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Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
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Mary Barton (original 1848; edition 2009)

by Elizabeth Gaskell

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1,647404,374 (3.67)1 / 153
Member:Luli81
Title:Mary Barton
Authors:Elizabeth Gaskell
Info:Digireads.com (2009), Paperback, 260 pages
Collections:Read in 2012, Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

Work details

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848)

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The story of Mary Barton, a poor apprentice seamstress, who flirts with a rich mill owner's son, Henry Carson. She is faithfully loved by foundry worker Jem Wilson and, when Henry is found shot, Jem is arrested for the murder.

This was a bit of a mess of a novel. The first third was unremitting misery: people starved to death, almost every one we are introduced to in the opening chapter died, other people lived in appalling conditions and nearly starved, the trades unions failed in their attempts to bring this to the notice of the mill owners and Parliament. Just when I was about to give up on the book as too depressing to continue with, it turned into a kind of murder-mystery adventure novel. Mary, who has never left Manchester before, travels to Liverpool, tracks a man down, including by chartering a boat to catch his ship just as it is leaving the docks, and various things happen just in the nick of time. (People do still keep dying, though). Then the last few chapters calm down a bit and turn quite religious and ponder forgiveness, how to die well and factory and mill industrial relations. In places I would have give this 4 stars, but then it disappointed me again.

The narrator frequently explains things to us as well as demonstrating them, which feels a bit heavy-handed, as though we could not have grasped what she meant otherwise. The whole Mary/Jem/Henry triangle worked for me, although both Jem and Mary were prone to excessive reactions to rejection, which they indulged for about five minutes, before going back to behaving quite sensibly. There were lots of good characters: Job, Margaret, Alice, and even the hateful Sally. Esther flitted in and out and the author clearly couldn't quite bring herself to write a redemption for her (so, of course, Esther died!) I found Mr Carson senior's abrupt change of heart at the end unconvincing, both in relation to John Barton and his new appreciation for better relations with his workers. This is a theme the author returned to in North and South and, while it seems an excellent point to me, in neither novel did I feel that the dawning realization on the part of the employer was convincingly demonstrated. ( )
  pgchuis | Sep 5, 2014 |
I started Mary Barton with a little trepidation, knowing that it addresses social problems of the mid-19th century. I wasn't expecting to be so charmed by this novel. Gaskell managed to highlight injustices endured by the laboring class in one of England's manufacturing cities without sacrificing character or plot. Her writing is infused with Biblical references and moral philosophy, yet the tone is neither preachy nor overly sentimental. The romance seemed to be shaping up like Trollope's The Small House at Allington, then it took a different twist. As it turned out, I liked it better than The Small House at Allington. The murder plot doesn't even seem far-fetched when you consider the violence associated with strikes well into the 20th century and the still unsolved disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Gaskell, a minister's wife, had spent enough time ministering to Manchester's poor that she writes as an insider of the laboring class neighborhoods. The dialect seems both natural and familiar, filled with expressions used by older generations of my Midwestern relatives. Some may find Gaskell easier to read than Dickens, who wrote about similar social issues. Mary Barton is a good place to start with Gaskell. ( )
  cbl_tn | Aug 6, 2014 |
An exciting blend of social commentary, romance, and murder somewhat reminiscent of early Dickens. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I doubt that this book can be read with much pleasure by anyone without a special interest in the period. There is some interest in the plot and characters, but barely enough to overcome the boxy, cliché-ridden prose, the rote sentimentality, the mawkish religiosity, and clunky melodrama that weight the book down. Mary Barton must decide between rich and working class admirers. The rich admirer is murdered and the other is the prime suspect. In the nick of time, and seventy pages before the book ends, the suspect is cleared of guilt in a highly charged courtroom scene. Half a dozen tearful deathbed scenes and two fully fledged mad scenes fail to catch fire. Having said all this, the novel is a detailed look at the life of the lower classes in northern English manufacturing towns in the mid 19th century, and the study in contrasts between rich and poor remains relevant. The introduction to this edition would be more usefully read after reading the novel; the notes are surprisingly sloppy. ( )
  sjnorquist | Jul 10, 2014 |
This is a novel about the life of two working class families, the Bartons and the Wilsons, in early 19th century Manchester. It tells vividly of the poverty they experience, and the precariousness of their lives, depending on the success of their "masters", dropping down into destitution and starvation when work is lacking. A lot of people in both families die through illness and the effects of destitution in this novel and the depiction of poverty, alcoholism and prostitution (named here as such) is much more vivid than the circumlocutions and vague allusions that often appear in literature of this period. The core plot of the novel revolves around the murder of rich young Harry Carson, who is pursuing and wooing the eponymous daughter of a factory worker, John Barton; and she is also loved by Jem Wilson, with whom she grew up as a friend. Wilson is arrested and tried for the murder. There is a search for a person who can provide an alibi, and the trial itself is a very tense and dramatic piece of writing, unfortunately tarnished by the verdict of the trial appearing in the title of the relevant chapter. Following that verdict, the last few chapters provide a fairly satisfying tying up of loose ends and some final disputation between employers and employees about the causes of and possible solutions for poverty; Gaskell has quite a good way of presenting the arguments of both sides in a way that isn't crudely partisan, while the themes of the novel show that her basic sympathies are with the poor. A stirring novel, with some interesting characters (though as so often the title character isn't really one of the more interesting characters). ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 23, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Gaskellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uglow, JennyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, EdgarEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There are some fields near Manchester, well known to the inhabitants as "Green Heys Fields," through which runs a public footpath to a little village about two miles distant.
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Book description
The story is set in the English city of Manchester during the 1830s and 1840s and deals heavily with the difficulties faced by the Victorian lower class.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014043464X, Paperback)

‘O Jem, her father won’t listen to me, and it’s you must save Mary! You’re like a brother to her’

Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two men. Through Mary’s dilemma, and the moving portrayal of her father, the embittered and courageous activist John Barton, Mary Barton (1848) powerfully dramatizes the class divides of the ‘hungry forties’ as personal tragedy. In its social and political setting, it looks towards Elizabeth Gaskell’s great novels of the industrial revolution, in particular North and South.

In his introduction Maconald Daly discusses Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel as a pioneering book that made public the great division between rich and poor – a theme that inspired much of her finest work.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:31 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner's son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two men. Through Mary's dilemma, and the moving portrayal of her father, the embittered and courageous activist John Barton, Mary Barton (1848) powerfully dramatizes the class divides of the 'hungry forties' as personal tragedy. In its social and political setting, it looks towards Elizabeth Gaskell's great novels of the industrial revolution, in particular North and South.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Audible.com

7 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014043464X, 0141039388, 0141199725

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