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.


79 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.

  12. Of course going to the North was a painful experience for Margaret, but I think that even if losing our innocence feels terribile, it helps us growing and making us real people. Living out of real life, makes us empty people and doesn’t allow us to understand the world. Margaret’s life changed but even if it was hard, it made her a better person. I also think that the strongest relationships are those that grow when two people are going trough something difficult and they “win” together. Margaret fell in love with Mr Thorton when she realized how strong he was in facing the big problems of his life. He showed her what a great person he was and she did the same. They helped each other in many situations and this is what two people in love do. Real love is the one that survives in every situation, even when things are not easy…

  13. The love pattern that Margaret and Thornton follow is the same of Elizabeth and Darcy, but the contexts are different. Obviously, the life in the North was more difficult and in fact, when Margaret and her family move northward, they fear to lose their peaceful lives in the South. This made the passage from innocence to experience for Margaret and gave her the awareness of the life conditions in this part of the country. In fact, I think that, thanks to this, the love story between Margeret and Thornton is more real.

  14. I think that Margaret doesn’t feel that place as a heaven place anymore not only because she is changed, but also because all the memories she lived in that place are not going to happen again. The death of her parents marks her deeply so she can’t simply try to forgot Helstone, all the things that happened there and the “Innocent” life that she lived before her family move to Helstone will not come back now that she is “stained” of the awareness of the life that peaple live in the North.

  15. The love stories between Margaret and Thornton, and Elizabeth and Darcy are very similar. In particular what is similar is the way of acting and the behavior of women, Margaret and Elizabeth. In fact they act almost similarly but in different contexts. These diverse contexts, north and south, make the stories different. I agree with the fact that probably Elizabeth fell in love with Darcy especially after seeing his property, knew the truth about Mr. Wickham and reconsider him, despite during the time of the story Darcy has been disliked in her eyes more than once. Margaret, instead, fell in love with Thornton after a long way of events during which Thornton was always close to the Hale family,but in a context more difficult than the one of Pride and Prejudice .

  16. In my opinion North and South is more realist than Pride and Prejudice, in fact the protagonist, Margaret, comes to see another world where people are poor, exploited, have to work for feed themselves. She faces the real situation in England leaving that peaceful, green place where she grew up, coming in contact with people who are totally different, including Mr. Thorthon that is a man who knows what hard work and pain is, despite his good position in society; and eventually they fall in love. I think that I’ve more appreciated North and South for the evident contrast of two worlds completely different.

  17. Inside the story is well marked the difference of the phase of the innocence with the phase of experience in Margheret. At first, when she lived in the south yet, she didn’t know the cruelty of the world, for her habits that previous parties, walkings and all that everyone can do, expect work. Going in the north she encountered a so different reality, very different manners for a person coming from the south, that upset Margheret. With the meeting with Mr Thornton she started to change her mind, despite she don’t appreciate a man that work, and she start seeing the world for what it is. That event, followed by the death of her friend, makes her stronger and could live a real, concrete love with Thornton.

  18. Innocence is colourful and bright, experience is grey and dark. Even in our life, when we grow up, we see many things in a different way. In North and South Margaret lost her innocence because of a shock that will change her life. She has been catapulted in a total different world, which was something very far and almost unknown before. Every person would lose innocence, facing a reality that you have never imagined. North and South is an excellent representation of this passage through the innocence and experience, because it shows how difficult is to make this jump in the real life.

  19. This post is very interesting because I had never thought that north and south could be also a representation of innocence and experience. I am amazed because song of innocence and song of experience are the poems that most fascinated me, precisely because I personally experienced this sort of “step forward” even if not completely. I understood well how Margareth passes through her city in the south, which we can identify as “innocence”, in the north, which we can identify as “experience”. Margaret has learned that innocence is a world full of colors, the world of childhood, with peace, tranquillity, just as we studied with Blake, and that experience is the ugly, dark, gray, gloomy world full of evil, the world where everyone, even women and children are forced to work for a lot of hours just to not die of hunger, but they are also in danger because as we saw in Thorton’s Mill, people could inhale the wool and die of suffocation. Anyway, despite the bad condition of the north and all the bad things, Margaret manages to meet Thornton and in conclusion marry him.

  20. According to me, the main difference between the two novels “Pride and Prejudice” and “North and South” is the genre. They are both novels, but “Pride and Prejudice” has a more romantic shade, while “North and South” is a formation novel. “Pride and Prejudice” is entirely set into an “innocence” world, in which the only goal of the protagonists is to find the right husband. There isn’t any referrence to historical or social facts, because the only feature which is considered about a person is his/her social class. In “North and South”, instead, the love story between Thornton and Margaret is secondary, because the main focus of this novel is the world in which the characters are set: a world of “experience”, made of different social classes, industrial revolution, risks, hard work, strikes, starves… I consider this novel a formation novel because Margaret starts as a 17 year old, “innocent” and not too rich girl and ends up being more “experienced”, rich, clever and with a better capacity to understand the real problems of that times

  21. I think that losing innocence might be a terrible feeling, you see the world around you with other eyes, you are aware of how bad the world can be: that’s the experience world.
    But in Margaret’s case, this sudden change of events made her a better person.
    In the beginning, she is disoriented, everything looks so different, life here is a lot harder.
    But gradually, she gets used to this, she befriends people that she wouldn’t even get close to in South England, like Higgins’ daughter.
    And then, she falls in love with a man who is the exact opposite of a gentleman: mr Thorton, a man who started from the bottom and struggled a lot to reach his position.

