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Mary Barton (1848)

by Elizabeth Gaskell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,498665,118 (3.67)1 / 255
A story of class struggle, sometimes violent, in the North West of England
  1. 20
    Emma by Jane Austen (kara.shamy)
    kara.shamy: In some ways the heroines in these two novels are alike, but they are very different in other respects, and more strikingly, their respective journeys to the altar/married life go in diametrically opposite ways, in a sense! Both are true classics in my estimation; reading these two novels exposes the reader to two of the greatest English-language novelists of all time in the height of their respective powers. While all readers and critics do not and will not share this superlative view, few would dispute these are two early female masters of the form and are well worth a read on that humbler basis ;) Enjoy!… (more)
  2. 10
    How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (charlie68)
    charlie68: Both novels portray clashes between management and workers and there sometimes tragic consequences.
  3. 10
    Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (kara.shamy)
  4. 00
    Hard Times by Charles Dickens (shemthepenman)
  5. 00
    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Cecrow)
  6. 00
    Nice Work by David Lodge (KayCliff)
  7. 00
    A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens (charlie68)
    charlie68: The character's of John Barton and Ebenezer Scrooge compliment each other.
  8. 00
    Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (MissBrangwen)

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» See also 255 mentions

English (64)  Spanish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
  fernandie | Sep 15, 2022 |
It is difficult to express why this Victorian novel (that no doubt contains all the cliche faults one would attribute to lesser Victorian efforts) should be so effective and enduring. Gaskell treats her characters with understanding and respect and, while they could easily sink into caricature, they do not.

The story has a long, overwrought narrative; Mary is unlikable and bounces between a person of extraordinary strength and one who faints and swoons in weakness; Jem is a bit too perfect; and Gaskell interrupts the tale of obvious moral consequence to preach to us its moral lessons. What makes it have the ring of truth is the knowing that the squalor, starvation and loss of life are a daily part of the this world and are not being exaggerated in the least.

I appreciated that Gaskell resisted the urge to make the wealthy factory owners less human than they were. Their lack of understanding or care for the lower classes was portrayed as something they failed to want to see...and how true is that even today. Don't people generally take just that attitude toward the homeless? If I don't look at them I will not have to contemplate their circumstances or consider that there but for the grace of God go I.

I cannot say I enjoyed this book, but I did think it was worth reading. Many of its lessons, while rooted in a harder time and in problems which have been addressed and greatly solved by this age, are ones every man can learn to his benefit even today. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I learned that Elizabeth Gaskell wrote this after the death of her child and as a means of dealing with her grief. All I can say is that is shows in her writing. I had previously read and enjoyed North and South, written later, and Mary Barton has many of the same themes of class and poverty. But the rawness of the emotion, particularly in the first half of the book, I found quite difficult to deal with. It is a bleak, but human portrayal of life in Manchester in the middle of the 19th century. There are multiple references to the effects of the Industrial Revolution; handlooms weavers disappearing and being replaced by power loom weavers; a factory fire not being regretted by the owner because it destroyed the ageing equipment that could now be replaced from the insurance money. Gaskell lived in Manchester and knew mill owners and the conditions of the poor, which gives her descriptions, though hard to imagine, credibility and poignancy. A compelling read. ( )
  peterjt | Jul 21, 2022 |
Give this book to Jane Austen fans to radicalize them.

I've gone ahead and tagged this with my "manners" tag, but somewhat hesitantly. While Gaskell's North and South has a brilliant false start as an Austen-esque novel of manners, Mary Barton is much more dour and raw from the novel's opening. It has a lot to say about the social world of Manchester, but even more about the bodily, financial, and spiritual realities and struggles of that world. The idea of living in a novel of manners would be an unattainable luxury to our main characters, a kind of frivolous life available only to the masters-- indeed, at one point near the middle of the novel a peek in at the Carson sisters chatting about society and tea feels more like a scene from Bong Joon-ho's Parasite than Austen's Emma, as the reader knows the acute poverty and suffering of the workers in the city that surrounds them.

