Among the most fascinating male characters in fiction of all times, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice) and John Thornton ( Elizabeth Gaskell’s  North and South ) have been very often compared to and associated with one another. Do you think they share much or very little? This is what I’m going to write about today leafing through two of my favourite novels.


Mr Darcy 
Here is how he is introduced by Jane Austen on his first appearance at the Meryton Assembly:
“Mr Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike;… but his friend Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr Bingley,…”

Mr Thornton
The first physical description of John is given by Elizabeth Gaskell through Margaret’s eyes. The two had already met for about half an hour but the girl prejudices against northern people and their habits had made her blind to what Mr Thornton looked like. Now he was visiting their house for tea and she noticed how handsome he was for the first time. The first thing she noticed was that he had a “tall, massive frame” which contrasted with her father’s slight figure.
“Now, in Mr Thornton’s face the straight brows fell low over the clear, deep-set earnest eyes, which without being unpleasantly sharp, seemed intent enough to penetrate into the very heart and core of what he was looking at. The lines in the face were few but firm, as if they were carved in marble, and lay principally about the lips, which were slightly compressed over a set of teeth so faultless and beautiful as to give the effect of sudden sunlight when the rare bright smile, coming in an instant and shining out of the eyes, changed the whole look from the severe and resolved expression of a man ready to do and dare anything, to the keen honest enjoyment of the moment, …”


Mr Darcy’s temperament is analysed in comparison to Mr Bingley’s. This is how he is seen at the beginning of the novel .
“Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of a great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy’s regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and on his judgement the highest opinion. In understanding Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, abd fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offence”.His strong temper, his self- confidence, his contempt for inferior social ranks are the result of his upbringing. (But we know he will change in the end!)

Mr Thornton’s behaviour in society is totally different from Darcy’s. This is how Margaret sees him as her host at the dinner at Marlborough:
“… his whole manner, as master of the house, and entertainer of his friends, was so straightforward, yet simple and modest, as to be thouroughly dignified. Margaret thought she had never seen him to so much advantage. When he had come to their house, there had been always something, either of over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed ready to presuppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt too proud to try and make himself understood. But now, among his fellows, there was no uncertainty as to his position. He was regarded by them as a man of great force of character; of power in many ways. There was no need to struggle for their respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the security of this gave a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways, which Margaret had missed before”.
His strong – willed temper, his pragmatic outlook on life, his brooding mood are the result of his need to grow-up as soon as he could and to face the troubles his father had left them all in. He is very proud of his self-made success, of the high position he has got to in society. But he is also a hard-worker, he over-works and fights for his mill and his workers.


Mr Darcy
He has inherited his great estates five years before the story begins, at his father’s death. His patrimony amounts to ten thousand a year. He is of noble rank, since he is the grandson of an earl.

Mr Thornton
John comes from a middle – class family. Since his father committed suicide in a moment of financial difficulty, young Thornton has had to work hard to pay back his father’s debts and to provide for his mother and sister. He is a successful self – made man and he is proud of his accession in society. Now he runs a cotton mill, Marlborough Mill. in Milton and he is also the magistrate of the city.


Mr Darcy lives at Pemberley, his magnificent residence with a huge park in Derbyshire, with his beloved younger sister, Georgiana. He is kind and protective to her, especially, since her great disappointment with Mr Wickham (do you remember? She was going to elope with him but her brother stopped her just in time!) Looking at his tender affection to sweet Georgiana, Elizabeth starts changing her mind on Darcy (or was it because of  Pemberley?)
Mr Thornton lives in a big house attached to the mill with his spoilt shallow sister, Fanny, and his strong-willed mother, to whom he is deeply attached. He has taken care of the two of them since his father’s death.


