Margaret Hale, a 19-year-old girl, is returning to her family’s village after living with her Aunt for nearly a decade. Her life is quickly thrown into upheaval upon her return, as her father leaves his vocation as a pastor in the Church of England, and their family is scorned for dissenting.
To escape the reputation, the Hales move to Milton, a city experiencing the dramatic changes of the Industrial Revolution, and suffering from the poverty and coarse nature of a manufacturing town. Margaret begins to fall in love with the city and its hard working inhabitants. She gets to know her new neighbors well, including the strict and stern John Thornton, master of the factory. When tragedy strikes the factory, Margaret is stuck between the workers and the managers, and places herself in the line of fire for both groups in an effort to get them to reach a peaceful agreement.
North and South has remained as an example of how the early days of the Industrial Revolution felt to those who lived through them, and was written from Elizabeth Gaskell’s personal experience. It explores the tensions of a city becoming run by a system that values profits over people. North and South has inspired and informed other works from the time period, such as those by Charles Dickens, the editor of the original serialized version of the story.