Monday 18 May 2020

Margaret of Milton by Elaine Owen - Guest Post, Excerpt and Giveaway

Book cover: Margaret of Milton by Elaine Owen
Good morning to you all! Today I have something a little different for you. Regular visitors to this blog will know that as much as I love Austen’s heroes I also love Mrs Gaskell’s John Thornton, from North and South. You can read my review of North & South here, and see other posts on the blog connected with the novel here

North and South is Victorian novel which I feel has many similarities to Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and I love to see that authors are also taking this novel on variations. Elaine Owen has a new North & South variation novel out, Margaret of Milton. She’s visiting here today with a guest post, excerpt and international ebook giveaway. Let’s take a look at the blurb and then I’ll hand over to Elaine.

Book Description

Margaret Hale loses her father unexpectedly and must marry the man she refused months earlier - the same man who has said he no longer cares for her. At the same time John Thornton is compelled by his sense of honor to offer his name and a home to the woman he believes is in love with another man. How will our couple find their way to happiness and love in a union born of obligation?

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Guest Post from Elaine Owen

Good morning! I am thrilled to be able to “meet” all of you here! A thousand thanks to Ceri for letting me introduce my new book Margaret of Milton to you. I hope you’ll love reading it as much as I loved writing it!
Margaret of Milton is based on the Victorian novel North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. It may seem strange to feature a book other than Jane Austen on a blog which features Austen-inspired fiction, but there are good reasons why so many people love both Austen and Gaskell! I’d like to highlight some of the themes in each author’s most famous stories: Pride and Prejudice and North and South. Then I’ll give you an excerpt from Margaret of Milton and leave you with a giveaway!
In my opinion the most obvious similarity between the two novels is the difference in social standings between the main characters. In both stories the hero is from an economic and social level far above that of the heroine. Both men stand out among their peers. Darcy’s money and power are inherited while Thornton’s position is self-created, but the end result is the same: tremendous wealth, influence and respect. Elizabeth is from a much lower class gentry family and Margaret’s father is a retired minister turned underemployed tutor. Margaret’s family, in fact, becomes nearly impoverished over the course of the story. Neither Elizabeth Bennet nor Margaret Hale would reasonably expect to aspire to a marriage with these men. They move in completely different spheres, which makes the resulting love stories all the more intriguing.
Another theme in both books is the conflict between marrying for love or marrying for more practical reasons. Elizabeth knows that she or one of her sisters will have to marry a rich man if the Bennets are to avoid poverty in the future. Her mother urges her to marry Collins in order to keep Longbourn in the family but Elizabeth flat out refuses him. (Go, Lizzy!) Later in the novel no less than Mr. Bennet himself assumes Elizabeth is marrying Darcy for his money. The reader knows better, of course, but it is up to Elizabeth to convince her father of her deep affection.
Margaret Hale faces a different pressure. She assumes that Thornton proposes to her in order to save her reputation, not because he loves her. Thornton’s mother Hannah likewise believes that Margaret has publicly revealed her feelings for Thornton and that she will have to accept his offer of marriage or face damage to her reputation. But Margaret, like Elizabeth, will resist society and hold out for the sake of true love.
Another theme in both novels is the idea of gentlemanly behavior. Darcy is “to the manor born,” but he doesn’t always come across that way! He is perfectly willing to overlook certain rules of society when they don’t suit him. Thornton is not a gentleman, at least not in the way that Darcy is, but he almost always acts as though he is. He operates according to his own moral code, which is just as demanding as the code the upper class follow. What’s interesting is that for both Elizabeth and Margaret, the worst insult they can think of leveling at their would be suitor is that of behaving in an ungentlemanly manner.
That leads into the final theme of both books: appearance vs reality. Elizabeth famously says in Pride and Prejudice that Wickham has the appearance of being a gentleman but Darcy has the substance. Margaret, too, will eventually learn exactly how gentlemanly Thornton really is. It is when both women discover just how noble their men really that we, the readers, fall unashamedly in love with both characters!
Can you think of any other points both novels have in common? If so, please comment below! I’m interested in what other themes you see that I may not have thought of!
And now for the excerpt!
In the scene below, Margaret and Thornton are newlyweds in a marriage of convenience. Thornton, hoping to break down some of the barriers between him and his new wife, offers to take her on a tour of the cotton mill he owns and manages. Little does he know the hornet’s nest he is about to stir up!
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Book cover: Margaret of Milton by Elaine Owen
Excerpt from Margaret of Milton by Elaine Owen
He led her first to the far end of the long, low building, where the oversized doors were open wide to accept a new shipment. “This is where the process starts, where we take in the raw cotton.”
“From America?” They both had to speak loudly to be heard over the sound of the machinery and workers all around them.
“Most of it, yes. We take it into the blowing room so the bales can be opened and the cotton can be cleaned and carded. From there it enters the spinning apparatus.”
She watched the overhead spindles winding the thread onto the bobbins below them with interest. “Those machines can take raw cotton and spin it into fine thread without any human intervention?”
“Not entirely. The threads break sometimes, or parts of the machine come loose and must be refastened. And the machines do their business so efficiently that they must always be resupplied with roving.”
“That is what the cleaned and carded material is called before it is spun.”
“How much thread can they spin in one day?”
“Two miles’ worth,” he said proudly. Margaret’s whole face showed her astonishment, and Thornton felt himself puff up even more.
