Though Thornton has asked her to, Mrs. Thornton is reluctant to call on Mrs. Hale and Margaret. She makes a big deal about whether the visit is important enough to warrant the expense of hiring horses for the carriage, though she finally settles on doing so. Thornton prevails upon his younger sister, Fanny, who always complains of ailments and has none of her mother’s or brother’s strong qualities, to accompany Mrs. Thornton, and asks them to find out if there is anything they can do for the invalid Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Thornton, being relatively new to society, is actually shy and ill at ease visiting new people. This means that when she enters the Hales’, she looks “unusually stern and forbidding.”
Mrs. Thornton continues to consider the Hales as being beneath her; however, being newly elevated within Milton society, Mrs. Thornton struggles with her own insecurities about her place and her relationships with others.
During the visit, Margaret must rack her brain to sustain a conversation with Fanny, who was very young during the Thorntons’ years of poverty and seems to know little of hardship or struggle. The subject of Mrs. Thornton’s fondness for Milton comes up, and Mrs. Thornton asks whether the Hales have visited any of the factories or warehouses and says she will be glad to procure Margaret’s admission to one of them, should she “condescend to be curious.” As she and Fanny leave, she tells Fanny that they will be civil to “these Hales,” but warns Fanny not to befriend Margaret.
Fanny’s upbringing has been strikingly different from her older brother’s, and Gaskell reflects this in her pampered, shrinking personality, in contrast to both Mrs. Thornton’s and Margaret’s. Mrs. Thornton finds Margaret’s incurious attitude about manufacturing to be provoking; this feeds into her preconception that the Hales look down on her family, and makes her look down on them in return.