Ha! Admit it. You flinched at the thought.
Hannah Thornton is definitely not the warm and fuzzy type, but she did happen to produce one heck of a hero. It was Hannah’s determination and moral strength that set her son on the course to greatness in character and in worldly affairs.
On the whole, I greatly admire Hannah and love her for her tough nut determination and faith in her son. But we all know she wouldn’t be great fun to live with.
My interest in this topic today is not necessary about how Margaret would fare living with the ‘Old Crow’, but how Hannah’s nature and mannerisms affected and shaped the lives and characters of her children.
So what do we know about Hannah? Gaskell doesn’t give us any real information about her upbringing. And we’re given very little about her husband. We know her husband was duped or persuaded to make a very poor ‘investment’ which turned him into a debtor and ultimately caused him to take his life. She has worn black, or mourning colors, ever since.
Hannah didn’t wait to become a charity case, but moved her children a ways where John found work in a draper’s shop. Fanny might have been about 3, John about 16. They lived on very little while still setting aside money to pay back all the debt her husband had owed.
We know that she lost an infant or very small child – probably a baby she had between those gaping years between her living children.
All hats off to her for taking command of a dire situation and determining to live with purpose and dignity despite their toils. This is the biggest influence she could have given her son. Her determination to dismiss the shame that society would place on her family shows great courage, strength, and individual moral conviction and worth. These attributes she passes to John. And they stand out amid the superficial value structures upheld by unthinking class tradition and common social custom.
Hannah is fiercely proud of her son, especially so when his undeviating commitment to following her payback plan brings him into great opportunities and he raises himself and his family to higher status, wealth, and respect. Her pride is justified. But is it too extreme, adversely affecting her ability to evaluate others more compassionately? Her son is perfection. No one else can hold a candle to him.
What about Fanny? How did she become so dissimilar to her brother?
What would it have been like for her to have Hannah for a mother?
We can infer from Hannah’s careful and patient treatment of her daughter that Fanny was protected from hardship throughout those difficult years. Fanny shows no signs of understanding the effort and self-sacrifice involved in what her mother and brother did. Was she given preferential treatment and special treats which grew into an attitude of entitlement?
There’s oh so much to consider in thinking about the life John lived before Margaret came on the scene. How do you think John was affected by living with a mother like Hannah? Was he introverted naturally, or was it enhanced by his mother’s less than warm and snuggly manner?
What attributes do you think he carried as a result of the years he lived with Hannah and Fanny? What was his home like and what might have been missing from it? Surely not order, but maybe he longed, not even consciously, for more warmth and lightness in his home.
What would it have been like for both John and Fanny to live with Hannah? How did it shape them and affect the way they expressed themselves?