North and South

North and South Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXIX-XXXII


Chapter XXIX

Margaret received a letter from Edith the next morning. It went on about her new child, Cosmo, and her happy life. She begged Margaret and Mrs. Hale to come stay with her for at least three months, as it would no doubt do Mrs. Hale a great deal of good. She prattled on about her husband and son, and Margaret felt that she longed for a day in Edith's life. She was only twenty but felt so much older due to all her cares.

While Margaret was reading the letter to her mother Mr. Thornton came in with another basket of pears. Again he did not even acknowledge Margaret's presence. After he left Mrs. Hale mused that she rather liked him now. She asked her daughter if she could please ask Mrs. Thornton to come visit. The two then planned for Frederick, deciding that they would send away Martha, the housemaid. Margaret decided to hire Mary Higgins to work at the house during Frederick's visit; she would work hard and not be curious about what was going on upstairs.

Margaret used a slang term while talking and her mother criticized her for doing so. When Margaret espied her father coming into the room, she jokingly said, "Mamma is accusing me of having picked up a great deal of vulgarity since we came to Milton." She did not see that Mr. Thornton was behind him, however, and became passionately embarrassed. Mr. Thornton looked angry at her callous words. She tried to cover for herself but he coldly passed her by to speak to her mother. Margaret sat in "burning silence, vexed and ashamed of her difficulty in keeping her right place." Margaret felt full of regret at having wounded him and wished to return to their former place of antagonistic friendship. However, Mr. Thornton was deeply resentful of her words and felt that he disliked seeing her keenly. He was mistaken, though, for "it was a stinging pleasure to be in the room with her, and feel her presence."

Chapter XXX

Mrs. Thornton came to visit the next day. She was immediately softened at Mrs. Hale's weak and severely sick appearance; she always assumed her illness was exaggerated or a momentary fancy. Mrs. Hale was a woman and a mother like herself, and even much younger.

Mrs. Hale spoke with her quietly, and asked her if she might be like a mother to Margaret if she died. Mrs. Thornton had a momentary recollection of a daughter that was lost to her. To Mrs. Hale she said she would be a true friend if she needed to be, but could not be a tender friend. She felt she disliked Margaret more than ever at this moment. Mrs. Hale did not understand Mrs. Thornton's manner and allusions to Margaret, but was weak, dizzy, and tired and thus did not trouble herself with questions.

While this conversation was occurring, Margaret and Dixon were discussing what to do about Frederick's arrival. They decided to send Martha away that afternoon. The house was silent and glum. Mr. Hale sat with his head buried in his arms. Suddenly the quiet was interrupted by the jangling bell and Margaret went out to answer the door. To her incredulity, it was Frederick that stood upon the doorstep. The siblings embraced and Frederick asked if his mother was yet dead. Once inside in the light the brother and sister looked at each other further, and Margaret felt a glow of pleasure. Her heart felt lighter, and the situation became less oppressive now that she had someone with her who knew exactly how she felt.

Upstairs she tried to tell her grief-stricken father that Frederick had arrived. Her father went to greet his son in the study and Margaret rushed upstairs to have the first real cry she had allowed in days. When she went back downstairs she was renewed in her feeling that Frederick's presence was a relief and blessing. Frederick busied himself around the house. It was decided that they would wait until tomorrow for him to visit with his mother.

Margaret felt her brother's presence as an increase in strength. He was comely to look upon, although sometimes his expression had a tinge of "latent passion" that was "the instantaneous ferocity of expression that comes over the countenances of all natives of wild southern countries." Her sense of relief demonstrated to her just how much stress she had been under –how much responsibility she had to bear alone. Frederick had never forgotten her or Helstone either, and this cheered her immensely.

Mrs. Hale sat with her son all day and was somewhat revived by his presence. When the siblings spoke alone together later, Margaret cried to her brother that her mother was only just getting to love her and was now going to be taken away. Frederick tried to enliven the spirits of the house by telling stories and keeping busy, but "before the morning came all was over." Mrs. Hale passed away, and Margaret needed to be a "strong angel of comfort to her father and brother." Frederick broke into wild tears but her father was mute, and gently stroked his wife's face.

Chapter XXXI

Margaret could not give into her grief since she had to care for her father and brother. She was absorbed in "working, planning, considering." The funeral arrangements were up to her. When she finally did fall prey to her grief, it was only Dixon's unusual tenderness in telling her to steel herself that helped her contain her emotion.

Mr. Hale acted as if he were sleepwalking. He was able to ask Margaret to call for Mr. Bell, his old groom's man.

That evening Dixon spoke with Margaret privately. She heard Mr. Hale talking to his dead wife like she was alive, but needed to disturb his anguish because she was concerned about Frederick and thought he must be sent away. That day she had encountered a young man named Leonards who was at sea with Frederick. While he did not ask after Frederick, he did speak with Dixon for a bit and joked upon his departure that if she could help him trap the young Hale he would share the reward with her. This made Dixon very nervous, and Margaret felt the same way upon the close of the servant's speech.

