On Friendship, or Peculiar People

north-and-south-vintage-coverI re-read North and South recently for book club, and while I’d previously concentrated on the tumultuous relationship between Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton, this time I found myself thinking a lot about the power of conversation and curious connection of friendship.

Especially those wonderful friendships built on meaningful conversations.

Consider this powerful passage in which Elizabeth Gaskell writes about the special bond between Margaret’s dad and Mr. Thornton. The last few sentences pierce my heart:

It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret . . . Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little, but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt – a fear – a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none – so tear-blinded were its eyes – Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?

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