Hi everybody! I’m thrilled to be able to visit with you today via My Jane Austen Book Club! A million thanks to Maria Grazia for letting me introduce myself and my newest novel, Margaret of Milton, to you!
Margaret of Milton is a variation on the beloved novel North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. On a blog dedicated to Jane Austen it may seem strange to feature a book based on a different author’s work! But as many Janeites have discovered, the writings of Elizabeth Gaskell contain some intriguing parallels and differences from Austen. Today I’d like to talk about the lives and writings of both authors.
Jane Austen, as most Janeites know, was the daughter of an Anglican minister and one of many children. Her father was devoutly religious and faith played a significant role in the family’s everyday life. She fell in love at least once in her life, but she was not able to marry due to family objections on the man’s side. After that she remained single and never had children. Her father died when Austen was in her late twenties and for several years the family struggled financially. It was during this time period that Austen began to publish her work.
Austen’s writing was anonymous. Although her writing received critical acclaim in her lifetime, her identity was not revealed until after her death. She died at just forty-one years of age after a lingering illness.
Elizabeth Gaskell, by contrast, never knew her mother, who passed away when Gaskell was only a year old. She was then sent away to be raised by her aunt and stayed with her aunt even after her father remarried a few years later. Like Austen, Gaskell’s father was also a minister, but he was in the Unitarian church, a more liberal denomination than the Anglican tradition. Gaskell’s family emphasized religion, education and acts of charity.
Gaskell eventually married another Unitarian minister and ended up living in the manufacturing city of Manchester, at the height of the industrial revolution. Her own home was fashionable and filled with modern comforts but she had a clear view of the mills, factories and slums that were a sad part of Victorian England. In years to come they would play an important part in her novels.
The Gaskell family, unlike Austen’s, did not struggle financially. In fact Gaskell was able to enjoy a trip to the continent nearly every year! And although Gaskell started off her writing career using a pseudonym, she was able to publish under her own name before long. She became friends with other famous writers and hosted literary legends such as Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charlotte Bronte at her spacious home in Manchester.
Throughout her life Gaskell remained active in various charities, promoting causes that were dear to her heart. Her sudden death at the age of fifty-five was seen as a loss not just for her writing, but for the charities she had supported.
With this background in mind it’s interesting to note the differences between Austen’s and Gaskell’s writings. Austen wrote her stories in mostly pastoral settings because she mostly lived in rural areas. She focused on the social lives and trials of the gentry class that she was born into. And although her stories occasionally touch on more serious subjects they always do so with a light touch. Austen’s stories allow readers to become immersed in a genteel, upper class world.
Gaskell’s novels, by contrast, take a hard look at the sad conditions of workers in an industrial town. Gaskell’s characters don’t fear social disgrace or losing one’s standing in society; they fear violent strikes, angry mobs, and even starvation and death. In Austen’s novels the reader may hear of something truly terrible happening, but Gaskell’s readers are forced to confront tragedies head on.
It’s not all gloomy, though! Both writers also depict the growth of true love between men and women and show how love brings out the best in all of us. John Thornton and Margaret Hale have just as much pride and prejudice as our famous couple, Darcy and Elizabeth, but in the end true love conquers all. They will overcome their weaknesses and earn a happy ever after! It is for this reason that fans of one book are frequently fans of both.
The excerpt below sets the scene for the central conflict in Margaret of Milton: a forced marriage between John Thornton and Margaret Hale after the unexpected death of Margaret’s father. At this point in the story Thornton has already proposed to Margaret once and been turned down. Margaret believes that Thornton no longer cares for her, and Thornton believes that Margaret is in love with another man. (So much angst!) I hope you enjoy this selection! Please read all the way to the end for information on a giveaway!!!
Thornton heard the anguished cry from Margaret as clearly as though he were standing next to her. He rushed forward and in a moment was by her side, kneeling next to the prostrate Hale.
"Mr. Hale!" He rolled the older man from his crumpled position onto his back, to look at him more closely. "What is the matter?"
"There is pain," Mr. Hale gasped, clutching his hands over his chest. "So . . . much . . . pain!"
"A doctor!" Thornton cried to those who were already gathering around. "Fetch a doctor! This man needs help!" Reaching under the older man's head and shoulders, he lifted him up until Mr. Hale's head was leaning against his chest. "Mr. Hale, try not to move. Stand back, everyone, give us room!”
