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This is Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel a widely acclaimed work based on the actual murder in 1831 of a progressive mill owner It follows Mary Barton daughter of a man implicated in the murder through her adolescence when she suffers the advances of the mill owner and later throughlove and marriage Set in Manchester between 1837 42 it paints a powerful and moving picture of working class life in Victorian England


10 thoughts on “Mary Barton

  1. says:

    How to Tell if You are in an Elizabeth Gaskell novel1 Someone you love just died2 You live in an industrial wasteland which is wrapped in a peculiarly permanent winter3 Your father makes terrible decisions You love him unconditionally4 Someone just dropped dead5 You believe that starving striking workers and their capitalist oppressors could remedy vast structural ineualities by having tea together6 You just spurned a man Immediately you realize that you are actually in love with him But it would be unfeminine to say so7 You are very very hungry8 Typhoid9 Your friends are spinsters One of them dresses her cow in flannel You find this endearing10 You your future spouse and some spinsters are the only people still alive


  2. says:

    In the grim industrial city of Manchester England around the latter part of the decade of the 1830's people are actually starving to death especially the little ones the poor parents cannot feed thoseMurder follows as naturally as water flows to the lowest level A love triangle ensues between the amorous competitors Jem Wilson a working class engineer and Henry Carson the son of a wealthy businessman for the affections of the delightful Miss Mary Barton she has high ambitions but will not end well Her father's feelings of great hatred keeps the secret second man a secret Still the most weak and vulnerable the children continue to succumb uietly in their small beds as the mothers and fathers look helplessly and slowly the shrunken bodies fade away Trade brings prosperity but when there is none the opposite arrives bleakness Elizabeth Gaskell gives light to the dark and confronts the establishment who don't want the rays to show the ugly YET IT EXISTS nobody cares parliament kicks the can down the road since the members have a full stomach let others interested take the initiative citizens die everyday so what is the problem ? This novel about the Barton and Wilson families drab lives revealed to the public the suffering of the wretched to a society that did not want to know Mary Barton the pretty daughter of a radical union organizer John Barton who blames the rich bosses for the many deaths that have occurred beloved wife included is in the middle of an unending struggle she must take sides love or family As politics rears its head the truth vanishes too as is always the custom If your beliefs are not correct then change the factsafter a while you will not notice the difference anything of blackness as the town's air usually is A splendid book for those who like to visit the not always great past a joyous experience it isn't to be sure but a necessary one Be warned though the story like other Victorian novels is uite hard going painful in spots for the casual readers than again life is the same


  3. says:

    She knew she was very pretty; the factory people as they poured from the mills and in their freedom told the truth whatever it might be to every passer by had early let Mary into the secret of her beautySharing the above uote may lead one to believe that this book is about a vain and perhaps silly young woman And that would be partly true However this fairly dense Victorian era novel is much than that This is my third piece by Elizabeth Gaskell and apparently I am reading them in a backwards sort of fashion having started with her last Wives and Daughters an absolute favorite and now reading her first Sandwiched between the two is North and South which I felt to be a bit sophisticated than Mary Barton Both deal with similar issues – that of the clash between the working classes and the mill owners or ‘masters’ of nineteenth century England Mary Barton comes from a poor working class family Her father John Barton is a staunch supporter of worker’s rights Mary’s beauty catches the eyes of many including a fellow childhood friend of intelligent mind but lesser means and the powerful wealthy son of a factory owner Mary comes across as kind hearted and a delight to those who love her but she is childish and ambitious Truly loving her father she believes she can improve his lot by pursuing one above her station Mr Harry Carson while rejecting the advances of the ever loyal Jem Wilson The reader feels less than sympathetic towards her initially as a result but then again one must recall that she is but a teenager when the story begins What teen is not guilty of a bit of ambition? Yes Mary was ambitious and did not favour Mr Carson the less because he was rich and a gentleman The old leaven infused years ago by her aunt Esther fermented in her little bosom and perhaps all the for her father’s aversion to the rich and the gentle Such is the contrariness of the human heart from Eve downwards that we all in our old Adam state fancy things forbidden sweetestWhile Mary conducts her secret meetings with her gentlemanly lover her father becomes increasingly involved in the trade unions He is sent as a delegate to Parliament and his voice falls on indifferent ears John Barton has further become beaten down time and time again having lost loved ones to death and blaming all on the ‘masters’ His is a dark descent into despair and anger The mind became soured and morose and lost much of its euipose It was no longer elastic as in the days of youth or in times of comparative happiness; it ceased to hope And it is hard to live on when one can no longer hope And so day by day nearer and nearer came the diseased thoughts of John Barton Mary Barton the novel not the girl also has a further element of crime and mystery at its core This device helps to move what tends to be a heavy plot at a uicker pace and to allow certain characters Mary in particular to exhibit some growth I found this aspect very appealing as the writing had a tendency to be a bit plodding and preachy at times particularly towards the end If you had to choose between this and North and South I would say pick up the latter Gaskell has fine tuned her style by that time and you will learn just as much about the social importance of the class distinctions the plight of the poor and the understanding that all need to work together in order to achieve improved working and living conditions as is the right of every human being Plus if you pick up North and South you can then treat yourself to the BBC production starring Richard Armitage which I have gushed about in my review of that book If you like me are a devoted fan of Gaskell then both deserve a reading Unaccustomed wonder filled his mind at the reflection of the different lots of the brethren of mankind


