Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (nee Stevenson) was born on 29 September 1810 in Chelsea, London. Her father William, was a civil servant. Her mother, Eliza, died on 29 October 1811 and she was brought up by Hannah Lumb, her aunt, in Knutsford, Cheshire, a small town near Manchester which later became the basis for Cranford.
In 1832 she married William Gaskell, who was a Unitarian minister and they settled in the industrial city of Manchester. They had several children: a stillborn daughter in 1833, followed by Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), known as Meta, Florence Elizabeth (1842), William (1844-1845) and Julia Bradford (1846).
After her only son, William, died of scarlet fever she began to write. Her first novel,Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. It was an immediate success, winning the praise of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.
Dickens invited her to contribute to his magazine, 'Household Words', where her next major work,Cranford, appeared in 1853. North and South was published the following year. Gaskells work brought her many friends, including the novelist Charlotte Bronte. When Charlotte died in 1855, her father, Patrick Bronte, asked Gaskell to write her biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857).
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeths final novel, was left unfinished when she died suddenly of heart failure on 12 November 1865 in Holybourne, Hampshire, aged 55.
Milton is a sooty, noisy northern town centred around the cotton mills that employ most of its inhabitants. Arriving from a rural idyll in the south, Margaret Hale is initially shocked by the social unrest and poverty she finds in her new hometown. However, as she begins to befriend her neighbors, and her stormy relationship with the mill-owner John Thornton develops, she starts to see Milton in a different light.