Margaret soon learns that she has inherited about 40,000 pounds from Mr. Bell. Henry Lennox becomes her legal adviser and happily teaches her the relevant “mysteries of the law.” Edith teases her brother-in-law that she hopes their conversations will lead to matrimony, but Henry tells her not to meddle, as Margaret has only begun to “thaw a little from her Zenobia ways.”
Zenobia was a third-century queen and empress of the Eastern Roman empire. Henry refers to Margaret’s dignified independence; he hopes that Margaret is, little by little, becoming more dependent upon him.
Margaret still hopes for a way to meet Frederick on the Continent, but agrees to join the Shaws at Cromer (a coastal town northeast of London) instead. Her heart continues to ache over the unresolved issue between herself and Thornton, but she assumes it is too late to be fixed. She finally sets this anxiety aside, ready to turn “with all her heart and strength to the life that lay immediately before her.” Margaret sits day after day on the beach, “[putting] events in their right places” and gradually feeling more and more restored. Henry Lennox says that she looks “like the Margaret Hale of Helstone.”
Margaret finally allows herself to set aside the burdens of the past and live with resolve for the future. Henry’s comment is somewhat ironic, given that Margaret is not the idealistic teenager of Helstone; but it’s true that she is finally able to shed the untimely burdens that have weighted her youth and begin to dream of a future wholly her own.
Henry Lennox becomes determined to woo Margaret once again. He admires her mind and character and assumes he could win her over to share his own hopes and goals. As her legal adviser, he is also aware of her wealth and Milton properties and knows they would enable him, “the poor barrister,” to rise significantly in the world. He shares her admiration for Milton and its people, and they often spend time in animated conversation about it.
While Gaskell portrays Henry as having genuine affection for Margaret as a person, Henry clearly assumes that Margaret will subordinate her desires to his—and gladly place her wealth at his disposal.
After returning from the seaside, Margaret “[takes] her life into her own hands” and begins to act independently of Aunt Shaw’s constricting rules. She decided she must try to “settle that most difficult problem for women”—the balance between obedience and freedom. She charms her aunt into acknowledging “her right to follow her own ideas of duty.”
As a single woman and heiress, Margaret is able to set her own path more readily than many of her peers would. Gaskell doesn’t describe Margaret’s goals for her life, but it’s implied that she works among the poor of London.