Posts Tagged ‘North and South quotes’

In the western world, dictatorship or despotism is commonly thought of as a great evil, where a country’s people live under the control of an all-powerful person who has ultimate control in deciding the fate of others below them. Whilst this might be true, a dictatorship can play an important part in the forming of a country.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to polarise the various forms of government into only two.

Despotism: is defined here as a form of government whereby an unelected person or small group rules a country with supreme power. This type of government often limits freedom of speech, controls the media, limits opportunities for education, and actively squashes any criticism of itself.

Whilst despotism can be good – when a person rules for the good of their country and its people rather than for personal gain and the enjoyment of power – it can easily turn bad if there is no one to hold them to account for their decisions.

This type of government includes an absolute monarchy (where a monarch holds supreme control and whose power is not limited by law), an autocracy (where a single person holds supreme power, i.e. a dictator), and an oligarchy (where a small group of people hold supreme power).

Democracy: is defined here as a form of government whereby a group of people (government) are elected by the citizens to represent them in the running of the country. Essential to the ideology of this type of government is ensuring fair elections, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

A democracy can take different forms, like a republic (which I struggle to define, for there are so many different types) or a constitutional monarchy (where the monarch is the head of state with limited power and rules alongside an elected government).

Mr John Thornton (Richard Armitage), in North and South mini-series (2004).

Mr John Thornton (Richard Armitage), in North and South mini-series (2004).

I initially began thinking about this concept of government formation when I read a line from North and South (1855), by Elizabeth Gaskell. In this excerpt, Mr John Thornton – a business owner – talks about his ideas about how people should be governed.

..we are all – men, women and children – fit for a republic: but give me a constitutional monarchy in our present state of morals and intelligence. In our infancy, children and young people are the happiest under the unfailing laws of a discreet, firm authority. I agree with Miss Hale so far as to consider our people [the workers] in the condition of children, while I deny that we, the masters, have anything to do with the making or keeping them so. I maintain that despotism is the best kind of government for them; so that in the hours in which I come in contact with them I must necessarily be an autocrat.

Miss Margaret Hale, the heroine of this story, believes that workers should be encouraged to be intelligent, rather than having “a blind unreasoning kind of obedience”. While Mr Thornton does not object to this, he believes that he should make decisions concerning his business without having to explain his reasoning to his workers.

Whilst business owners rarely conduct their business in the form of a democracy (with the exception being maybe businesses that have shareholders, as the shareholders are allowed to vote as to who can take positions of leadership in the company), this did get me thinking about how forms of government can be dependant on the state of the people.

The government of a family is a very simplified example. When children are small, parents do not usually run a democracy in their household. Parents in this stage have a firm authority and they make decisions on behalf of their dependants, very much as an autocrat. However, as children grow older, more independent and more mature, they are able to contribute to family decisions and have more of a say as to what they desire for their life.

Historical Dictators

There are many examples in history of the development of democracy from despotism. What I find interesting is that this usually occurs alongside a change in the state of the people, for instance, the community’s ideas change about people’s equality, rights, and freedoms in making decisions that affect their lives. For these changes to happen, the availability of literature and education also usually increase.

RevolutionIn the American Revolution (1763-1783), the American colonies wished to gain independence from the British State. The colonists had been refused representation in the British Parliament, yet were still required to submit to the King’s demands. They declared the King a tyrant (or dictator) when they were refused their rights as British subjects and revolted against the Crown. The writings of John Locke, Montesquieu, Thomas Paine (among others) had a large impact on the emerging  American ideology. As a result, the American people formed their constitution on a very different set of values compared to the historic British ideals.

french-revolution-2In the French Revolution (1789-1799), the French people overthrew the French monarchy. The people had become disillusioned by an absolute monarchy that seemed indifferent to the harsh realities they were suffering under. The resentment built and the resulting violence caused the deaths of a large number of the Royal Family and French aristocracy. This enormous change was also influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, this period was followed by the rule of the dictator Napoleon Bonaparte (1799-1804). France was to have several monarchy restorations and several more revolutions before finally settling in to their newfound democratic state in the mid-nineteenth century.

A demonstration on the streets of Petrograd, just after the military have opened fire (1917).

A demonstration on the streets of Petrograd, just after troops have opened fire (4th July, 1917).

The Russian Revolution (1917) involved the overthrow of the Tsar autocracy, an absolute monarchy that had developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Russia had suffered a series of severe losses in World War 1 (1914-1918) which had created a dissatisfied and mutinous army. The people were also suffering through shortages of food, high inflation, and a large number of worker’s strikes. When the Tsar required the army’s support to squash the people’s rebellion, he lost their allegiance and was forced to abdicate. The ideas behind the Enlightenment had taken a lot longer to develop in Russia, but with an increase in populations of cities, the transmission of new ideas had become easier. After the abdication, a civil war was waged and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was created in 1922. Vladimir Lenin, strongly influenced by Marxism, led the communist party that controlled the USSR until 1924. He believed that a socialist revolution was required, where his political party would lead the working class in taking over the leadership to form a communist country. Instead, his rule effectively replaced the dictatorship of the Tsar, as his party killed those who were in opposition and stifled dissent. Joseph Stalin took over after Lenin’s death, and communism in Russia did not dissolve until 1991.

