Passionate, haughty, intelligent, and self-possessed, Margaret is the novel's heroine. She is a deep thinker but is often pushed into quick action and decision. She carries the weight of her family's suffering. Her prejudices and assumptions about the North, social class, and Mr. Thornton are challenged and eventually altered as the novel progresses. She endures many family tragedies but is able to achieve clarity and peace. She is religious and moral, and is consumed by her guilt over telling a falsehood to protect her brother. Her love for Mr. Thornton grows slowly, but eventually allows her to recognize his merits and decide to save his failing business.
The husband of Mrs. Hale and father to Frederick and Margaret, Mr. Hale is the charitable and mild-mannered parson at Helstone until his religious doubts cause him to resign his parsonage and leave the Church of England. He moves his family to the industrial town of Milton and takes up the occupation of private tutor. He delights particularly in his friendship with his star pupil, Mr. Thornton. Mr. Hale is frail and faltering at times, however, and his wife's illness and subsequent death plunge him into depression and mental perturbation. He passes away when he is visiting Mr. Bell in Oxford.
The wife of Mr. Hale and the mother of Margaret, Mrs. Hale is in contrast with her sister because she married for love, not money. However, she is unhappy with the lack of comforts her life as a parson's wife provided for her, and complains unceasingly about their residency in that forest village. When the family moves to Milton, however, she grows deathly ill and lingers on for many months in quiet pain. She becomes less critical and cultivates a meeker spirit during her illness; her relationship with Margaret improves dramatically. Her dying wish is to see her son Frederick. Not long after he visits, she dies.
Margaret's cousin with whom she grows up, Edith is pretty, friendly, and superficial. She marries Captain Lennox and has a child, Cosmo; the family lives in Corfu where the Captain's regiment is stationed. Margaret envies Edith's simple, carefree life.
The sister of Mrs. and the aunt of Margaret, Mrs. Shaw, nee Miss Beresford, always lamented that she did not marry for love. Her husband's wealth allowed her and her daughter Edith to live comfortably, but she envied her sister's marrying Mr. Hale for love. She fixated on her health, believing she was suffering from some ailment but was bearing it admirably. She is superficial and frivolous, and tries to keep a tight rein on Margaret's activities. She excoriates Milton when she must visit there after Mr. Hale's death.
The Hale family's fiercely loyal servant, Dixon travels with them to Milton and remains in their employ. Dixon does not much care for Mr. Hale and considers herself the loyal and trusted confidant of Mrs. Hale; she idiosyncratically believes that the problems Mrs. Hale faces are due to Mr. Hale. Her favorite child is Frederick but she grows to respect and love Margaret as the novel progresses. Dixon does not have a family of her own.
Edith's husband and the father of her child, Captain Lennox is also the brother of Henry Lennox. Tall and handsome in the early days of his marriage to Edith, he is stationed at Corfu with his regiment. He is over-involved in Edith's appearance and is excessively concerned with her "lost" beauty.
The brother of Captain Lennox, Henry is a successful lawyer. He is not unattractive and has a sharp wit. He is also very pragmatic and is not given to romance. Nevertheless, he believes himself in love with Margaret and proposes marriage to her while the family is still living at Helstone; he is quite vexed when she refuses him. Later he agrees to help Frederick Hale combat the charges levied against him and tries to win Margaret once more.
Mr. Hale's former tutor at Oxford and Margaret's godfather, Mr. Bell helps Mr. Hale secure a position in Milton as a private tutor. Following Mrs. Hale's death Mr. Bell visits Mr. Hale and Margaret and discovers how much he admires and loves his goddaughter. He encourages the two Hales to return to Oxford, where he believes life is much easier and fulfilling than in Milton. After he dies he leaves everything in his estate to Margaret.