Several rough-looking men, compelled to motion by Thornton's orders, used their arms to push the crowd a few feet back from the little group. Thornton heard Mr. Hale's labored breathing and hoped that someone had heeded his command to find a physician. He could not leave his current position with the older man to go in search of one himself.
"Papa!" called Margaret, reaching for her father's hands. "Where does it hurt?"
"My heart," her father answered, from between clenched teeth. "There is pressure. I cannot breathe!"
Margaret looked at Thornton, wild panic in her eyes. "I do not know what to do!"
Thornton shared her feeling. He had seen men collapse this way before, and the outcome was rarely good. "There is nothing we can do," he answered grimly. "Keep him quiet and calm until the physician arrives."
"Is a doctor coming?" Margaret called out to the sympathetic onlookers. "Has someone gone for help?" She was relieved when a man answered that one of their number had left on the run, and indicated the direction he had gone. Margaret said a quick prayer that the messenger would find the doctor and would be able to bring him to her father at once.
As if hearing her thoughts, her father spoke again, his eyes squeezed shut against the pain. "You must trust in God, daughter," he managed to say. "I am in His hands."
"No, Papa, no! Do not talk that way! A doctor will be here shortly."
"He will not be in time."
Tears welled in her eyes. "Do not say that. I could not stand to lose you too!"
"God is a father to the fatherless, Margaret. He will not forsake you."
Margaret bit her lip as she clung to her father's hands, trying to hold back her tears. She held onto his hands desperately, believing that if she could just will him to stay alive until the physician arrived, all would be well.
"Is John here?" Mr. Hale asked, suddenly opening his eyes.
"He is right behind you."
"Let me see."
It was not easy to arrange since Thornton was still supporting the older gentleman, but Margaret managed to support some of her father's weight so that Thornton could move slightly to one side. Hale looked up at him, and a smile came to his lips.
"John, my boy. You have been like a son to me," he whispered as he reached up one hand to touch John's face.
"You have been a father to me," Thornton answered huskily, watching Hale's pallor change. Grief was already contracting his throat. He knew what the sudden ashy gray in the rosy cheeks meant.
"I will miss you."
"Papa!" Margaret exclaimed in alarm, but her father did not stop.
"Take care of her, John," Hale said, reaching blindly to take one of Thornton's hands in his. He found Thornton's hand and guided it until it was on top of Margaret's, then held both their hands together with his. "You must take care of her for me. Promise me, John."
"I promise," Thornton answered solemnly. He wrapped his fingers around Margaret's but did not take his eyes off Hale. "You have my word."
"That is good." Hale gave a relieved sigh and closed his eyes, but he still breathed. His spirit had not yet fled; the tie that kept him to earth was not yet loosed. "I love you, Margaret," he said, his voice growing weaker.
"Papa! You must not go!" Tears threatened to spill, but she blinked hard and they retreated for the moment. She swallowed bravely even as her father's breathing became more shallow.
Thornton did not dare move, fearing any motion might disturb the dying man. Margaret remained transfixed, tears finally beginning to make their way down her cheeks.
Just before the end Hale opened his eyes again, but they were glassy and unfocused, the light fading. "If only things had been different," he murmured. "If only I could have gone to Spain. I wish I had seen Spain. I wish I could have seen – " his voice stopped, and his head fell back. He gave one final gasp, and then he slipped away.
Thank you for reading! I hope you will leave a comment below to let me know if you enjoyed this! Please, enter the giveaway for a free copy of the book (electronic version) using the rafflecopter below. It'll be a Kindle copy for US readers or a PDF copy for readers in Europe and the rest of the world. Good luck to everybody!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Margaret Hale loses her father unexpectedly and must marry the man she refused months earlier- the same man who has said he no longer cares for her. At the same time John Thornton is compelled by his sense of honor to offer his name and a home to the woman he believes is in love with another man. How will our couple find their way to happiness and love in a union born of obligation?
Elaine Owen began writing fanfiction in 2014, first by diving into the world of Pride and Prejudice with Mr. Darcy's Persistent Pursuit. In 2016 she published her first story in the North and South universe, Common Ground. Since then she has written in both worlds, including Duty Demands and a contribution in the anthology Falling For Mr. Thornton (The Best Medicine). She lives in the greater Philadelphia area with two children, various pets, and her very own Mr. Darcy/Mr. Thornton!