. Yeah.

Helena Greer: She goes to London to take care of her cousin's kid because she's like back to being a companion for these people again. And she says to Mr. Bell in the book, this is super interesting to me. Because now her brother is safe in Spain and he's not gonna get court marshaled.

She says, will you go to Helston and explain to Thornton what happened with my brother because I need him to know the truth about me. Because her version of the misunderstanding is that she was this paragon of virtue and she lied to the police and he can never love her because she's a liar.

His version of their misunderstanding is she will never love him because she's in love with someone else. Okay.

So she thinks he'll never love her because she thinks that she's [00:39:00] destroyed all her virtue by lying to the police to save her brother's life.

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm. So internal conflict versus him seeing an external conflict.

Helena Greer: He still loves her. He's not jealous necessarily. He's just thinks like she's chosen someone else and she's not gonna be in love with me cause she's in love with someone else.

So she starts to slowly come out of this sort of grief fog that she's in while she's in London. And says oh, I would like for him to know the truth about me. She's hoping it'll change his mind, and he'll come and they can get together. At that point, she wants them to get together. She's realized that she loves him, Mr. Bell is her godfather and is also Thornton's landlord. So she's like, you have this relationship. Can you go explain it? And while she's waiting for him to go explain it, he gets sick and dies.

Andrea Martucci: Mr. Bell in the book?

Okay. So there is a reversal of fortune where John goes from being a wealthy manufacturer to, as a result of some things related to the strike and the price of cotton or like whatever, a bunch of things. He essentially goes bankrupt and Margaret goes from being a peniless orphan who is throwing herself at her richer relatives and hoping to have a roof over her head to then becoming basically an heiress, because Mr. Bell is quite wealthy. In fact, as you mentioned, is the landlord for Thornton's mill.

And he gives all of that to her. In the adaptation he gives it to her before he dies and he's like, oh, turns out I'm gonna die too. I'm gonna fuck off to South America.

Helena Greer: I'm going to Argentina. Bye!

Andrea Martucci: Never see me again. And he just dies off screen. But like she already has his money, so she doesn't, I think in an adaptation, she doesn't have to feel guilty for coming into money at the expense of him dying because it is distanced a little bit. But anyways, literally they flip flop and this is the point at which suddenly her feelings blossom, isn't it?

Helena Greer: Yeah. So in the book, she already knows she's in love with him.

Cuz she's like, yeah, cuz she's like, Mr. Bell, go tell him what really happened. Go tell him I'm not in love with somebody else. Go tell him it was my brother the whole time so that we can figure out our differences. And she's like obsessively waiting to hear from Mr. Bell that he like had a conversation and now like she and Thornton can work it out. And then instead she hears that Mr. Bell died. She's

Andrea Martucci: she's like, how many more people around me can die?

Helena Greer: So Thornton in the book, all of this is his idea, none of it is Margaret's. He gives Nicholas Higgins a job, cause when no one else will, which in the movie he only does it because it's Margaret's idea.

But in the book, Higgins asked for a job and he says no, and then he thinks about it and realizes that he has done the wrong thing and goes to find Higgins. So he's like making strides as a human being on his own, unrelated, [00:42:00] and it's a romantic moment that he would give Higgins a job just because Margaret asked.

But at the same time, like his character growth, I think is better in the book because he just thinks about it and realizes no, I should give this man a chance. And then there's this whole thing where he and Higgins become friends and they come up with an idea to have a cafeteria at the mill uh, which happens in both because they can get better deals on bulk food and then everybody eats and nobody's hungry and,

Andrea Martucci: So like that middle ground between where John started with being like, it is none of my concern where these people get food if they can afford whatever. And it's him basically taking an interest and being like, I do care about these people and part of why I care about them is because if they eat better, they will work better for me.

But I understand that I can use my power to get good quality food in bulk. They get affordable meals. I get good workers. Everybody wins.

Helena Greer: Yeah. And I think he also realizes from having a lot of conversations with Higgins, that if he works with his workers and has a relationship with them, they're less likely to strike

Andrea Martucci: Ah,

Helena Greer: because he's been talking to them. So he and Higgins really develop an understanding and Higgins becomes his like foreman or whatever instead of leading strikes and not in a way to make him not be a union boss, but in a way to fix problems before they get to the striking place.

Anyway, he's lost all of that and the loss of that is a loss of the community because he's the only factory owner or the only master who has this like fan that keeps the cotton out of the air. So he has the safest factory. He has the factory with the best wages, he has the factory with the cafeteria, like the loss of it is horrific to the community.

And Margaret comes up with this idea that she's going to fund him getting the factory back up because it's actually gonna make her more money than if she speculated or put her money into something that made interest or whatever.

Andrea Martucci: So she becomes a capitalist And they meet together to become ethical capitalists?

Helena Greer: I guess. Yeah. So unfortunately for Henry, who's her lawyer and has been helping her come up with this plan, Thornton shows up and she's immediately making out with him as soon as he like arrives.

So in the book this happens in the movie, but happens much later, Henry's trying to help her brother get like off of his court marshal. So that he can come back to England someday. But Henry's helping him from much earlier in the book, so before she has any money because he wants to marry her, but he doesn't really wanna marry her when she's broke because he's also broke and he's I don't, this is gonna go poorly.

yeah, it's just not gonna go well. And we're gonna be really broke, like none of us has any money. But he still helps her brother. He's like hiding a fugitive in London and working for him. And then when she gets money, he tries to like, help her figure out what to do with her business assets.

