Margaret Hale is forced to leave her home in the tranquil rural south and move to the industrial town of Milton where she witnesses the harsh brutal world wrought by the industrial revolution and where employers and workers clash in the first organised strikes. Sympathetic to the poor whose courage and tenacity she admires and among whom she makes friends, she clashes with John Thornton, a cotton mill manufacturer who belongs to the nouveaux riches and whose contemptuous attitude to workers Margaret despises.
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