Mr Darcy denies even to himself that he is attracted by Eliza Bennet and these are the first words referring to her he utters at Meryton, when asked by his friend Mr Bingley to dance with her: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men…” . Elizabeth and Mr Darcy meet again at Netherfield, at Longbourn and at Rosings but nothing make her - or the reader - suspect he is in love. So his marriage proposal comes utterly unexpected and is definitely rejected. Elizabeth is offended by his words regarding her social inferiority and inadequacy. So , infuriated, she accuses Darcy of being the cause of her sister’s and her new friend Wickham’s unhappiness and refuses him as the last man on Earth she would ever accept to marry. Well, these are not exactly the words she uses…Why don’t you have a look at this clip? (from Pride and Prejudice, BBC, 1995)

Mr Thornton is immediately attracted by Margaret. She comes from the South and is strongly prejudiced against the people in Milton. “I do think Mr Thornton a remarkable man; but personally I don’t like him at all”, she says to her father. The man, instead, though he finds the girl “proud and disagreable”, can’t avoid being charmed by her beauty. Their meetings, too, are nothing “courtshiplike” and Mr Thornton first marriage proposal comes rather unexpected to an even offended Margaret.
The day before a crowd of desperate starving strikers had attacked Marlborough Mill and Mr Thornton. Margaret was there by chance. She urged Thornton to face the crowd, to talk to them, but when she realized she had put his life at risk, she protected him from a blow with her own body and was hit.
Thornton and his family misunderstood her gesture and he couldn't resist the idea of thanking her for saving his life with a marriage proposal. Here is the film version of Thornton’s first proposal (from BBC North and South, 2004).


Mr Darcy reveals himself generous, tender, honest, trustful and, little by little, Elizabeth comes to love him. Her “conversion” from contempt to love starts with the reading of Darcy’s letter revealing the truth about Wickham. Then, it goes on at Pemberley when she listens to Mrs Reynolds’s – the housekeeper – appreciating words for her kind master and especially after seeing his transformation into a loving caring brother to Georgiana. After discovering his involvement in the happy finale of her sister’s elopment with Wickham … she’s terribly ashamed for her wrong first impressions. Fortunately, there will be a greatly welcome second proposal… Here is  the final happy ending  in the 2005 romantic version.

Mr Thornton will prove himself generous and loyal to Margaret and her family. As a magistrate, he will close the investigations on a case of murder in which the girl might be involved. Margaret starts appreciating him just when his good opinion of her is completely lost: he has seen her at night in the company of a mysterious man – her brother, indeed – who might be a murderer but she firmly denies. In the end , Mr Thornton will discover the truth and the two will find a compromise, a good agreement between North and South… The second proposal is lovely both in the book and in the TV adaptation, though in a very different setting in the two cases: Margaret’s cousin’s house in London in the book and a busy Victorian railway station halfway between Milton and Helstone (Margaret’s home in the South) in the TV series...

Do you think Darcy and Thornton have been correctly associated as similar characters? Or do you think they are rather different? Very different? I’d like to know your opinion on them. Which of the two is your favourite?
Difficult choice, isn’t it?


WOMAN IN LOVE (There's an interesting part about Mr Darcy attitude to love)


Marianna said...

Well, it has to be Mr Darcy for me, not least because of Colin Firth playing him in the BBC version...Though I confess my favourite Austen hero is Captain Wentworth. Brilliant post!

London Belle said...

I fell for Mr Darcy, I never fell for Mr Thornton. When reading the books I didnt connect the two beyond the sterness and the fact that their leading ladies were prejudiced against them. They are from a different world - Georgian and victorian and no one writes a leading man like Jane Austen!

Maria Grazia said...

@Marianna & London Belle
Thanks for commenting and contributing your opinions. You're always welcome!

Elvira said...

Who hasn't fallen for Darcy? :-)

Maria Grazia said...

You too Elvira? Yes, it is umpossible to resist such a fascinating man. Thanks for passing by.

London Belle said...

Thats so funny I just had two visiters from...Rome! Well not really me - my house mate! I have two Italian housemates and one had friends over for the weekend! Hope the weather clears up over there and your Englishman can experience the REAL Italian weather I'm hearing soooo much about!