Christian and Doctor Struensse

Christian VII and Doctor Struensse, in A Royal Affair.

The movie A Royal Affair depicts the Danish struggle with the changes in ideas brought about by the Enlightenment. In 1769, Christian VII sacked the very conservative privy council and employed his doctor, Johann Struensse, as privy councillor. Together they wanted to bring about reform to the country, which had tight censorship controls and operated with a strong feudal system. In the space of 13 months, Struensse passed 1069 cabinet orders and, while all of them would today be considered as positive reform, they were not received well by the public. Struensse was eventually arrested and beheaded, and it was not until 1784, when Christian’s son – Fredrick VI – became Prince Regent, that many of these reforms were reintroduced. This particular instance seemed to indicate a case of too much reform too fast, and when it was instigated by a foreign (German) person in authority it was opposed by the Danish people, even though many of the changes would have benefitted them.

In these examples, a successful change in the form of government happened at the same time as a change in the ideas and state of the people. In addition to this, such a change seems to be often accompanied with quite a lot of violence and struggle.

Modern Dictators

There have been some very well known dictators in recent decades. Sadam Hussien in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt, Colonel Gadaffi in Lybia, the Kim family in North Korea, to name a few. Some of these have been overthrown by their peoples in quite violent circumstances, leading to the beginnings of revolution. Others remain firmly in power.

I have been intrigued by the western perception (in the media, at least) that they are incredibly bad people. Now, granted that they have been accused (and in some cases found guilty of) atrocious crimes against their own people, and often actively inhibit free speech and freedom of the press. But one positive thing that can be said of dictators is that they can usually keep their country under a level of control. This control is important for the proper daily functioning of trade, business, education, health and family life, and often countries that have been unstable in the past have needed the strength and stability provided by a despotic leader. After all, the choice between the rule of a dictator and anarchy doesn’t seem that difficult.

However, as people within a country change, developing and communicating new ideas about their equality, freedom, and rights, suddenly a revolution has the power to occur. As a country grows in this way, they are then able to throw off their despotic leader and form a government of the people. But the birth of such a nation is often extremely violent and uncertain.

The development of the different types of government is quite a complex study, and my knowledge of it is not all that detailed. I have simplified it a lot for the purposes of this discussion, but political history is something I would love to learn more about in the future!

Related Posts

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

A Royal Affair

Sources and Relevant Links

North and South (1855) – read online

A Summary of the American Revolution

A Summary of the French Revolution

A Summary of the Russian Revolution

A Royal Affair – the movie

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Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a British novelist during the Victorian era and published several novels during her lifetime. One of these was North and South, which first appeared in serial form in 1854 for the journal Household Words, and was later published as a book in 1855.

North and South explores the differences between the lifestyle and culture in the south of England and that of the north, which was becoming more industrialised during this period. It also examines the relatively new types of relationships that were developing between business owners or manufacturers and their employees in a time of great industrial change.

The novel follows Margaret Hale, a young lady who moves with her father and mother from their family home in Helstone, a rural setting in Hampshire, England, to the busy and smoky manufacturing town of Milton-Northern, in the industrial north.

But Margaret was at an age when any apprehension, not absolutely based on a knowledge of facts, is easily banished for a time by a bright sunny day, or some happy outward circumstance. And when the brilliant fourteen fine days of October came on, her cares were all blown away as lightly as thistledown, and she thought of nothing but the glories of the forest.

Margaret’s father resigns his position as a clergyman due to doubts as to his religious beliefs, and decides – on the advice of a good friend, Mr Bell – to move to the north where he hopes to obtain a position as a private tutor. This change in abode creates quite a deal of anxiety and resentment for Margaret’s mother.

Miss Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in the cotton mill, North and South mini-series (2004).

Milton could be considered as the polar opposite of Helstone. Where Helstone is green and peaceful, Milton is grey and smokey, noisy and busy. The relationships between people in Helstone are the traditional relationships between people in a normal English village, with the landed gentry who own estates, and the servants, tenants, and clergy that make up the rest of the village. In contrast, the relationships in the town of Milton are based on employment 0r business. Here people are business owners or manufacturers, and employ workers in order to produce goods for sale.

In this new town, Margaret Hale is soon introduced to one of the owners of a local cotton mill, Mr John Thornton, as he is one of her father’s new students. She is struck first by his rude manners, and his preference for Milton over the aristocratic life in the south, as well as his attitudes towards wealth and progress. Later, she feels that he is also cruel and unsympathetic to the plights of his workers.