And he's like, I'm gonna ask her to marry me again. I really love her, but I'm waiting and. Then Thornton shows up and Henry like just does not [00:45:00] exist.

Andrea Martucci: in the adaptation, Henry's literally just like, all right, here's your bag. I see the writing on the wall. Have fun.

Let's pause on the train scene in the adaptation. So the train line is also this metaphor. It's literally this line that runs from the south to London to the north. And there's a lot of movement on this. There's lots of people staring out train windows

Helena Greer: and he's gone to Helston to find her, and she's gone to Milton to find him. And neither of them found each other because each was in the other place. And then they each get back on a train to go in the other direction and they meet, passing each other at the train station.

Andrea Martucci: They meet in the middle

Helena Greer: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: They meet in the middle between Helston and Milton, between religion and commerce or something. So they're on a southbound train. John's on a northbound train and they see each (Helena: North and South!) Yep! And they get out and she's like, I have a business proposition for you.

And he's like, fuck business propositions. I have a flower for you. And furthermore, I just wanna stroke your face and gaze at you longingly. And I have these beautiful sideburns.

Helena Greer: Yeah, he was, but also Margaret. So she is dressed better cuz she has money now, but also her curls are coming out of her hair in a way that they Yes. Doesn't happen earlier. She's like very sleeked back bun in all of the earlier scenes and she has these sort of curls escaping from her hairdo and she's lit more softly and her hair looks a different color because like they've lit her in this much softer, more relaxed way.

Andrea Martucci: I think it's like much more like reddish and warm and lively. Because that was the thing is Milton was always grayed out, no color. And then Helston, especially at the beginning, had this like haze of warm light and soft focus. Right?

And then she goes back and it has lost its luster when he goes, I think it has its luster again. And meanwhile, Milton has become more colorful. There's more life. The color of the people is emerging. Their clothes are more colorful, the grass is greener, et cetera.

When they meet in the middle at this train station, it's brighter. There's color, there's life. It's a bright sunshiney day, which through most of the adaptation, everything looks like a dreary, drizzly day.

Helena Greer: It's sunny in Helston, it's not in Milton.

Andrea Martucci: right. And so they come together, they get an understanding. They're both like, I've been here, I've been here. And they're like, whatever. We've gotten all of the paperwork out of the way. Let's smooch. It's romantic. She goes over to Henry and he's like, here's your bag. I know. I didn't win this one. And he takes off on the train.

She walks over to Thornton, who meanwhile thinks [00:48:00] that they've just had this beautiful smooch. He thinks they've worked it all out. And then she walks away from him without saying anything to get her bag, but he's like, you're coming home with me.

Oh, it's just so sweet. And then he's just, he just wants to touch

Helena Greer: smiling, which he doesn't do at all for the eight hours of the adaptation or however

Andrea Martucci: The only time he ever smiled before was like, when she was like, stirring tea. And he was like, oh, she's just, yeah. So he . So then he's just, he is just brimming over with happiness. And then they continue on the train and Margaret looks out the window and it's like a whole new world as she heads up to the north, unlike the first time she headed to the north where it was sad and depressing.

So how is it different in the book?

Helena Greer: So he comes to her aunt's house and I don't remember if he comes to say that he's sorry about Mr. Bell. I think it must have to do with Mr. Bell because like now she's his landlord, right? I don't like, I don't remember why she he shows up, but he shows up and she's like, okay, I gotta give you this business proposition.

Andrea Martucci: Is he ruined at this point financially?

Helena Greer: yes. He's, yes, he's lost the mill. And he's ruined and she's has this money and it's a very similar conversation. They just don't meet in the middle at the train station. Which is it's more realistic in the book, but it's much less beautiful .

Andrea Martucci: I bet Elizabeth Gaskell wishes that she had thought of the train


Helena Greer: wishes she thought of the train station.

Andrea Martucci: She's like, Oh, damn, that's good symbolism.

Helena Greer: so good.

Andrea Martucci: She's dead, but whatever.

Helena Greer: So she kind of gives him the spiel and he's like, okay. And then they kiss. But, the book does not say they kiss. Right. Cuz it came out in 1854. And it says and then they stopped talking for a long, pleasurable time or something.

Like, some like something where you're like, yeah.

And then she's like, my aunt is gonna be really annoyed. Her aunt wants her to stay living with them and helping take care of this baby forever, even though she has money now and can do whatever she wants.

Also, in the book, Margaret hates industrialists at the beginning. She thinks that manufacturing is like so low class and it's like such an evil thing to do. And her genteel family all feels that way. So then she's like, oh God, I have to tell my aunt that I'm marrying an industrialist. Right.And he's like, we have to tell my mom.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. And every Victorian reader close the little newspaper pamphlet this came in, handed it to the next person, and silently wept with joy.

Helena Greer: yeah. I mean I would say it's a more satisfying ending from a modern romance reader perspective than you might be used for 19th century British literature because you can tell that they kissed. Like it's obvious. They've had this big moment.

And they've gotten it together. And then the thing is like they're teasing each other, right? The moment that it ends on is that they're like needling each other and they're united as a team and being like, oh man, we have to tell our families about this. This is gonna suck. They've been on opposite sides trying to get [00:51:00] together or butting heads for the whole book.

And then they're united and being able to just like, have fun and play with each other a little bit and tease.

Andrea Martucci: and then they solved all class tensions that ever existed in England. And that was beautiful.

Don: Thank you for listening to part one. Stay tuned for part 2 to hear more scintillating conversation about North and South.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.