It's interesting that Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Mary Barton first, and North and South later. Admittedly, N&S does intermingle the romance and realism aspects more evenly than Mary Barton, and reads like a more stylistically mature book (Mary Barton's switch halfway through to a focus on crime and courtroom drama can feel a bit odd). But it is strange to me that after the time Gaskell spends in Mary Barton focusing closely on John Barton and his thoughts and inner life (he was originally intended to be the titular character!), she would hold his counterpart in N&S, Nicholas Higgins, at a comparative arm's length. And it is instead John Thornton, the evolution of Harry/John Carson, who gets a closer eye and greater sympathy. Personally, I have little interest in the plights of the masters over the men. And despite the tragedy of Bessy's death, N&S seems to me to blunt the abject despair and rage created by poverty in Manchester. I don't know. It's clear the books share the same concerns, and the fact that they also share many very similar character archetypes and specific interpersonal and societal events, makes them easy to compare, whether fruitfully or not.

Something I'd like to think and read more about is the portrayal in Mary Barton of how gender and family roles are broken down and subverted by strife and poverty. John Barton and George Wilson help tend to their own children as infants, and also become temporary homemakers and carers during the extremity of the Davenport family's troubles. Job Legh's story of his long trip home from London with the baby Margaret is also very concerned with this theme, as he and Margaret's other grandfather must of necessity fill the place of a mother to her. There's definitely a lot of interesting stuff there. Later, the contrast between how Barton feels when he must be supported by his daughter's income, as opposed to Jane Wilson being supported by her son, show in stark contrast. The roles of parent, mother, father, and child are examined and tested throughout the novel. This comes up in N&S, too, with Higgins and the Boucher children.

Juliet Stevenson's narration was very good. She excelled particularly at making Sally Leadbitter the most infuriating character to ever exist, haha. ( )
  misslevel | Jan 31, 2022 |
The first 200 pages of this book are dark, very dark. The people are caught in the center of the early days of the industrial revolution in the city in the center of those changes - Manchester. The downside of the unbridled capitalist factories was chewing the people to pieces and this story describes it all. The nascent unions, the death and despair, the poverty the hunger the caste system or rather class system now moving to manufacturing rather than land ownership. Unlike Charles Dickens who described some of the same his stories always had some hope of redemption. That's not here. I had just about given up on finishing this book, too much dark for me. And then it changed dramatically for the remaining 250+ pages.

One of the characters is murdered. Mary and the one she really loves, Jem, are pretty sure they know who did it but they aren't talking to each other as Mary has rebuffed Jem and not been able to retract it yet. But everyone else believes that Jem was guilty and there's lots of circumstantial evidence pointing to him. The person killed was one of the masters and his father is determined to have Jem hung within a week or so. Everyone is convinced it's a "slam dunk". A policeman had seen Jem threaten the murdered man just a day or so before. The story is now can Mary find a missing man who can supply an alibi which will free Jem and can Mary let Jem know how she really feels.
This is a real cliff hanger but there's a catch, if Jem gets off who is the real murderer? Freeing Jem only heightens the likelihood the person that both Mary and Jem want to protect will be found out. I won't spoil the story but all does get resolved. Religion plays a major role. These are pious if not church going people.

The second part of the book really redeems the rest. I recommend skimming much of the first half. And some suspension of disbelief is definitely required. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Oct 9, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (44 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gaskell, Elizabethprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alexandrova,Z.E.Commentarysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnes, E.C.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benitez, PaulaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brightfield, MyronIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brightfield, Myron F.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bysty,D.S.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carabine, KeithSeries editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daly, MacdonaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Day, FedoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dryden, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Easson, AngusEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foster, JenniferEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foster, ShirleyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaskell, WilliamContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, Stephen CharlesContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Higgins, ClaireNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Katarsky,I.M.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lane, MargaretIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minogue, SallyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munro, RonaAdaptersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ollerenshaw, MaggieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendle, AlexyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendle, AlexyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
PixabayPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seccombe, ThomasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sorbier, Françoise duTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strimban, JackCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strimban, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Temprano García, MiguelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uglow, JennyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, A. W.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, EdgarEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zazo, Anna Luisasecondary 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.
Mary Barton owes its inception to very personal events, hinted at in the first sentence of the Preface ('circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to'). (Introduction)
Three years ago I became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction. (Preface)
Oh Mary! many a hasty word comes sorely back on the heart, when one thinks one shall never see the person whom one has grieved again!
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A story of class struggle, sometimes violent, in the North West of England

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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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Average: (3.67)
1 8
2 19
2.5 11
3 100
3.5 43
4 158
4.5 11
5 59

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014043464X, 0141039388, 0141199725


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