  22. I think it was certainly difficult for Margaret to move to the north, where life was radically different from her habits. But it’s also true that every time you encounter obstacles and radical changes you always learn something good and I think it was a lesson for Margaret.

  23. I loved everything about “Pride and Prejudice”. All the story is based on the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy: prejudice at fisrt, increase of affection, then the refused proposal and in the end the happy ending. But when I saw “North and South”, I dare to say, I felt as if the story was more complete. In fact the background of Jane Austen’s story is based on the life of refined society: convenient marriage ,balls , tittle-tattle (very frivolous things). While instead in the Elizabeth Gaskell’s story there is no a real background, because the desolation, the pain of the city of mills characterizes the characters themselves.
    In fact Margaret, after living in Milton, can no longer think of Hellston as the heavenly place… perhaps because now she is not so sure that such a place can exist.
    The difference between the two stories is accentuated by the male characters.
    Mr Darcy is a gentleman who has everything, he is strongly confident and would never have expected to be rejected. On the other side there is Mr Thornton, a mill owner who owes everything he has to himself and his hard work. He’s so sensitive, he’s hoping for a love return from Margaret, but he knows his proposal would never be accepted. Maybe all these are the reasons that make me think that “North and South” is more complete than “Pride and Prejudice”.

  24. It’s true that it isn’t simple leaving your home to go to a totally different place.
    Margareth is obliged to leave her state of “innocence”. The Industrial Revolution brought this “dark satanic mills” that changed the way of living of an entire generation of people; it’s because of this that Margareth was disoriented when she moved to the north. She brought with her many prejudices. Thanks to the love for Mr. Thorton she reevaluated the life in the north and she is finally free from all prejudices.

  25. L”Pride and Prejudice” and “North and South” are very similar love stories but the context changes. Pride and prejudice is clearly a world of innocence, a quiet, peaceful world where the goal is to seek and find the perfect husband. Instead North and South is clearly a world of experience, dark, full of work, covered by the smog of industrial machines. So it is obviously very difficult for Margaret to pass from the first world to the other, to see life from another perspective, the real one, a change which however, without doubt, made her a better person, with the love for Mr Thornton that helped this growth.

  26. I think when Margaret moved north she was sick but at the same time this pain, looking reality in the face, led her to grow. Living in the world of fairy tales (the south), a world seen as paradise, cannot make you grow. I believe that growing up does not mean increasing age, but going through more different beautiful and ugly situations. Growing up makes you a better person. Being “better” with yourself leads you to be better with others as well. Precisely for this reason I think that Mr. Thornton and Margaret got engaged only at the end of the TV series: because they both grew up in a personal way and only after doing so, they managed to have the awareness of the person in front of them. Two people are comfortable together if they are comfortable with themselves first and have grown to the point of being.

  27. I liked the story of North and South for many reasons. First of all the protagonist, I think Margaret is a beautiful female figure, she is strong, courageous and self-confident, and above all she is free to choose the man to love regardless of everything. I liked the relationship between Margaret and Mr Thorton very much, although they belong to different backgrounds, North and South, they still manage to understand each other more and more, learning from each other. Thanks to Margaret’s story I was able to better understand the differences between north and south of that time, also following a beautiful love story.

  28. I particularly appreciated this post, because it makes you realize how the place where you are born and grow up radically influences you and your way of being. In fact the difference between north and south in those years was enormous, two totally different worlds. The north had been hit by the wave of changes, mainly in the technological field, carried by the second industrial revolution and which led the north to an incredible evolution. Citizens of both regions had also unhealthy prejudices.

  29. The North and South series is about the differences between the North of England and the South. It speaks about the events between Margaret and Mr. Thorton who at first hated each other but then fell in love. This series wants to make the readers understand that people can’t judge a person by appearance but only once known well: like the prejudice that Margaret had for citizens

  30. I enjoyed “North and South” because it made me realize that happiness it’s about experience and emotions. It’s not about circumstances. We talked about the North and the South as a heaven and hell, but actually the South was not even closed to hell to Margaret. When she lived in Milton she felt loved and understood. She was truly happy. Instead, when she went back to Helstone she felt out of place. She loved Helstone but her soul didn’t belong to the South anymore. That’s why North and South mean Innocence and Experience. My advice is: “leave behind the Innocence and make your life a fantastic experience”. At first it may be scared but you’ll be gratefull.

  31. In my point of view, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South the main character, Margaret Hale accomplishes a training process through her “raw” experiencies lived in Milton. Her perspective is obliged to be dynamic, in fieri, while Elizabeth Bennet’s is more static: she doesn’t have a global perception of things and happenings occurred all over the England, because she lives under a glass bell in a narrow world made of appearance, respectability, agreeableness in conversation, displayed wealth. A pretentious nothingness, a series of vacuous qualities sought in the fading aristocratic society.

