Ok, I simply adore this book. It's like it was written for me, I love it so much. I know this is not a universal feeling, as my sisters don't seem to feel the same, and by some of the less then 100% positive reviews on Google Books.
But I LOVE it! I read it (actually listened to it, via Librivox Podcasts) once through this last month, and I'm already wanting to read it again!
The book was originally published in 1855, and the author, Elizabeth Gaskell, was actually good friends with the older Brontë sisters.
Margaret Hale is a young woman who knows her mind, and is not afraid to speak it. Which sometimes gets her into trouble in the north, where the people think very differently than she is used to.
Not far into the book, because of moral reasons, her Father decides to leave his parish, located in the south of england, and takes his family to a manufacturing town in the north, called Milton. Both Margaret and her Mother find their new home to be smoky and unpleasant compared to their beloved Helston.
Her Father works as a teacher and a private tutor, and one of his favorite pupils is the owner of one of the local cotton mills, Mr Thornton. Who is also not afraid to speak his mind, and through out the book he and Margaret have several heated discussions, often ending in offended feelings.
Soon, the discontented mill worker strike, and the town of milton comes to a screeching halt. Margaret's compassionate nature lends herself to the poorer classes, of which she befriends a dying girl, named Bessy, who's Father also works in the mills, and is a union leader. This leads to more controversy between herself and Mr. Thornton and others of the upper class. Most are glad to just ignore her, but Mr. Thornton begins, rather unwillingly, to develop stronger feelings for her. And after she saves his life, by shielding him from a riot of strikers, and getting hit on the side of her head by a flying stone, he cannot go any longer without telling her of his feelings and asking for her hand. Which she takes as him trying to save her reputation, offending her, and she rejects him.
Meanwhile, the strike has ended, not in favor of the workers. But Mr. Thornton can't seem to get caught up with his orders, and slowly gets farther and farther behind, eventually causing him to nearly loose the mill.
Margaret's Mother passes away, and then also her Father. Mr. Bell, a wealthy old friend of her Fathers, takes her under his wing, and when he finds he is also dying, leaves everything he has to her, including all the property he owned in Milton, by which Margaret becomes Mr. Thornton’s landlady. When Mr. Thornton comes to London to discuss business with Margaret and her lawyer, and when the lawyer doesn't show, she lets him wait in the drawing room for nearly an hour before she works up the nerve to meet him again.
Okay, I think I'll just leave it at that, the book ends within a couple pages, and I guess you'll just have to read it yourself to find out what happens :)