The Loss of Innocence

If one the typical characters of Jane Austen’s novels were to leave for any reason
the pampered life of a good, refined but secluded society made of balls, laces,
tittle-tattle, great expectations and shattered dreams to face the world outside,
well, very likely we would be reading one of the novels written by Elizabeth
Gaskell. Margaret Hale, the protagonist of North and South, could be in any way one
of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters : remarkably beautiful, intelligent, well
educated, young and therefore, ready to marry, but the pursue of a good match is
not the central theme here. Her perfect world will be smashed by her father’s sudden
decision to quit the church and move where the “dark satanic mills” have utterly
changed the landscape and the heart of people: the North. In Jane Austen’s books the
North has always been the remote place where the regiment was dislocated and
nothing more. There is never a hint about the profound changes the industrial
revolution was bringing about in the country. The arrival in the Northern town of
Milton will be felt by Margaret and her family as if they had been sunk into a hell
made of noise, dirt and machines. The verdant, peaceful, aristocratic South is only
a painful memory of the heaven they fear to have lost forever.

In the hell of Milton the Thorntons are the most distinguished family, and Mr Thornton is another Mr Darcy, a Darcy of the North, of course: a mill owner whose position has not been secured by breed, but by hard discipline and work .The educated but poor Margaret Hale and the rich but unrefined Mr Thornton are destined to follow the same love pattern of Pride and Prejudice: prejudice and misunderstanding at first, development of affection on both sides with a different degree of awareness, rejected proposal, smoothing of characters to a deserved happy ending. However, the context the two act, is harsher and more tragic than that of Pride and Prejudice. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s world there is pain, desolation, the desperate struggle to survive of the emerging, exploited classes working in mills and the brutal industrial plans of their masters. It is the real world which, nevertheless, allows the growth of genuine, sincere bonds and affections even among members of different classes.There is no time for frivolous deception and seemingly pointless conversation here, there is understanding and mutual support.

Mr Darcy and Mr Thornton share that scowl which actually hides a surprisingly sensitive nature, but Mr Thornton has deeper comprehension of people and himself. If we compare the two proposal scenes, for instance, Mr Darcy has no doubt he will be accepted. He is full of himself, after all, he knows who he is and what a good catch he would be for any girl. Elizabeth’s refusal takes him by surprise. Mr Thornton proposes not only because he is sincerely in love with Margaret, but because he feels bound in honour as Margaret’s coming to his rescue, while he was facing an angry mob, had been generally interpreted as a manifestation of her feelings for him. He knowns she doesn’t love him, that she thinks he is not good enough for her and that he won’t be accepted, even if she is in reduced circumstances. Despite her refusal, he will continue to offer his discreet support to her family in the many times of need.

Margaret’s love for Mr Thornton will grow, despite her initial prejudices, along with the understanding not only of the man but also of the dynamics of that part of the country he embodies. When  Margaret, after a great deal of tragedy, visits the house she was born and bred in the South, the happy and enchanted place of her thoughtless years,  she’ll be unable to revive those emotions that, however, are still vivid in her mind. That heaven like place does not exist any longer, because she’s deeply changed. Life had thrown her into the Blakean world of experience of the North and Helstone represents for her now that innocence she has painfully lost forever.



37 thoughts on “The Loss of Innocence

  1. Ah, Stefy, I have the joys of Gaskell yet to come . . . But first I have Austen to complete, the Brontes to explore further and Middlemarch in which to immerse myself. But this sensitive review tempts me so much from my predetermined path!

    • Yes, I am the Italian snake who is trying to tempt , oops, “persuade “you to follow a path different from what you have already scheduled. Will I succeed? 🤔Middlemarch is a veeery long read. 🙆

    • I do love Jane Austen myself, and I have been just recently introduced to Mrs Gaskell and I have to say that it has been such a positive surprise to me. Thanks for dropping by. 🙋

  2. I did enjoy listening to North and South and have been meaning to watch the BBC version.. I have to admit an embarrassing assumption though. From the title, for many years I thought the book was about the American Civil War. Such folly. 🙂

  3. I have tended to confuse this with the American Civil War story!
    It is interesting to note that scathing things were said about her book originally, and only later was it realised that she was ahead of her time in her assessment of employer/employee relations.

      • As you can see with our great compatriots in Catalonia….. bunch of idiots, and things are going to get worst. And the EU telling us that violence is not the solution, what violence are they talking about? What they are doing is illegal and you have to keek law and order so the least they did was to send the national police, la guardia civil from all parts of Spain, imagine this happens in France to give you only one example, the French sends the military and crushes them.

  4. you really do describe literature so well.
    and I just think about much good stuff is in that brain of yours…
    it is also another reminder about how society can be snapshotted thru lit….

  5. I loved your article! I always like to hear other peoples thoughts on the book. Very well written.
    I am a huge fan of N & S, both the book (reading for the 3rd time) and the BBC miniseries. The movie is fantastic however, the book gives us more insight into Mr. Thornton’s infatuation and deep love for Margaret.

  6. Pingback: The Loss of Innocence « fantasticomundodecarol

  7. The movie is fantastic, I loved it.
    Mr.Thornton and Miss.Hale were meant to be together. Love has gone beyond initial prejudices and even beyond the different social classes. I suggest you to watch this miniseries.

  8. The aspect of the story I enjoyed the most was the progressive growth of Margaret after being catapulted into a world completely unknown to her and into a society so different from that in which she was born. She managed to go beyond her prejudices, despite all the difficulties she met, and to become a woman able to follow her heart and to adapt herself to reality.I really liked it.

  9. With this TV series I could catch the differences between north and south of that time.
    It is very interesting and funny to discover how were relationships, love and mostly life in that period, watching a movie.
    I advise you to see this series to better understand this important part of England’s history. 🇬🇧

  10. This miniseries has my heart, I almost cried I can’t deny it! Margaret is definitely my favourite character I love her personality and how much she changes and matures from the beginning to the end of the series and honestly, she’s flawless! I loved it so much I think I’m going to watch this movie at least two more times.

  11. I like the series North and South because it has a deep meaning, in fact besides teaching us the relationships of the time and the differences between the North and the South of England, it teaches us not to stop before prejudices. In the story we can see the change of Margaret ‘s point of wiew : when she arrives in Milton , she faces a new reality .At the begening Margaret didn’t like the citizens of Milton who are rough and rude for her,but slowly this changes : she befriends Mr.Higgins and his daughters , who also at the beginning didn’t want to deal with Margaret but then they understand that she is more than a rich lady from the South .We can see this change also in the relationship between Margaret an Mr.Thorton in fact at the start of the story she didn’t like his rude manners, but eventually she understands him and falls in love with him.

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