    According to Blake’s vision, Miss Bennet (future Mrs Darcy) surely lives in the world of innocence.
    It’s very interesting reasoning about the character of Margaret Hale and her attitude towards the North with Blakean concepts of innocence and experience. The female protagonist of North & South seems to go beyond Blakean world of experience. Her baptism to Northern society was harsh, very harsh before she wholly understood Mr Thornton’s motivation.
    When storyline is coming to the happy ending, she is definitely aware of factories reality. She accepts the industrial society in spite of all cruel things experienced because of it. And therefore she can finally understand Mr Thornton and his dark actions.
    Perhaps her subconscious still rejects “dark satanic mills”, but, when she gets home in South, she manages to overcome rosy retrospection – the nostalgic memoria preteritorum bonorum – to land in a world of full maturity.

  32. Margaret changed after she moved north. Margaret in the north has a completely different life than in the south. Life in the North is harder in Milton people haven’t jobs and haven’t money to eat. When Margaret cames back to the south, she’s not as carefree as before. Margaret is also conditioned by the death of her parents.

  33. The love story between Margaret and Mr.Thornton is told in a very realistic and touching context. The condition of the workers at that time, the strikes and the consequences of these such as disease, hunger or a low salary for a large family.
    The north is described as a place abandoned by God , a kind of hell where the people only need money.
    Margaret is projected into this reality, at first it will not be easy but in the course of history we see a change in the protagonist, who develops an intense admiration for the initiative of the inhabitants of the north; this change of perspective also changes the relationship with Mr. Thornton
    It is significant to see how Margaret’s prejudice towards Mr. Thornton turns out to be wrong.

  34. The two stories between Margaret and Mr.Thorton and between Elizabeth and Mr.Darcy are very similar, especially the two women. Their behavior are similar but expressed in different contexts. The North and South make the difference. In fact Margaret after she moves with her parents to the North her life changed, and finds out how hard life is in the North, especially in Milton.

  35. I think that there is a big difference between the two novels: “Pride and Prejudice” and “North and South”. In the novel “North and South”, the love story between margaret and thorton is a secondary theme. The main theme is the world they live in and how the society reacts to what happens. In the novel “Pride and Prejudice” is more focused on the romantic side of the story. In fact the whole goal of the novel is to find the right husband to love forever after.

  36. When talking about innocence, Blake immediately comes to my mind. Perhaps, it is not so far-fetched to make a comparison between Blake’s and Margaret’s loss of innocence. In both we pass from a closed, beautiful and isolated world to an external world, the real one. Are those in North and South also two “state of mind”? For me the answer is yes.

    The South itself can be considered “innocence” with its idyllic world, while the North is “experience”, with its stark images of reality.

    If you leave the South to go to the North, you will never go back, as Margaret shows us when returning home, she no longer feels the emotions she used to feel as a child.

    But, as Pascoli teaches us, there’s a way to escape a bit from experience and go back to innocence: the way is the “Fanciullino”. So, was there a way for Margaret to feel the emotions she used to have as a child? I don’t know… maybe that’s the difference between Blake’s world and North and South’s world.

    Anyway, Margaret changes her attitude gradually. At first, she can’t bear living with the great difference of the North, perhaps even for her first sight not so pleasant, but later she gets away to settle in the best way, even falling in love with an industrialist… Perhaps the “northern experience” “it’s not too bad for her…

  37. Elizabeth used to live a different life from milton’s life. It is clear that when she starts to face to London’s ambient she realizes how much could be difficult to live outside that framework

  38. I was thinking about this loss of innocence of Margaret, the fact that when she goes back to her old house and meet those people that criticize the North, she defends it and judge instead those people.
    Margaret changes a lot deeply and she didn’t even notice, all her prejudices from the beginning have disappeared and I think instead she now better understands the mentality of the north rather than that of the south.

  39. The North and South series really emphasise the differences between northern England and the south. The first scene Margaret sees is the relationship between Thornton and his workers (in this case with a man to be fired), which is why she at the beginning finds him wrong. The love story between Margaret and Thornton is very similar to the love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Between the two stories, I really liked the story between Margaret and Thornton. I liked it because leads to realise that we don’t have to judge the appearance, but we need to learn and know people better.

  40. In my opinion North and South is a story that faces better real life. Pride and prejudice is a more fantastic novel, filled with love, dispiace, drama. In North and South, Margaret faces real life problems. In North and South people work to gain respect as Mr Thorton did. Their live story is more realistic: two rich, respectable people, with their own money, find each other and fall in love. Eventhough I have said these things, deep inside of me, I know, as a “romantic” girl, I have appreciated more Pride and prejudice.

  41. The loss of innocence experienced by Margaret is inevitable. If you come from the South and move to this completely new, industrialized North, it’s impossible for her to stay that innocent south girl. With time she has to change, and the fact that when she goes back to the south and support the North shows that she has changed. It was also inevitable for her to change opinion on Thornton, she comes to understand why he has to act that way and she slowly understands how life works in the north

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