Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Classics Challenge - February Prompt

This month's prompt - ' Write about a character you find interesting, it doesn't have to be your favorite. Perhaps your least favorite or a minor one: choose any.'

I've just finished reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell which I loved and wonder why I allowed it to sit so long on my bookshelf unread. My choice of character to write about is..

Hannah Thornton

Level 1:What phrases has the author used to introduce this character? What are your first impressions of them? Find a portrait or photograph that closely embodies how you imagine them. 

Elizabeth Gaskell introduces Hannah Thornton, the mother of John Thornton, with a wonderful physical description...
"A large-boned lady, long past middle age, sat at work in a grim handsomely furnished dining-room. Her features, like her frame were strong and massive, rather than heavy. Her face moved slowly from one decided expression to another equally decided. There was no great variety in her countenance; but those who looked at it once, generally looked at it again; even the passers-by in the street half-turned their heads to gaze an instant longer at the firm, severe, dignified woman, who never gave way in street-courtesy, or paused in her straight-onward course to the clearly defined end which she proposed to herself."

A formidable character and a force to be reckoned with! I had a clear picture of her in my mind but despite a good deal of searching never found an image that quite captured the Hannah I imagined. It isn't anything like Sinead Cusack either, but as I haven't yet seen the TV adaptation and I understand her performance is outstanding, I might change my mind when I do watch it.

 Level 2: How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them? 

Hannah doesn't change and at her age I wouldn't expect her to but as the story progresses and I came to understand the real person behind the severe exterior my initial opinion altered considerably. 

Hannah wears beautiful old lace and carefully mends fine old damask linen which suggests her life before the early death of her husband was materially comfortable. In an age when young women were raised to be dependent on male protection to be left alone with young children meant seriously reduced circumstances  and a continual struggle to survive. Both Hannah and John are examples of the Northern attitude - the ability to focus on the reality of the present and work hard towards a positive future. I really enjoyed the close relationship between mother and son which was more one of equals based on love, trust and friendship.

 Hannah is very shy and dislikes social calls and meaningless chitchat ( I can relate to that) but never allows this trait to overcome her sense of duty or her responsibilities. Her courage and strength of character are shown in two very different incidents. The first when Margaret is injured during the riots outside the Thornton home and Hannah is the only one prepared to risk the danger and fetch the doctor. The second, and one of my favourite passages, as she waits for John's return from proposing to Margaret.
" - her son, her pride, her property. Still he did not come. Doubtless he was with Miss Hale. The new love was displacing her already from her place as first in his heart. A terrible pain - a pang of vain jealousy - shot through her: she hardly knew whether it was more physical or mental; but it forced her to sit down. In a moment she was up again as straight as ever - a grim smile upon her face for the first time that day, ready for the door opening, and the rejoicing triumphant one, who should never know the sore regret his mother felt at his marriage."
I don't think she would be an easy person to get to know and although I would like to meet her I can feel the long embarrassing silences that happen when two shy people find themselves in each others company for the first time. 


  1. What a well-thought post! Interesting...I never thought about how it is when two shy people meet. Guess that's why shy people often wind up marrying more outspoken spouses.

    1. It can be a painful experience!! :-)and you're right .....the old story of opposites attract.

  2. I do like the description of Hannah- 'decided expression.' I wonder how she would interact in our modern times.

  3. Good question, Debbie. I think any Victorian woman would have great difficulty adjusting to our modern world.

  4. I've yet to read any Gaskell and I know I have been missing something.