“Why is the air in here so hot and uncomfortable?”
“We have to keep the air warm and moist or else the thread weakens and comes apart.”
They walked together into the main open area of the factory, where the spinning mules turned the thread into cloth. Each massive loom was manned by a man or a woman aided by two children, both barefoot, who scurried low under the carriage as it moved back and forth, collecting scraps or making quick adjustments to the machinery.
It was too loud to carry on a normal conversation, so he raised his voice and leaned close to her ear as he gestured ahead of him. “These machines are the heart of the factory. I have eighty of them here; some mills have even more.”
Margaret held a handkerchief over her mouth and nose to guard against the bits of cotton floating freely everywhere, and Thornton could see her fighting not to cough. She watched the loom nearest to them as the carriage sailed out away from the frame, remained stationary for a short time, and then retracted again with a slight hiss. “What happens if the children do not get out of the way in time?” she asked him, speaking loudly through her handkerchief.
Nothing good, he wanted to answer, but knew he could not say. “My minders are trained to wait until they see both children out from under before they let the carriage retract again,” he responded. “It is one of my strictest rules.”
Margaret did not answer. She kept her eyes on the children at the nearest loom and kept watching until Thornton touched her elbow to urge her to move back towards his office. There were other parts of the mill that he could have shown her, but he sensed that she had seen enough. He waited until the door had closed behind them and she uncovered her face before asking, “So, what do you think of the mill now?”
He was horrified to see tears well up in her eyes. “Why must you use children?”
Immediately he was on the defensive. “All the mills do. Only children are small enough to go under the machinery and do what needs to be done.”
“But they are so young. They should be outside in the fresh air, not forced to work all day in . . . “ she struggled to find the right word, “deplorable conditions!”
“We make the conditions as safe and healthy as we can.”
Margaret continued as though she had not heard him. “The air is so thick with cotton dust that it ruins their lungs! The noise must surely make some go deaf. And if one of your minders does not see a child in the way, or if they should trip or fall while the carriage is moving, what then? I have read about accidents that maim or even kill a child!”
“And adults too!” Thornton exclaimed, angered against his will.
“But how much worse for children than for adults? They should not be employed at all!”
This was not how he had hoped an afternoon with Margaret would go. Temper, he reminded himself. Guard your temper. “Their families make the choice to send them to work.”
“But they should be in school. They should be receiving an education that will enable them to move beyond all this!”
Thornton took a deep breath and spoke with as much restraint as possible. “Margaret, have you considered what would happen if we did not employ children?” he asked. “They come to us from families desperate for income. If they did not earn wages with us they would starve. Here in the mill they can work and earn money for their families year ‘round, regardless of storms or whatever crop is ready to harvest. And they learn a trade that will help them move up in the world later on. A skilled weaver earns a good living.”
Margaret did not answer, but for the first time she looked uncertain of herself.
Thornton leaned down and picked up one of the books he had moved off a chair earlier. “Here. This is a book written by a mill owner in Scotland, a Mr. Owen, whose principles I have tried to imitate. He founded a system of free education for his workers and their children. And this is one written by a man in America who encouraged his workers to learn and to better themselves. Both of them made great improvements in their employee’s lives.”
Margaret took the books from him reluctantly. “I did not realize you were interested in the works of reformers.”
“I devoured them when I was first establishing Marlborough Mills. I wanted my mill to copy the philanthropic endeavors of those I was reading about, but upon further investigation I discovered that their ideas were not always practical. For instance, I cannot completely avoid the use of children in my mill, but I do not employ any under the age of ten. And I insist that they be able to read and write before they come to me.”
Margaret looked down at the two books in her hands. “What about establishing a school for them?”
“I have looked into the idea but the families of the children who work for me are content with the Sunday school education they receive. They do not see the need for a more rigorous academic program.”
“I see.” She seemed suddenly dispirited, as though the idea of families who did not desire education for their children troubled her. “The problem is obviously more complex than I realized.”
He floundered for a moment, wondering what he could do to cheer her up. “Would you like to take these books for yourself? I think you would find them interesting.”
“I am certain that I would. I will read them and return them as soon as possible.” She slipped the two volumes inside the basket she had brought with her. “And now I am afraid I have taken up too much of your time. I appreciate you showing me your mill. The tour was most enlightening.”
“It is our mill, Margaret, not just mine,” he reminded her. “It belongs to you as well as me.”
She smiled sadly. “Thank you.” She slipped out the office door without another word.
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I would like to have a giveaway for any of you who are intrigued by this excerpt and would like to read more. If you comment below you will be entered into a drawing to win a free ebook of Margaret of Milton! Two winners will be chosen. Thank you for reading, and good luck in the giveaway!
Author Elaine Owen
Author Bio
Elaine Owen first fell in love with Jane Austen as a young teenager. She read Pride & Prejudice for the first time in the summer between eighth and ninth grades, and while other kids were giving book reports on things like The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of The Ticking Clock, she was describing the ways that character faults are explored in Jane Austen’s classic. Although her English teacher was vastly entertained, it is possible that her classmates viewed her as a cross between Mary Bennet and Lady Catherine.

