North and South

North and South Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXXVII-XL


Chapter XXXVII

Mr. Hale and Margaret went to visit Mrs. Boucher. They found it a tad off-putting how much her thoughts had turned to herself –her selfishness was very conspicuous. Even her children were "truer and simpler mourners," but their mother could only see the situation as it affected her.

When Margaret and her father left, the former parson could not be cheered. Margaret tried to reason with him that "it is the town life." Talk turned to the delight of Frederick's visit, which momentarily brightened Margaret's spirits until she remembered her example of cowardice, a trait she deplored in others. She wondered if she would feel so guilty if it were anyone but Mr. Thornton who knew of her falsehood. She desired to see him to find out how she stood in his opinion. She must "feel humiliated and disgraced in his sight," she who had excoriated unchivalrous behavior hitherto.

That evening Mr. Hale was expecting Mr. Thornton and wondered why he did not come, as they had to finish parts of their previous conversation. When Margaret went downstairs to see if he had left a note, Dixon informed her that Higgins was there to see Mr. Hale and her. Margaret prepared tea while Higgins went to speak with her father.

Higgins explained that he felt he needed to look after and provide for the widow Boucher and his children; "I reckon, I would ha guided Boucher to a better end; but I set him off o' th' road, and so I mun answer for him." Mr. Hale was immensely proud of the man's sacrifice and heartily shook his hand. Higgins said he had asked Hamper for his job back, but he refused. He wondered if he might go to the South and find work there where "food is cheap and wages good, and all the folk, rich and poor, master and man, friendly like." Margaret kindly discouraged him by telling him about the bad weather and the dull toil of labor down there.

While Higgins quietly ruminated on his situation the Hales talked to each other. Margaret then suddenly asked if he had gone to see Mr. Thornton. Higgins had not and preferred not to, but after some gentle prodding from Mr. and Miss Hale he agreed to. He would not, however, take a note from Mr. Hale as he preferred to get employment without "having favour curried for me."

After he left Margaret said aloud that she hoped Mr. Thornton could listen to him with "his human heart, not with his master's ears," to which her father replied, "You are getting to do Mr. Thornton justice at last, Margaret." She felt an inward pang because it was hard to lose him as a friend now that she knew his value.


Mr. Thornton was not only bothered by Margaret's falsehood, but by her "fond and earnest look" that she gave to the other man. He was miserable because he passionately loved her and still thought her better than any other woman. He berated himself for his lack of self-control at work and his silence at home.

His mother called him over to speak with her, and explained that one of their servants was the lover of Leonards, the man who died. Another man who was there told Betsy, the servant, of Miss Hale's presence at the station that night with a young man. Mr. Thornton flatly denied this. Mrs. Thornton said the reason she was heeding this was because she had promised Mrs. Hale to advise and remonstrate with her daughter if she did wrong.

After more denials, Mrs. Thornton perceived what her son knew –that the young man was Margaret's lover. Mr. Thornton finally assented, and said that his mother must go to her and gain her confidence since something terrible had happened. He would not elaborate on anything else to do with Margaret's character. Mrs. Thornton huffed that she promised to counsel and advise her as she would her own daughter but would not be kind or gentle.

When alone, Mr. Thornton burst out passionately, "Oh, Margaret! Margaret! Mother, how you have tortured me! Oh! Margaret, could you not have loved me? I am but uncouth and hard, but I would never have led you into any falsehood for me!"

Meanwhile Mrs. Thornton went to visit Miss Hale, but her firm commitment to forcing the young lady to listen to her harsh speech faltered when she encountered a soft, well-mannered, and gracious Margaret. She was "discomfited" and had to speak of polite, simple affairs. Finally she could not wait any longer and said she had a duty to talk to Miss Hale about the young man she was seen with.

Margaret blushed and grew angry at this false impugning of her honor. She could not listen to this blasphemy and told her visitor she could not be exposed to insult. She tried to protest that whatever Mr. Thornton might have said was incorrect, but Mrs. Thornton stopped her and said her son said nothing personal about Margaret in the slightest, and in fact refused to do so.

Margaret tearfully said she could give no explanation for her behavior and that the elder woman judged her too harshly even though she did rightly. As Mrs. Thornton began to talk Margaret said she had to leave the room and would not justify anything. This, indeed, "at once mollified her visitor, far more than any silence or reserve could have done. It showed the effects of her words."

