A socialist tract, a paean to capitalism, a Victorian love story, a bildungsroman, or a realist portrayal of life in mid nineteenth century industrial England. This very wonderful novel is all of these things; what it is not is a novel about the divide between the North and the South, but this title was suggested by Charles Dickens whose own novel Hard Times had just been published. Hard Times a novel also concerned with working conditions was not one of Dickens's greatest achievements and lacked the breadth of vision that Mrs Gaskell achieved with North and South. Mrs Gaskell's original title was Margaret Hale and her novel charts Margaret's course from a well born but impoverished parson's daughter to an heiress and part owner of a large textile mill. The novel opens with Margaret staying with her wealthy cousins in London, but after her cousins marriage she rejoins her parent at Helstone a hamlet in the New Forest. She loves the gentle country life, but the family faces a major change when her father must give up his parish over religious scruples and opts to move to Milton (Manchester) the centre of the cotton industry, where he will eek out a living as a tutor. The family find Milton noisy, ugly, dirty and crowded but Margaret is determined to make the best of it for her parents sake. She makes friends with the Higgens family: mill workers and trade unionists while her father becomes a tutor to Mr Thornton a mill owner and captain of industry. Mr Thornton falls in love with Margaret but she is repelled by his hard commercialism and rejects his marriage proposal. The novel charts the bildungsroman of both Margaret and Mr Thornton which must happen before they can reach any kind of accommodation. The reader of course recognises their suitability and similarity and the outcome to their possible relationship is only revealed on the last page of the novel. Here is Mr Thornton's view of Margaret when he first sees her in some rented rooms: "but now that he saw Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales.....Margaret could not help her looks, but the short curled upper lip the round, massive upturned chin, the manner of carrying her head; her movements full of soft feminine defiance always gave strangers the impression of haughtiness" And this is Margaret's view of Mr Thornton when she sees him at dinner talking to his colleague Mill Owners: "some dispute arose, which was warmly contested, it was referred to Mr Thornton who had hardly spoken before, but who now gave an opinion, the grounds of which were so clearly stated that even the opponents yielded. Margaret's attention was called to her host; his whole manner as master of the house, as entertainer of his friends was so straightforward, simple and modest as to be thoroughly dignified. Margaret thought she had never seen him to so much advantage". Margaret's friendship with the Higgens family which has allowed her to see the suffering of the mill workers at first hand has driven a wedge between her and Thornton: "Margaret's whole soul rose up against him while he reasoned in this way as if commerce were everything and humanity nothing" The battle between commerce and humanity, capital and labour is fought out in the factories and mills of Milton and the rhetoric used then is just as relevant as it was in the 1980's when Britain's industry was reshaped under Thatcher's government. Mrs Gaskell guides the reader to a more humanitarian view; the fight between the masters and the men could be ameliorated if only they would take note of what each was saying. Both their livelihoods depend on the success of the industry and if they could find ways of working together then surely it would be to everyone's benefit. This is skillfully reflected in the battle of wills between Margaret and Mr Thornton whose own love story is brilliantly woven into the fabric of the events on the industrial battle ground. The struggle between the masters and the men is a titanic struggle for power and the hard headed Thornton sets himself against Higgens who becomes a sort of working class hero. Gaskell refuses to take sides as she ensures that both viewpoints are given equal weight. Higgens and Thornton are both proud men but are also honorable men and it is through Margaret's friendship with both of them that at last a dialogue can begin. Mrs Gaskell has Higgens speak in the local dialect which highlights the differences between him and the mill owners but also between him and the Hales family. It is superbly done. Milton is brought to vibrant life through Margaret's eyes and becomes almost another character in the novel. The smoke and the grime, the rough streets the workers pouring out of the factories at certain times of the day catching Margaret unawares and always ready with some witty comment about the way she looks. Mr Thornton's house is situated opposite his mill inside the factory gates, a large courtyard and a flight of steps is all that separates him from his work. Margaret and her family are horrified by the noise and the industry when they first visit. Change is the motif that runs throughout this novel. The vibrant trade capital of Milton is constantly changing and at a rapid pace. To succeed in their ventures then the attitudes of the mill owners must change as must the trade unionists. Margaret must adapt to her new situation and Mr Thonton must change his way of thinking if he wants to win Margaret. The people who cannot change must make way and there are plenty of deaths, most of which have repercussions for Margaret. Both her parents die, Bessy Higgens finally succumbs to her terminal illness contracted whilst working in the mills. Mr Bell the Oxford friend of Mr Hale must also depart as his refuge in academia does not fit him for the new commercial world. Margaret's strength of character enables her to deal with all that life throws at her and although she bends she does not break and her experiences in Milton only serve to make her stronger. Mrs Gaskell's achievement in bringing off this novel should be admired by every reader. The avoidance of sentimentality, her refusal to take sides, her realistic portrayal of industrial conflict and the brilliant characters that people her book all add up to a wonderful reading experience.