Comparing Pride & Prejudice with North & South – Theme: Social Prejudice Part 1

Gaskell Blog ©Katherine C.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South have often been compared to each-other but within their very general similarities are also great colorings and shades, making them distinct novels written by two very admirable writers.

Gaskell’s North and South – Social Prejudice

Prejudice: a. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
b. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

The social standing of Margaret Hale and John Thornton is very unequal. She comes from a genteel background. Her father, Mr. Hale, is a rector and her mother, the former belle, Miss Beresford, has aristocratic relations. John Thornton, despite his wealth is in trade; a factory owner, making cotton. To the Victorians cotton was a material of the poor and being a tradesman meant being tainted by having to work for money –making Thornton socially inferior to the Hales. Margaret’s prejudice towards him is based on this Victorian mindset instilled during her upbringing in London and living in the South of England, where the changes brought to social order during the Industrial Revolution hadn’t taken full effect. Thornton is well regarded in the North: a magistrate and successful businessman. Those who live in Milton have a more modern outlook than the average Victorian, the mindset of the North.

  • Social prejudice: North vs. South

Within this general prejudice are nuances. The people of the North, specifically Milton, divide themselves into ‘masters’ and ‘workers.’ Creating the tension that leads to a strike and riot. Within that once again the workers divide themselves into Union and non-union:

Well! If a man doesn’t belong to th’ Union, them as works next looms has orders not to speak to him—if he’s sorry or ill it’s a’ the same; he’s out o’ bounds; he’s none o’ us; he comes among us, he works among us, but he’s none o’ us. I’ some places them’s fined who speaks to him. Yo’ try that, miss; try living a year or two among them as looks away if yo’ look at ’em; try working within two yards o’ crowds o’ men, who, yo’ know, have a grinding grudge at yo’ in their hearts—to whom if yo’ say yo’r glad, not an eye brightens, nor a lip moves,—to whom if your heart’s heavy, yo’ can never say nought, because they’ll ne’er take notice on your sighs or sad looks (and a man’s no man who’ll groan out loud ’bout folk asking him what’s the matter ?)—just yo’ try that, miss—ten hours for three hundred days, and yo’ll know a bit what th’ Union is.

  • Social Prejudice: Masters vs. Workers (Union vs. Non-Union)

Part 2, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – Social Prejudice

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Wonderful post–I’m in the camp that Gaskell was influenced by Austen, but regardless of the degree of influence, your post shows how two authors tackled the same themes. In P&P, Elizabeth protests that Darcy is a gentleman, but she is a gentleman’s daughter, meaning that the social gulf is one of wealth not gentility. I wonder how Margaret and Thornton would describe themselves–is he a gentleman in the P&P sense of the word? Bingley is a gentleman and his father was in trade…

    1. Thank you, Jane!

      I’m going to go into a small comparison of Bingley and Thornton in the post, since, as you pointed out, their situations are similar. The main difference I think is that Bingley never had to work himself so he’s not ‘tainted’ as much as Thornton.

  2. Alexa Adams says:

    This might have just decided me on reading North and South for my next book in your Gaskell Challenge. It was certainly already in the running, but since you have already paved the way for me to make the Austen connection I always look for when blogging about anyone else, I find it hard to resist.

    And I knew that Mr. Bates looked familiar from somewhere, but I hadn’t placed him until reading this post.

    1. Wives and Daughters reminds me a tiny bit of Mansfield Park because of it’s love triangle ie. Molly/Fanny, Roger/Edmund, Cynthia/Mary.

      Dear Mr. Bates! 🙂 He’s also in Lark Rise to Candleford as Robert Timmons.

  3. dapoppins says:

    I am new to this discussion, but loving it. The movie adaptations lead me to the books, and in turn are teaching me so much about another era of history.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Yes, I too love how the Classics help teach us history and the adaptations, of course, inspire us to read them. 🙂

  4. heartfelt says:

    I’ve recently joined this group and am looking forward to reading everything and adding to the discussion when I’m ready. It’s so wonderful to meet with others who appreciate this author and her works!

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