That morning Mr. Thornton was at his factory, trying to deal with the aftermath of the strike and the several problems his business faced. Mr. Higgins met him on the street as he was leaving and tried to ask him for a job. Higgins promised he would work well and tell Mr. Thornton in advance of any problems and if the master refused to listen he would quit. Mr. Thornton did not listen to his reasoning about caring for the Boucher family and firmly refused Higgins. As Higgins walked away he noted the slumped, heavy walk which contrasted with the man's resoluteness in speech. He asked his porter how long Higgins had been waiting, and learned it was five hours.

Chapter XXXIX

Margaret paced about her room, ruminating about her encounter with Mrs. Thornton. She knew she could not have told the woman the truth but smarted under her accusations. She realized that Mr. Thornton must have assumed Frederick was her lover. She blushed and felt overcome with sadness. This past year had been so difficult and she seemed to have passed from childhood into old age. She thought “the hopes of womankind have closed for me –for I shall never marry…I am weary of this continual call upon me for strength.”

She lamented how proud and impatient she was to Mr. Thornton and wished she had behaved differently. That afternoon she visited Mrs. Boucher and tried to get her mind off of herself. The woman was dying. Margaret played with the children until Nicholas came. He told her Mr. Thornton refused him work. Margaret said she was disappointed in the mill owner and apologized for asking Higgins to go to him. As she said that there was a noise behind them –it was Mr. Thornton.

Embarrassed, Margaret got up hurriedly and left. Mr. Thornton was annoyed she saw him there, as he had a lot of tenderness but it was wrapped up in pride. He had been affected by Higgins’s five hours of waiting for him and spent some of his own time learning about the man’s history and motives. He came to offer him work. Mr. Thornton noticed Boucher’s children and apologized to Mr. Higgins for speaking improperly about them earlier.

He asked Higgins to work for him. Higgins did not speak right away and Mr. Thornton would not ask again. After a few moments he agreed and the two men realized a grudging respect for each other.

When Mr. Thornton left he espied Margaret a ways ahead of him. He admired her walk for a few moments but then the jealousy and anger rushed back to him. He caught up to her and told her she was premature in her disappointment since he had just hired Higgins. She said coldly that she was glad of it. The conversation veered toward the topic of truth and alluded to Margaret’s night encounter. She said she could not tell someone else’s secret without doing him harm. Frustrated, Mr. Thornton impressed upon her that he was assuredly not in love with her anymore and asked her if she believed him. She replied sadly that she did.

When she returned home she forced herself to be cheery and lighthearted. Her father noticed this strange ebullition of spirits. This high faded later in the day, and for the next couple days her emotions vacillated. Mr. Hale told her Mr. Bell was coming to visit but she was not roused by this news. She was more interested in reading a letter from Edith which said that Mrs. Shaw might return to Harley Street and Captain Lennox might sell out of the regiment and they would live in England once more. Margaret “yearned after that old house, and the placid tranquility of that old well-ordered monotonous life.” She longed to stop hearing references to Mr. Thornton wherever she went and with whomever she spoke.

Chapter XL

Margaret had not expected to take too much pleasure from her godfather’s visit but liked him immensely. He too felt she was a girl after his own heart and loved her fiercely. He teased her for being a “democrat, a red republican, a member of the Peace Society, a socialist” due to living in Milton. The conversation between the Hales and Mr. Bell centered on the merits of Milton versus Oxford, where Mr. Bell lived and studied. He said Margaret out to go there. Mr. Hale said Mr. Thornton was coming to visit and he would tell Mr. Bell about the glories of Milton.

Mr. Thornton for his part could barely countenance hearing her name; he blamed her, was jealous of her, he renounced her, yet he was still in love with her in spite of himself. He was, however, too proud to avoid her due to his insecurities. He went to the Hale’s house to meet Mr. Bell.

The two men did not much care for each other at this time. They both thought the other “prosy” and Mr. Thornton was irritable and misunderstood comments and jokes. He became disturbed when he heard that Margaret had a letter by Henry Lennox and was “very hopeful.” He wondered if that was her lover.

The conversation turned to the differences between Milton and Oxford, with both Mr. Thornton and Mr. Bell not understanding each other very well. Mr. Bell asked Mr. Thornton what Milton men were striving for if not money, and Mr. Thornton replied, “I really don’t know. But money is not what I strive for.” As they continued to talk Mr. Thornton became less amused; he was not in the mood for teasing. Talk turned to the strike, but as this made Mr. Thornton uncomfortable Margaret tried to turn it to Edith and her shawls. Her father thought Margaret must be exaggerating about something Edith said, and Mr. Bell said he believed Margaret’s truthfulness. Before he could control himself, Mr. Thornton accidentally said, in the bitterest tones, “Is Miss Hale so remarkable for truth?”