The son of Mrs. Thornton and the brother of Fanny, Mr. John Thornton is a wealthy and intelligent mill owner in Milton. He is esteemed by his business brethren but despised by his laborers who claim he is garnishing their wages unfairly. He develops an abiding and passionate love for the beautiful and fiery Margaret, and maintains this love, albeit somewhat reluctantly, even when she refuses his proposal and he believes -erroneously -that she has another lover. He is prideful but rational, and comes to see the error of some of his ways. He is also courageous, intelligent, intellectually curious, and self-possessed. His business fails due to the strike, but Margaret saves him at the end of the novel.
The mother of Mr. Thornton and Fanny, Mrs. Thornton is a formidable, strong-willed, and opinionated woman. She is immensely proud of her son's achievements and is a proponent of capitalism and the power of the masters over the laboring masses. She strongly dislikes Margaret for most of the novel, citing her haughtiness, misplaced pride, and her audacity to reject Mr. Thornton as a worthy option for a husband; at times, though, she admires Margaret's passion and pluck and much prefers it to her own daughter's nervousness and timidity. She has a heightened sense of honor and accepts Mrs. Hale's deathbed request to advise and counsel Margaret if necessary.
The daughter of Mrs. Thornton and sister of Mr. Thornton, Fanny is a nervous, weak, and irresolute young woman. Her mother cannot help but compare her deficiencies to her son's strong character. Fanny is easily prejudiced against the working classes. She suffers from ailments and her emotions are easily taxed; when the mob storms her house she sobs hysterically and faints to the ground. She marries a wealthy businessman.
A poor workingman and the father of Bessy and Mary, Nicholas is proud, hardworking, prickly, and intelligent. He proclaims his atheism but appears to be embracing some aspects of Christianity as the novels nears it close. A fervent belief in the oppression and tyranny of the masters over laboring men, Nicholas is a committee man in the Union and organizes a major strike. He is devastated when the strike fails due to the mob's action and when his daughter Bessy dies. After Boucher's death he takes responsibility for the man's family and gains employment at Mr. Thornton's mill.
The daughter of Nicholas Higgins and sister of Mary Higgins, Bessy is an extremely sick young girl of Margaret's age. She inhales "fluff" in her lungs when working at the factory and is so sick that she can barely leave her house. She is at times calm and resigned to her fate, wild and raving, spiritual, doubting, and low in spirits. She admires Margaret and takes comfort in her visits and the religion she espouses; her own religion has a slightly apocalyptic bent. She is firmly opposed to the strike and tries to keep her father from doing harm. She eventually dies from her illness, but Margaret notices how peaceful she finally looks.
A large, "slatternly" girl, Mary is Bessy's younger sister and the daughter of Nicholas. While not particularly intelligent, Mary is hardworking, and Margaret hires her to work in the Hale household.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Hale and the brother of Margaret, Frederick was a sailor in the British navy when a mutiny occurred onboard his ship. Suspected of participation, Frederick fled to Spain and does not tread on English soil for fear of imprisonment and punishment, likely hanging. He stealthily journeys to Milton to visit his dying mother and remains there for several days until detection becomes a reality. He then returns to Spain, where he further embraces Roman Catholicism and marries a Catholic girl, Dolores. He works with Henry Lennox to try and combat the charges against him, but is unable to do so. He remains living abroad.
A workingman with a large family, Boucher refuses to join the Union Committee and is less rational and patient than Higgins. During the strike he is anxious and anguished about how to feed his family. He leads several hundred rabble-rousers in a mob to Mr. Thornton's home and threatens violence. After the mob is dispersed and the strike fails, Boucher tries to procure employment but is denied. He commits suicide by drowning.
A young man who served on the same ship as Frederick, Leonards was dissolute, drunken, and troublesome. Intoxicated, he encounters Margaret and Frederick at the train station and recognizes Frederick; he grabs at him since he hopes to turn him in to the authorities to get a reward. Frederick pushes him away and he falls a few feet. This fall leads to his death, although his health problems were documented already.
North and South Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for North and South is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Mr. Bell was Margaret's godfather. Margaret was heir to his estate. Had he been a younger man, I think he might have broached marriage. None-the-less, he quickly became aware that she loved someone else.