When Margaret went to speak with Frederick he acknowledged that Leonards was a dangerous fellow and he ought to leave. Mr. Hale overheard what they were saying, and, trembling, agreed that his son should depart. Frederick mentioned that earlier he was uncomfortable because the doorbell rang and it was a man who he took to be a shopman. It turned out to be Mr. Thornton, and Frederick casually dismissed him as merely a manufacturer. Margret knew her brother meant no ill but this was strangely annoying to her. Mr. Hale commented that Thornton was a good friend to the family.

Frederick grew sober and sad, and commented that he wished he could thank the people who were kind to his family. He also wished they could meet the girl he loved, Dolores Barbour. She was a Roman Catholic and Frederick was one now as well. This made Margaret a little melancholy, but they gave up talking about religion and turned to Frederick's criminal status.

Margaret wondered if it were possible to try and combat the charges. Frederick wondered how he would get witnesses, and told his father and sister that they did not truly understand how cruel a court-martial could actually be. It would not be that he was merely trying to prove his innocence. After they continued to encourage him to try and justify himself, he began to consider this. Margaret, growing red, asked if he might want a lawyer and suggested Henry Lennox. Frederick agreed to this, and Margret wrote up a letter to the barrister on Frederick's behalf.

Chapter XXXII

Frederick was less filled with grief now and would not speak of his lack of control ever again. Margaret was more distraught. Mr. Hale grew nervous about Frederick remaining in Milton and waited anxiously for him and Margaret to go to the station. Margaret was also ready to depart the house –“the parting from the dead mother and the living father.”

The brother and sister waited quietly at the station. Fredrick told her he was going to seek out Mr. Lennox. He worried for his sister if she was to be left alone in Milton, but she said she could only think about the present for now. While they were waiting they saw Mr. Thornton pass by but no words were exchanged.

They grew nervous since there were several men loafing around. Margaret worried about this plan to send Frederick to London because it would provide more opportunities for detection.

One drunken man stumbled toward them, asking Frederick if his name was Hale. He seized Frederick’s collar and Frederick shoved him away. The man fell down a few feet near the side of the railroad. Margaret gasped that it was Leonards, and hurried Frederick onto the train that had just arrived. If the train had not just come “the man would have jumped up again and called for assistance to arrest him.”

She was terrified as she walked back that Leonards might have recognized her as Frederick’s companion. She heard two railway officials talking about Leonards being drunk and trying to beg for money to take a train to London.


Frederick Hale has attracted the attention of some critics for several reasons: he is a minor character whose major actions –the mutiny, his conversion to Catholicism, his marriage –take place outside the bounds of the narrative, and he is mostly viewed through the memories and thoughts of his family members. When he does come to Milton, he leaves behind him a tumult of emotions and problems for Margaret. Scholar Julia Sun-Joo Lee's critical analysis of the novel focuses on Frederick and how his role in the novel is to introduce a transnational context. His travels and life experience introduce the reader to Spain, Mexico, and South America. By creating a character like Frederick, Gaskell is going beyond the domestic axis that she usually explored in her novels.

Lee began by discussing the "condition of England" question that was so ubiquitous during the 19th century. The relationship between Britain and America was one aspect of this, since the nations were increasingly intertwined economically and politically. There were also connections in their temperance, antislavery, and suffrage movements. Frederick is traveling through the Americas and Europe during this time and was in close proximity to international conflicts and relations.

He is representative of an alternate "North and South" –the South of the United States that produced cotton and the North of Britain that manufactured textiles. The novel offers "a new, racialized prism through which to view the narrative's conflict between master and man," and Frederick is "metonymically linked to slavery through the maritime trade."

For most of the novel England's international troubles are held safely at bay. Lee writes that it is "safely abstracted" and "deracinated." However, when Frederick arrives he brings with him the cultural and political debates that focused on internationalism, slavery, and commerce. When Margaret reads Frederick's letters she becomes aware of this wider world. Frederick is not directly involved in the slave trade as a slave or a slaver, but he was implicated in this area of the economy that could not exist without slavery. Frederick "protects British interests, ensuring the safe transport of American slave-produced goods to English such he is integral to the success of the transatlantic textile trade, connecting British textile manufacturers to their supply of American cotton." Lee notes the allusion to the plantation slave system in how Captain Reid treats his crew and the metaphors of slavery utilized in the discussion of industrialization; an example of the latter is Thornton's comparison of the striking men to slaves who want to take their master's position.

Finally, Lee discusses the amount of "character-space" Frederick takes up, as alluded to in the first paragraph of this analysis. He is a major component of Margaret's thoughts while at Harley Street and then at Helstone, especially when Mr. Hale breaks the news about his leaving the Church. He is also on Mrs. Hale's mind continuously, and it is her deathbed summons that finally brings him to Milton in the flesh. He also occupies the mind of Mr. Thornton, who espies him at the train station and takes him for a secret lover of Margaret's. Thus, Frederick is not truly a minor character, although he mostly comes alive through the thoughts of the other characters in the novel.