I am ashamed that I did not know of Elizabeth Gaskell's writings till fairly recently. I was fortunate to pick up this book a while ago.
Margaret Hale's father who is a Vicar has a personal crisis of his faith and removes his family from the idyllic village of Heston to smoky, industrial fumes soaked Milton. Here Mrs Hale who never took to the move sickens and dies.
In Milton Mr. Hale takes in students and one of them is a mill owner the enigmatic, different Mr. Thornton. Margaret finds it difficult to reconcile herself to manufacture and trade and thinks for a long time that these people are below her dignity and she should not associate with them very much. At the same time Mr. Thornton falls in love with Margaret and after a strike of workers where Margaret protects him, he declares himself but is spurned.
Margaret takes on domestic duties after her mother's death particularly realising the financial depths they have come down to. Despite this, she maintains her gentrified ways, spurning the harsh ways of the industrial town she is now living in. Prejudices exist on all sides - the North more blunt and cards on the table than the smoother South and this forms the crux of the story. Thornton however is not going to let go easily - he is not one who is going to step aside and let some other man take Margaret from him. "Faint heart never won fair lady" could be tailor made for him. In a very subtle way he ensures that he knows what is happening in Margaret's life, particularly after the sudden death of her father which means that she moves away to Harley Street and away from him. Despite the obvious antagonism of his mother, Mr. Thornton strives to win Margaret's affection and her hand.
Likened to Pride and Prejudice it is darker than that with no light relief at all in the form of a Mr. Collins. Here death is everywhere and this gives a heavy note to the book. There is poverty in its harshest form as well. It all ends well though for the lovers and this was the lighter part of the book which I enjoyed. The descriptiveness of both village as well as industrial Milton was also very much part of the story.