In college she did not pursue writing, electing instead to study education and music, neither of which she uses at all today. Irony is everywhere.

Elaine married, left the field of education, and had two children. She briefly wrote political opinion pieces in a local newspaper and online, but then life changed. In another stroke of irony, Elaine discovered that her oldest child had autism, and so Elaine, who refused to take classes in special education in college, had to become an advocate for her daughter. Writing and other luxuries, such as watching TV, folding laundry, and washing her hair, had to take a back seat for a long time.

Life turned again. Elaine eventually discovered Jane Austen fan fiction books in her local bookstore and spent lots of money she did not have in order to devour them all. When her credit cards were maxed out and store clerks said she really had to leave, she became desperate and discovered fan fiction sites online. Around this time her therapist suggested that she find some kind of creative outlet for herself. Elaine took a deep breath, swallowed nervously, and wrote down the first chapter of what eventually became her first book.

Book cover: Margaret of Milton by Elaine Owen
Buy Links

Margaret of Milton is available to buy now in paperback and kindle. It’s also available in Kindle Unlimited. Amazon US / Amazon CA / Amazon UK.

Giveaway Time!

Elaine is very kindly giving away 2 ebook copies of Margaret of Milton! To enter, just leave a comment on this post by the end of the day worldwide on 24 May. If you have any difficulties in commenting please contact me and I will add your comment for you :)

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  1. The mills were better than the coal mines for the kids to work in. I have been to a historic mill in Lynne, Mass and when they run one machine the noise is incredible. North and South is a story I like and enjoy, even though I do not overly care for the Industrial Revolution.I do like the similarities between P&P and N&S. Thank you for sharing and for the generous give away.

    1. I have never been to a mill but there was coal mining close to the area that I live and I took my children to see one that's open as a museum. One of the things they tell you about during the tour is what the children had to do, waiting in the dark to heavy open doors for people to come through, as drafts can be dangerous. It's so dreadful to think of small children working down there. I'm not sure whether the mills would be better than the mines, as although the mine is dark and horrible, I would think the chance of injury might be less, as the moving parts in the mills would be perilous. Going to see these places really makes you realise how lucky you are to be living today!

  2. I thought there was something familiar with north and south! So many similarities between p and p and north and south! :)

    1. I think there are lots of similarities, definitely. Both parties are proud and prejudiced in both books and I think the way the relationships develop has a similar arc.

  3. I’m familiar with this story and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing those two getting closer.
    I wish you the best with the new release--a happy, smooth, long sailing with many rewards!
    Hoping you are all well… have a beautiful day!

  4. I never heard about fan fiction for North and South, this is so exciting!!!

    1. Hi Danielle. There isn't much of it, but there is some out there, thankfully. I haven't read a lot of it, but I need to try and squeeze in at least one this year.

  5. I have read and enjoyed a number of variations on N&S. Best of luck in this release and thanks for a chance to win.

  6. I already have Elaine's book and highly recommend it! Congratulations Elaine! ♫

    1. Thanks for dropping by to give your support Jen!

  7. I love the marriage of convenience trope as the variation for N&S. Oh boy, Margaret got an eye full and some things to consider at the factory. :) Looking forward to the rest.

    1. Yes, definitely food for thought there. It's an interesting time in history because while there is still a lot to do in terms of workers' rights, Mr Thornton is quite progressive compared to other employers.

  8. I already have Elaine's book as well and can recommend all of her books. She is one of my go-to authors to read when I get the chance. You'll not be disappointed! Congrats on another great book!

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by to show your support Brenda :)

  9. I would love to win a copy of this book as it sound fantastic!

  10. Margaret is upset by seeing children at the factory and some of the other conditions. Unfortunately - we as a society have not learned to always remedy this situation. We just push it off to far away places where we do not have to think about it.
    The story is intriguing. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.

    1. That is such a good point, Maomac. While we don't allow children to work in many countries, these countries still support child labour in other countries via cheap imports. It's out of sight, out of mind, as long as we can get cheap clothes. It is sad to think that an ethical issue that was being addressed 150 years ago is still relevant today.

  11. I have a comment to add from Eva:

    I appreciated the analysis of P&P and N&S. I had not really thought of these points before. I have always liked forced marriage for P&P variations, and Margaret of Milton sounds to be just as fabulous. I agree with Margaret about the working conditions. Thank you for the giveaway.

  12. Thanks so much to everybody who stopped by and commented. I've posted the winner here:


If you're not logged in to Google please leave your name in your comment or it will post as anonymous. Thanks! - Ceri