When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.
The plot comes across as a kind of Pride and Prejudice, except the plot is more intricate, characters are more fully drawn, and matters of society are addressed. As you can see from the 4 stars I gave it, I really enjoyed this novel. Margaret is a feisty protagonist who goes through a lot with and for her family. Some of the passages addressing unions and the worker-manager relationship can be difficult to get through, though they are interesting if you are interested in that kind of history. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m not always a fan of romances, but I really enjoyed this one, perhaps even better than I liked Pride and Prejudice.