An enduring love. Impossible, some people would say. But those are the skeptics and this is a novel, a piece of "blissful escapism for a teeny tiny price, " as one reviewer said. The love between Margaret and John is deep, lasting, and compelling, full of "small touches and shared looks ... little moments that serve to create a lovely, palpable air" between John and Margaret. They honeymoon in a vibrant mid-century Paris and spend days of ease in Cadiz―experiences that change their outlook. The book is a guilty pleasure.
Still, this is also the story of a woman who confronts modernity and industrialization in a harsh bustling northern city while struggling with the age-old complexities of human relationships. Margaret Hale is one of those rare Victorian women characters who assert their individuality to curb a niche for themselves in a society that effectively negated them except as housewives and mothers—merely a nurturing background against which men did their thing. What would Margaret have done to whittle away at that repression, whether self-imposed or socially-dictated?
The tender, sensitive, loving side of Thornton is evident throughout the novel, as well—not only in his encounters with Margaret but also in his caring for his workers, which develops further, with her help. This blurring of roles for both Margaret and Thornton has led them into a new way of meeting each other, more as persons than rigid role players.
A Victorian feminist romance. To many, Victorian feminist is an oxymoron. But, in fact, she did exist; for example, the painter/feminist Barbara Bodichon whose rich very unconventional father, bequeathed an equal portion of his wealth to Barbara. At that time, only the first-born male inherited. Margaret of the North resurrects Gaskell's feminist-leaning themes and the trajectory of Margaret's growth is consistent with the character, as written by Gaskell.
Margaret of the North: a romance, yes. But a romance situated in changing times, changing social and sexual roles, and even artistic upheavals.