The pictures are taken just downh the road from me - Its North London.

Maria Grazia said...

@London Belle
Well, you live in a nice area, then. You've got two Italian mates living with you? So you're learning Italian, too!
My guest is staying in Italy for another entire week, but he has just left our town and moved to Rome then to other cities...I hope he's enjoyed his experience here. He is working anyway, he is an examiner. Nice guy, he made me smile or even laugh all the time and my students too liked him.
Best wishes to you and to your Italian mates.

Kathryn said...

I love your blog - it is SO interesting and as I sit here reading it keeps taking me off to different places and in different directions - it's great!!

Maria Grazia said...

@ Kathryn
Thanks, K. I'm so glad you like my blog. I'll wait for you again, then.
P.S. I'll have a look at your blog later, promised!

lunarossa said...

This post is so interesting, MG! I hadn't thought of associating the two characters before, but now I can see the point. I like them both, but if I really had to choose I'd go for Mr Darcy. Even before Colin Firth played him, he was my favourite fiction male character and I think he will alway be! Ciao. A.

Maria Grazia said...

From the small survey resulting, it seems Mr Darcy beats Mr Thornton. Just like you, I've loved the two of them while reading their stories. But, while Darcy has been a teenage crush, Thornton is my adult choice: he is pragmatic, strong, direct, hard -working, self-made, self-confident, reliable, enterprising, sensible, ambitious, honest, unspoilt, unaffected, generous... Well, I've got sort of a fixation...Maybe I can't be objective... but Mr T. is my favourite.
Thanks for commenting and welcome back!

Anonymous said...

how very thorough. i just love the fact that they share such a common structure- aka the multiple proposals placed similarly in both. congrats on a successful weighing of options.

i agree that darcy seems to stick out as a memory of the past, what we all should want: polite, wealthy, decent-looking in a lake scene; whereas thornton is the new kid on the block, a little rougher around the edges, and one sexy voice....i slowly lean towards thornton more and more.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Thornton all the way.

I hope you don't mind me adding you onto my blogroll? This is a great blog I'd love to follow

Maria Grazia said...

How could I? I'm glad you've dropped by and chosen to come back.Till very soon, then!

Luciana said...

You know, I fell in love for both of them. When I read P&P Darcy stole my heart and I thought no one could take his place. But than I decide to read N&S and from the very begining I thought "Oh, oh! I think my heart will have to split in two". Well, that happened! I belive they have some similarities, but they are not so much alike. I find very hard to choose THE one. This in the book world, but in the series and movies I'm Thornton 100%! You know, Richard Armitage is THE one!

P.S. I'd like to link this post to a video I've done that deals with the same teme.

Maria Grazia said...

If you've had a look at my blog, you know I completely agree with you as for Richard Armitage. He is THE ONE,my only weakness, as I usually call him!
Do you really want to link this post to one of your videos? Do it, I'll be pleased but...let me know...I'd like to have a look.
Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

Phylly3 said...

I think what is similar between Darcy and Thornton are the way their actions are misunderstood by their love interests. North and South could also have been entitled "Pride and Prejudice". In N&S, Margaret suffers from prejudice against Mr. Thornton (as a member of the lower class of tradesmen) and Mr. Thornton has too much pride (as is evident in his initial opinion of his workers).
I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice so much that I had to purchase the DVD (I have a very limited collection). But as soon as I saw North and South, Darcy was almost forgotten in my admiration for John Thornton as portrayed by the perfectly cast, extremely talented Richard Armitage!
After also having read the book, I realize even more what an amazing performance Mr. Armitage gave and what a fascinating character is John Thornton on the page and on the screen. I now also own North & South and it is my very favourite DVD, and I am an unabashed Richard Armitage fan!

amanda said...

