I'm now about 3/4 through Sylvia's Lovers, and while I haven't warmed to the heroine particularly, I do think the story is interesting and the novel worth reading.
I'm impressed with the historical aspect of the novel. While Gaskell wrote other historical pieces, they are short stories or novellas. This, I believe, is her only full novel that is historical, and it is set during the Napoleonic Wars. Early on, I thought several times how this was a woman's version of Moby Dick--instead of details of life on a whaling ship, we have details of the lives of the women and families of the men on those whaling ships.
I was also struck by the fact that Sylvia, a farmer's daughter, is courted by a sailor and a tradesman, and, like Louisa Musgrove in Austen's Persuasion, she is completely captivated by the men of the sea, though in this case, it's not the patriotic theme as the Navy in SL are the bad guys in the form of the press gangs.