I read Cranford and loved it. I was looking forward to another delightful novel from Elizabeth Gaskell, but I'm afraid North and South disappointed me.
Reverend Hale has some sort of crisis of belief and decides to give up his lovely, quiet parish in the country and move his wife and daughter to the mill town of Milton. It's dirty and the people are crude. He sets up as a tutor. One of his pupils is Mr. Thornton, the owner of a mill. They read and talk about classics.
Margaret Hale, the daughter, is a self-righteous snob. She looks down on tradesmen, including Thornton. But as she gets to know some of the working class, she becomes fond of them and respects their ideals and ethics. She and Bessy Higgins are friendly, but Bessy is ill and dies in her poor house.
Bessy's father is a member of the union that calls a strike against the mills for higher pay. They don't understand that sales are down and the owners can't pay more. At Thornton's mill, the strikers are replaced by men and women from Ireland. Hard times for all.
The Hale's son, Frederick, is a fugitive. He's a wanted man in England for starting a mutiny. He did it because the captain of the ship was unfair and cruel. If he is found in England, he'll be tried and probably hanged. But he returns to England from Spain when his mother is ill and dies.
Thornton, who has proposed and been rejected by Margaret, sees Margaret with her brother and thinks it's her lover. Even so, he quashes an inquiry into the death of a drunken man whom her brother pushed and who subsequently died. He doesn't want any shame to come to Margaret.
Meanwhile, Margaret has lied to the police so they don't find out that her brother was in the country. Thornton knows she lied and she's shamed by that. They don't talk, they avoid each other. Margaret inherits a small fortune from her godfather and she invests in Thornton's failing business, and they fall into each other's arms. The end.
Cranford is a delightful book, laugh out loud funny in places. North and South is dark and relentless and heavy-handed.