I totally agree with Phylly3. I've loved Mr. Darcy, all my life, but when I recently discovered Mr. Thornton, I have to admit, he is the clear winner. His character is so well portrayed in the movie as well as in the book itself that you cannot help but be drawn to him. In P&P, we don't really get to see Darcy's perspective too much, except in the end. However, in N&S, you can really feel for Mr. Thornton's anguish and constant love for Margaret..I thought that was awesome. I would love to be loved by someone like Mr. Thornton.

Grazia Cattaneo said...

I've already watched Pride and prejudice dozens of times. I'm looking forward to watching north & South tonight.
Grazia from Italy

Maria Grazia said...

Salve omonima! Welcome! Will you let me know what you think of North and South after watching it? It was a sort of turning point in my life ...lots of "things" started for me after watching it , so I'd love to know what your reactions will be!
Thanks for passing by.

Anonymous said...

I just read this and I have to say... I've been a looong fan of P&P and Mr. Darcy but after reading North & South the other day and watching the series... Mr. Thornton totally won me over. It could be just the charm of Richard Armitage (ha ha)but it's as if he has more character. He was described better perhaps, I don't know. I love them both dearly but currently, Mr. Thornton holds the better rank. ;)

C. Allyn Pierson said...

You have won me over, Maria! As much as I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, RA as Mr. Thornton (esp. the ending) is much more romantic and passionate. Both couple have to go through misunderstanding and learning to appreciate the qualities of the other, but RA looks like a better kisser than CF!

Anonymous said...

I have to say that my devotion to Darcy was unwavering until I happened to stumble upon a youtube clip of North and South and Mr. Thornton. Now I'm team Thornton. Richard Armitage is amazing...the eyes say it all. The passion and love he has for Margaret is intense.

BeckyC said...

I love Darcy and I love Thornton! And I don't have to pick! I get to love them both!! Just as I love Colin Firth and Richard Armitage.

Colin is amazing as Darcy, but I am ready for a new P&P version with Richard Armitage as Darcy. Mmmmm! Mmmmm! Mmmmm!

Anonymous said...

It is easy to compare these two men not only because of their supposed similarities but more so for their adaptations and mainly because of the proposals, especially the first one. I think that the similarities lie more in the female protagonists than on anything else.
Concerning their respective introductions, appearance, etc. both Thornton and Darcy are introduced with regards to prejudices, on Darcy’s account it is firstly positive prejudice due to his status and money. So we do not know whether he draws attention because of himself or his wealth. Margaret on the other hand hardly looks at Thornton at first. And the reasons are not that different though with different effects, she does not consider him a gentleman. But the prejudices come from the outer world. Both introductions are subjective.
Thornton is a self-made man, Darcy is not, but they are both decent, honest and essentially good men. How does ‘Lost in Austen’s Darcy so proudly says that of course he has no profession.
Elizabeth and Margaret overcome prejudices over and over again, so do Thornton and Darcy because of their love for these women. Both are initially rejected by the women they love. Both women despite their apparent attraction later fall in love with them.
Sounds like the storyline for so many romantic comedies these days but none do it as touchingly and realistically as Gaskell and Austen.

Anonymous said...

For me, although it is DEFINITELY a tough choice, it's Thornton. He is a self-built man and is headstrong, whereas Darcy, as nice as he is, happens upon his fortune by inheritance. The total difference in Margaret and John's situations make it so unlikely that they would end up together... It's a gorgeous story!!! So Mr Thornton!

Lauren said...

I absolutely love Captain Wentworth! Best
Austen hero by far!!

Lauren said...

I love them both so much!! But I have to say Thornton has a special place in my heart. He is so passionate and in love and so honest in the face of hardship, so I must say Thornton, though both books are amazing!

Anonymous said...

I confess had one certain admiration for Mr Darcy, but after seeing N&S, Mr thorthon won totally my heart and of course,that actor R.A was the main responsible for this changing . After seeing the movie I read the book and then I couldn´t imagine one another actor to play Mr Thorthon besides RA.

Little Lady said...

