Where the heroines lack, though, the other characters as well as the scenes EG paints are simply lush and vibrant, and the social commentaries of a place like Milton, an industrial city in the north of England (get it?) are gritty and really drag you in to the overall plight. I also appreciate the focus EG has on the Midlands where industry boomed, and taking the focus away from London, which tends to dominate the landscape a bit. Makes for an interesting read.
And last but not least... John Thornton, our hero! Who isn't really a hero, he and Margaret share the protagonist role in a way similar to John and Mary Barton and then Mary Barton and Jem; both the male and female aspects make up the whole protagonist, if that makes any sense. Where one is lacking, the other one has in spades. It might be going along with the romantic notion of the time, that the main love in the story is constructed by two people who are perfect complements, but that's just speculation on my part. Of course Mary Barton is a completely different ball of yarn, in terms of love, but that's a different discussion altogether.
Back to John. Some girls say they want a Mr. Darcy. When I lived in England we had a dorm mate obsessed with "finding her Mr. Darcy," and that made me say something cutesy about every girl deserving to find her Mr. Darcy. The man who is her personal perfect match, not a guy just like Mr. Darcy. I don't need a guy named Fitzwilliam, no thanks! But this book made me sing a different song. I don't want a Mr. Darcy, I want a Mr. Thornton. Northern accent and everything. mmmmmmm.