Dear Mrs. Gaskell,
Today is a special anniversary for many of us and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for writing North & South. I wonder if you ever imagined the lives it would touch, then and now. I wonder if you ever imagined that John Thornton and Margaret Hale would be considered a classic romantic couple. They’re certainly not typical. Margaret may be soft hearted but she’s not soft headed. I love her determination to do something, to affect the world beyond her own sitting room. Thornton isn’t a typical romantic hero, either. He doesn’t lounge around in drawing rooms because he doesn’t have time, and if he did have the time he doesn’t have the temperament. They’re so beautifully matched and you obviously loved writing them as much as we’ve loved reading them.
The romance of John and Margaret is just one love story in North & South, though. The complex relationships that you write between parents and children, between siblings, between masters and workers, are beautifully explored: Thornton’s desire to take care of his mother and the pride she takes in him; Dixon’s devoted care for Mrs. Hale and for Margaret; Margaret’s taking over the household to make the transition to Milton easier on both of her parents. The compassion you have for your characters comes through in each line and, for me at least, is what makes the novel ring true even now.
I also wonder, especially today, how you would feel knowing that North & South and the BBC’s 2004 adaptation has brought together and inspired a new generation of writers. The tall, dark, handsome actor who played John Thornton might have had something to do with bringing them together, too, but there would have been no actor, no series, no BBC message board crash without your novel. Thank you, Mrs. Gaskell, from all of us.
Your devoted fan,