Yup. This just solidifies it. I'm in love with Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton. He is SO amazing.


Anonymous said...

I just read your fabulous article today. Hope not too late to make my comment. My vote with no doubt to Mr. Thornton for the way he can be a devil at the beginning of the movie and an angel at the end. In one word: ONLY RICHARD FOR EVER.

Deedee said...

Just found your blog through The Classics Club :-) I don't agree that the reader has no idea that Darcy is in love. In Chapter 6 Darcy finds it "mortifying" to acknowledge to himself his attraction to her dark eyes, pleasing figure and playful manners. "He began to wish to know more of her..." He confesses his attraction to Miss Bingley, but convinces her it is not serious: "his composure convinced her that all was safe." At the end of Chapter 12 when the Bennet sisters prepare to leave Netherfield, Darcy is pleased to get rid of her: "She attracted him more than he liked..." But he can't stay away - in Chapter 18 he is asking her to dance at the ball, demonstrating to the "amazement" of the gathered crowd that he approves of her in some way. Jump ahead to Chapter 32 when Elizabeth and Darcy have an accidental tete-a-tete in the parsonage and he suggests she will not always live close to Longbourn - she is surprised and he changes the subject. Charlotte suggests that Darcy must be in love, although Elizabeth is doubtful. But she can't help noticing that he keeps bumping into her while she is strolling in Rosings Park. He is asking odd questions that imply she may one way stay in Rosings herself, but she convinces herself it more likely has something to do with Colonel Fitzwilliam. As readers we are still surprised when he follows through with the proposal that he tried to talk himself out of, but we aren't surprised that he was in love.

Mili Fay said...

I think Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton are both great for the women they love. I have been a huge fan of P&P and Colin Firth for more than a decade before I stumbled upon N&S. Though I love Darcy for Elizabeth, he would drive me nuts as a life-partner. I hope I find someone like Mr. Thornton, a self-made, modest, kind, loving man, who is not afraid to fight for what he believes in and has sound sense and judgement. It does not hurt that Richard Armitage made him sexy, too.

Mr. Darcy was a spoiled prig before Elizabeth made him see what an ass he was being to anyone below his rank. She opened his eyes to his behaviour and he changed into a better person, which makes P&P great.

Mr. Thornton does not change. His character stays the same. In N&S it is Margaret who changes by the end.

Anonymous said...

What about Thornton's behaviour to his employees specifically Mr Higgins. Doesn't that count in the transformation of character.

Anonymous said...

Mr thorton behaviour to Mr Higgins , employee, does change.His love foe Margaret does change him in the end.

Unknown said...

At first, I completely loved Mr. Darcy, and I think I fell in love for him because he was the one who introduced me to Jane Austen's works. Certainly he is really handsome. Then, 2 years later, I discovered North And South. As it seemed to be similar to Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, I decided to give it a chance. I completely fell in love for Mr. Thornton. I don't know why. I don't know if it was because he's a hard-working man, he's persistant, he's cold but at the same time really lovely...I don't know what it was, but he suddenly became my favorite! Loved your post, thank you. Who is your favorite?

Daisy & sunshine said...

Pride & Prejudice was one of the first English language book I read and thought that was my favourite book and favourite regency period drama until I discovered North & South. Ever since North & South has sat firmly in my heart as my favourite story, characters, author, my top mini series that all of the casts are so perfect in bringing the book characters to life. Not to mention Mr Thornton! Richard Armitage is mesmerizing as Mr Thornton. He perfectly portraits the character with full force of passion in love & in life. He made you feel sorry for him and want to cry when Margaret rejected him. He made you want to marry someone like him - strong, passionate, honest, loyal, determind and ambitious. As in comparison to Colin Firth' s Mr Darcy? Richard Armitage's Mr Thornton is by far more passionate, handsome and much sexier! For me North & South - quote from Mrs Thornton "holds fast forever and ever", Pride & Prejudice is like "a puff of smoke, it chages with every wind".