“It is no boast of mine,” replied Mr Thornton, “it is plain matter-of-fact. I won’t deny that I am proud of belonging to a town – or perhaps I should rather say district – the necessities of which give birth to such grandeur of conception. I would rather be a man toiling, suffering – nay, failing and successless – here, than lead a dull prosperous life in the old worn grooves of what you call more aristocratic society down in the South, with their slow days of careless ease. One may be clogged with honey and unable to rise and fly.”

“You are mistaken,” said Margaret, roused by the aspersion on her beloved South to a fond vehemence of defence, that brought the colour into her cheeks and the angry tears into her eyes. “You do not know anything about the South. If there is less adventure or less progress – I suppose I must not say less excitement – from the gambling spirit of trade, which seems to requisite to force out these wonderful inventions, there is less suffering also. I see men here going about in the streets who look ground down by some pinching sorrow or care – who are not only sufferers but haters. Now, in the South we have our poor, but there is not that terrible expression in their countenances of a sullen sense of injustice which I see here. You do not know the South, Mr Thornton,” she concluded, collapsing into a determined silence, and angry with herself for having said so much.

“And may I say you do not know the North?” asked he, with an inexpressible gentleness in his tone, as he saw that he had really hurt her. She continued resolutely silent; yearning after the lovely haunts she had left far away in Hampshire, with a passionate longing that made her feel her voice would be unsteady and trembling if she spoke.

Margaret also has the opportunity to become friends with some of the workers in the mills that live close by her. This gives her a sense of how their lives are affected by their working conditions in the cotton mills.

A crisis develops when the mill owners refuse to give a pay rise to the workers. The workers, in an attempt to force the mill owners hands, form a “Union” and decide to strike. Gaskell paints the two sides of the issue quite well, as the mill owners are unable to afford to give a rise in pay because their products are not obtaining a high enough price in the marketplace. The position of the strikers is also pitiable, for even though some are starving and unable to continue surviving on strike pay, the Union will not let them return to work.

Eventually, the desperation rises to a pinnacle when Irish workers are bought in to run the mill. The workers riot and Margaret is injured when she is visiting the Thornton’s mill.

Many in the crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless, – cruel because they were thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. She knew how it was; they were like Boucher, – with starving children at home – relying on ultimate success in their efforts to get higher wages, and enraged beyond measure at discovering that Irishmen were to be brought in to rob their little ones of bread. Margaret knew it all; she read it in Boucher’s face, forlornly desperate and livid with rage. If Mr Thornton would but say something to them – let them hear his voice only – it seemed as if it would be better than this wild beating and raging against the stony silence that vouchsafed them no word, even of anger or reproach.

When Mr Thornton proposes to her on the following day, feeling bound to do so in honour, she refuses him. He becomes even more convinced that she is a proud and haughty girl, as her London manners suggest.

Mr John Thornton (Richard Armitage) proposing to Miss Hale, North and South mini-series (2004).

By this time Margaret’s mother has become dangerously ill, and she writes to her exiled brother in Spain to come quickly in utmost secrecy. He arrives and, through a course of cruel coincidences, Mr Thornton comes to believe that Margaret is a loose woman who keeps the company of strange men at odd hours of the day, even refusing to admit it in the face of criminal prosecution. This further estranges the two, though it is as this point that Margaret begins to learn more of Mr Thornton’s good heart.

Margaret Hale is affected by death quite significantly through the course of the book. Her neighbour and friend, Bess Higgins, dies from “fluff on the lungs” due to a long exposure at the cotton mill. Margaret’s mother dies, after a long battle with illness, and then her father dies suddenly when he is away from home. Margaret struggles in different ways to deal with these losses, but particularly that of her father. At the time of her father’s death, she has quite reconciled herself to Milton ways and is forced to leave suddenly to live with her aunt in London.

Mr Bell, her father’s oldest friend and owner of extensive property in Milton, decides to leave Margaret all his possessions and then also suddenly dies. Margaret suddenly finds herself in charge of a large fortune, with Mr Thornton as one of her tenants.

Since the strike, the mill has been going badly, due partly to the long strike action as well as a downturn in the market for cotton. As a result, Thornton’s mill is forced to close. Margaret offers Mr Thornton an investment of some of her capital which would enable him to reopen to continue his trade. At this point they are reconciled to each other, having finally seen the good in each other.

Mr Thornton and Miss Hale: the best kiss in period drama!

I really liked the BBC mini-series, as well as the book. The book relies on quite a deal of narrative to tell the story, which the movie adaptation had to put into scenes. This means that the flow of the screenplay is a little different to the book, which tends to happen to any book that is made into a movie or mini-series. In addition, the mini-series is commonly thought to have the most romantic kiss of all period dramas!

And romantic kisses are always my cup of tea!

Related Posts

Emma Bovary: A lesson in happiness – other 19th century literature

Sources and Relevant Links

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855) – read online

North and South (2004) – the mini-series

Richard Armitage Online – about his role as Mr Thornton

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