Those hours by the sea-side were not lost, as anyone might have seen who had had the perception to read, or the care to understand, the look that Margaret's face was gradually acquiring. Mr Henry Lennox was excessively struck by the change. 'The sea has done Miss Hale an immense deal of good, I should fancy,' said he, when she first left the room after his arrival in their family circle. 'She looks ten years younger than she did in Harley Street.'
'That's the bonnet I got her!' said Edith, triumphantly. 'I knew it would suit her the moment I saw it.'
'I beg your pardon,' said Mr. Lennox, in the half-contemptuous, half-indulgent tone he generally used to Edith. 'But I believe I know the difference between the charms of a dress and the charms of a woman. No mere bonnet would have made Miss Hale's eyes so lustrous and yet so soft, or her lips so ripe and red— and her face altogether so full of peace and light.— She is like, and yet more,'— he dropped his voice,—' like the Margaret Hale of Helstone.'
observations: For earlier entries on this book, explaining the plot, see here and here.
Edith, Margaret’s cousin, is there to provide contrast. She is girlish and shallow - at one point:
‘And then, having nothing else particular to do, she cried…’
But she is good-hearted, and does have a real affection for Margaret – friendship between women is one of Mrs Gaskell’s strengths, and the sisterly regard between Cynthia and Molly in Wives and Daughters is particularly well done. And Edith has no patience with Mr Hale and his religious Doubts – she writes to Margaret:
I’m rather afraid of any one who has done something for conscience sake. You never did, I hope.- is meant to be evidence of her flighty nature, but this reader is tempted to agree. I was reminded of the Iris Murdoch novel, The Time of the Angels, in which the vicar loses his religion and thinks that means he can stay in his vicarage and draw his stipend, but also sleep with young women and behave extremely badly. Detestable and despicable, but much more fun.
And Edith isn’t as bad as Thornton’s spoilt, lazy sister Fanny. ‘I am so tired!’ she says when she doesn’t want to do something. ‘With what?’ her clear-eyed mother replies.
So good for Edith – she is kind and generous, and chose Margaret a lovely bonnet, and does not deserve the clever ‘contempt’ of Mr Lennox.
The picture is an 1855 fashion plate of ‘The New Bonnet’, and came from the NY Public Library.