He regretted his lamentable behavior and wondered how he could be so cruel. Margaret reddened and remained silent, bending over her work and not speaking again. Mr. Thornton hoped for a look but never got one. He thenceforth resolved that he would try to see as little of her as possible.

Mr. Bell expressed his displeasure with Mr. Thornton after he had gone, saying he was a spoiled fellow. Margaret said he was not truly vain and must have been annoyed by something before he came. Later when Mr. Hale and Mr. Bell were speaking, the latter suggested that maybe the two young people cared about each other. Surprised, Mr. Hale said if that was the case it was only Mr. Thornton caring for Miss Hale and not the other way. Mr. Bell encouraged Mr. Hale to come to Oxford with him but Mr. Hale replied, “My one great change has been made and my price of suffering paid. Here I stay out my life; and here I will be buried, and lost in the crowd.”

The monotony of the Hales’ life continued. Margaret visited the Boucher children and Mary Higgins. Nicholas and the Boucher children now lived in one house and Margaret noted how he had changed, for he “showed a sober judgment, and regulated method of thinking, which were at variance with his former more eccentric jerks of action.”

Mr. Thornton now rarely came to tutor with Mr. Hale. He was much saddened by the loss of his friend. One evening he asked his daughter if she ever had any reason to think Mr. Thornton cared for her. She blushed and confessed it was true.

Later they discussed how Edith and Captain Lennox were moving back to Harley Street now that the Captain had sold out of the military. It was also mentioned that Frederick did not have much chance of being exonerated.

Margaret began to realize that her father was suffering for want of male companionship. In Milton everyone was too busy for quiet speech or “any ripened intercourse of thought.”


In chapter thirty-seven it becomes apparent to the reader that Margaret has slightly modified her belief in the South’s complete superiority to the North; she has developed a more realistic and honest perception of what labor is like in that region. When Nicholas suggests that he might take Boucher’s family –which he is now looking out for –to the South to try and find employment, Margaret gently dissuades him by explaining that the weather and the type of work would wear him out physically, and that the “fare is far different to what you have been accustomed to” (299).

She paints a miserable picture: “You would not bear the dulness [sic] of the life…those that have lived there all their lives, are used to soaking up the stagnant waters. They labor on, from day to day, in the great solitude of steaming fields –never speaking or lifting up their poor, bent, downcast heads. The hard spade-work robs their brain of life; the sameness of their toil deadens their imagination” (299). She also mentions that Higgins would be unlikely to find companionship there, as the men were not privy to idle talk. This is a very different conception of the idyllic and pastoral South that Margaret was used to describing.

Margaret mentions in chapter thirty-nine that she is “weary” of her life. She has dealt with numerous and drastic changes to her life and has experienced grief, fear, stress, and confusion. Her mother and Bessy have passed away, Frederick barely escaped danger, she told a grievous falsehood that Mr. Thornton was aware of, and she was accused of having a secret lover. Patricia Ingham observes in her annotations to the Penguin edition of the novel that this expression of fatigue was evidence of Margaret’s very un-Victorian denial of self-abnegation, which was commonly seen as a feminine virtue. Ingham notes the similarity in Margaret's relieved response to her father’s absence.

Two events occur in these chapters which foreshadow the internal changes taking place for Margaret and Mr. Thornton. The latter has, against his will, been impressed with Higgins, mostly due to his waiting over five hours to see the mill owner and request employment. This would not have happened at the outset of the novel. Margaret is also changing, mostly in her esteem for Mr. Thornton. It is subtle, and she is not entirely aware of the nature of her feelings, but she is becoming obsessed with thinking about how he is aware of her falsehood and their friendship has disappeared. Mr. Bell is possesses the most perspicacity in this situation –he asks Mr. Hale if the two young people do not care for each other. It is not surprising that Mr. Hale, who could not even see his wife's illness, is not aware of the attraction, but it mirrors Margaret's own ignorance of others' feelings.

Finally, a note on Gaskell's many references. The author shows her literary pedigree in these chapters as in most of the others. She references a sonnet by Michael Drayton, Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen, Richard Edwards's The Paradise of Dainty Devices, the Arabian Nights, Robert Browning's Paracelsus, and Greek and Norse myths. Her own education is demonstrated in her strong background in poetry and the classics.