Date of Reading: 16/10/2012
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Edited with an introduction by Angus Easson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Wow! At last Gaskell has succeeded where Dickens failed in 'Hard Times'. A romance novel set in the background of early industrial England is surely a daring achievement. Everything that matters to a superb story is at hand: the void between workers and masters, their lack of mutual trust which leads to strikes and proves fatal to both the parties and above all the presence of a saintly maiden who makes some change with the purity of her heart adds to the emotional appeal (it sounds Utopian, I know, but we need to think only of the reading pleasure).
All in all the story is much similar to 'Pride and Prejudice'; situation is reversed though -- lady here is with pride and her man is prejudiced. Gaskell makes a striking contrast between the calm, beautiful countryside and the fast-moving, polluted city life. But she is not blind to the evils of the country or the much luxurious life of the workers in Milton. What they lack is a little bit understanding and consideration and that is where Margaret Hale bridges the gap with her earnest spirit.
After spending years of life with her aunt Mrs. Shaw and young cousin Edith, Margaret Hale comes back to live with her parents in the village of Helstone. Her father is a clergyman there and they are quite at home with nature. But soon the position changes when her father turns into a dissenter and resigns his job. They move to the industrial town of Milton where Mr. Hale takes the vocation of a tutor. Margaret is averse to industrial settings but that does not prevent her from making a deep rooted friendship with Higgins family while her father finds a suitable companion in the rich mill owner, Mr. Thornton.
Once when Margaret tries to save Mr. Thornton from the mad strikers, he mistakes her gesture as a form of affection and proposes. Margaret, horrified at the idea, immediately rejects him. But Thornton can never stop loving her.
Frederick, her brother was in the Navy but as he led a mutiny against the ungenerous captain, he is an outcaste now. When Mrs. Hale lays dying he comes to visit in secret according to her wish but his abrupt leaving is noticed by Mr. Thornton and some others. He sees Margaret in the company of Frederick but mistakes them as lovers. Yet his intervention saves her from the awkward questioning of police on the death of Leonards who was struck by Frederick when the drunken man tries to capture him.
Mr. Hale soon follows his wife and Margaret is financially protected by her godfather, Mr. Bell who owns almost all of Milton. After his death, as a heiress she resides with Aunt Shaw and cousin Edith.
Meanwhile Mr. Thornton's position has sunk low as a result of the previous strike. His friendship with Higgins has improved his relationship with the workers, but a downfall cannot be helped. He comes to Margaret to give up his lease and she surprises him by accepting his hand.
--- Story is adapted by BBC as a serial in 2004, with Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret and Richard Armitage as Thornton.