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. In the story, it was immediately clear that Margaret suffered a lot when she moved to the North.
    When she lived in the south she was like a carefree girl who lived in the well-being and greenery of those immense meadows that also surrounded her house. Instead, thanks also to the skill of the recorder of this small TV series, it was possible to clearly understand what life was like in a northern city like Milton. They showed us a dirty, run-down and above all dark and polluted city due to the presence of the large and many industries that were present. Margaret found herself in a place where there were diseases and filth and this put her in great difficulty. But over time she began to understand how life worked in industrialized cities and she too had a noticeable change, which could also be seen when she returned to the south, she was no longer the innocent old Margaret.

  2. Southern villages with their life sweet and full of childish dreams has no part in the “real life” of England’s industrial cities.
    The North’s roughness is not only depicted cinematographically through the grey scales and claustrophobic cuts of the camera, but also through the people’s attitude and appearance. The fluffy dresses of Margareth and her mother meet the stiffness of Mrs. Thornston’s. The snow white and puffy faces of southerners’ makes contrast with the hollow and dirty ones of all the millers in the city of Milton.
    These details are as thin and sharp as a knife. They cut through Margareth’s and the viewer’s idea of an England made up by nothing but ladies and gentlemen. A knife that cuts the links from an innocence, that won’t let anyone admit the existence of such disparities between different classes of people.

  3. in my opinion moving from south to north is something hard to deal with for Margaret, but is also something necessary that helps her growing up. Spending an entire life in the south would be like living your whole life in a bubble: some kind of reality that isn’t actually reality and in which you’ll never face real problems cause you’ll always be protected. By the time she’ll be in the north she’ll become more indipendent, brave and able to face issues

  4. Margaret needed to move from south to north. it has passed from the innocence of the south to the experience of the north. it struck me how, however, once shehad the opportunity to return to the south, where even if more peaceful but where he was not feeling well, he decided to stay in the “satanic” north because she felt he was able to stay there and because she like there was where she wanted to be

  5. I find myself having to confirm my preference for the story “North and South” as once again the characters demonstrate details of their characters best from my point of view. Thornton’s humility far exceeds Mr. Darcy’s presumption just as Margaret’s sincere love overcomes Lizzy’s doubtful love. I can also say that instead of Margaret and her family I would probably have despaired by leaving a small paradise for a hell like that of the North.

  6. In the story you can feel the melancholy and sadness caused by the abandonment of the place and the house where she was born where everything around her was quiet, green and you could breathe pure and carefree air, the contrio when she arrived in Milton, her everyday life was upset but she managed to get to know and get used to city life … so much so that when he returned to his childhood home it was different, he realized that the innocent Margaret was gone. personally I think this happens when a person grows up and changes his way of thinking, living and discovers new interests … it happens when we are teenagers as is happening to all of us.

  7. I like this story very much because it teaches that prejudices often turn out to be wrong. History explains the differences between the north and south of England. The North is described as a Hell, while the South as a better place. Margaret, from the South, comes to no longer want to return to the South because she is too tied to the North and to feel that her soul no longer belonged to the South. In my opinion, as this story teaches, most of the time prejudice is a mistake , towards places, people and everything that is unknown.

  8. Margaret once arrived in the northern town of Milton she thinks she’s in a terrible place, in fact it’s full of smoke, so dark and really very different from the green place she came from. However her change of life makes her grow, mature, but above it modifies her way of thinking. Change, in my opinion, is essential in life, to observe other points of view and not just one for life.

  9. The north and the south of England in the late nineteenth century are just like the Hell and the Heaven, two completely different world, situation, state of mind.
    And just like Dante did in the Divine Comedy travelling from one to other, change you.
    When Margaret went from the southern England to the north of England, she was almost paralized by it’s poverty, it was bad looking, everything was different or better say: Worst!!
    The past year we study the song of innocence and the song of experience and in my opinion passing from south to north was like growing up: in the bad and in the good way.
    When she went from south to north, she understands what living in a city with different need, with different opinion, with different way of thinking was. She opens her eye, because she pass from a innocent and pure lady, to a woman who had to stand up for herself, who had to compete with man. Because in the farm land, everything depend by your rank. You born and you die in the same way except if you marry somebody with a major rank, in city it was different, it was more innovative, you could be whatever you want, and that was good, but to do that you had to outdo the other stepping and standing on them.
    Margaret protecting Thornton not only went against the value of that period, where the men had to protect the women, but she let the people see something that was uncommon, doing something for somebody else, hurting herself, for nothing back. That act was a remnant of her purity, her innocence, that everybody lose staying in the city, because of the experience they have had in that situation.

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