Margaret Hale is the daughter of a country pastor who has had a sudden crisis of faith and has given up his position. Margaret has spent several years living with her aunt and cousin as a well-loved household assistant, but has recently returned to her parents’ home upon her cousin’s marriage. Shortly after moving home her father informs her that he will be moving the family to an industrial town in north England. Margaret’s father is too much a coward to tell his wife about these life-changing events, and so asks Margaret to do it while he goes out for the day. Margaret is then tasked with packing up the house, dismissing the staff and finding a new home in an unknown city. Luckily, she is used to being an adored servant in her aunt’s home so she is fit to the task.
Once in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret’s father begins working as a tutor and Margaret encounters John Thornton, owner of a textile mill. She has very decided opinions on industry and looks down on Thornton for running a business that employs a large percentage of the town. Despite quite clearly telling Thornton at their every meeting that she thinks he is beneath her, he falls in love with her. She spurns a marriage proposal from him, and despite her harsh words he remains besotted.
Margaret is adored by all the characters in the book but it wasn’t until the latter third, when she begins interacting with her godfather Mr. Bell, that I could understand why anyone liked her at all.
Gaskell published this novel in serial form in 1854-1855 and the pacing shows this evidently, particularly in the resolution of the story.