  4. says:

    Mary Barton was an important landmark in 19th century English literature in that possibly than even any Charles Dickens novel it raises awareness of the plight of the poverty stricken English working classesUnlike most of Dickens work Elizabeth Gaskell places working class people at the center of her novel novel rather than the periphery The central point of the novel as is Engels The Condition of the Working Class in England Oxford World's Classics is how men and women starved and children died and children died while their employers lived off the fat of the landThe exploitation and suffering of the British poor at this time was every bit as cruel and exploitative as that of the slaves in the coloniesThe novel captures the clashes of the time between the wealthy employers and the labourers is dramatized by personal strugglesCentral to the story is the trade unionist and his daughter Mary Barton caught between two lovers of opposing classes the honest young worker Jem and the son of an industrialist Henry CarsonThe 'fallen woman' Esther is to me perhaps the most tragic figure of the novel determined to save Mary from what she sees as similar fate Esther was jilted too by a soldier who pretended he loved her and forced to sell her body to survive though she sees her own life as all but destroyed Hence the despised street prostitute shows great inner nobility of characterMary Barton is important reading to gain an insight into working class life in the 19th century And that of the exploitation by employers It helps us understand the why the native British working classes have had a history of suffering and exploitation every bit as cruel as their counterparts who originated in the Third world


  5. says:

    Mary Barton is a wonderful failure of a novel in all of the classic Victorian ways–the love plot is overwrought the ending is melodramatic the moralizing is far too heavy and the epigraphs are obnoxious But somehow in the middle of all those problems Elizabeth Gaskell manages to capture perfectly something important Mary Barton is a Condition of England novel a meditation on the plight of Manchester cotton weavers in the depression of the early 1840's This is the Manchester of Freidrich Engels where people live in sualor so deep that it surpasses comprehension Engels however in what I've read from his account utterly dehumanizes the people he examines The citizens of his Manchester slums almost literally become their own excrement Gaskell on the other hand has faced an onslaught of criticism for her tidy Manchester Her very tidiness though makes her message effective She cuts away the filth but not the starvation or disease that haunted Manchester She suppresses the reality only enough to draw out sympathy from an audience who understood child mortality say in a way that they didn't understand inadeuate sewage systems She denies the terror of Manchester life only enough to make it imaginable Gaskell's Manchester is at its surface a relentlessly didactic world–a constant circle of learning one's Christian Duty–but the didacticism is founded on something that somehow seems genuinely human than anything Dickens or Eliot ever manage to find


  6. says:

    Mary Barton is the very first novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell Living in the industrial city of Manchester and having first hand witnessed the poor living condition and suffering of the working class Gaskell was inspired to write a novel that brings to light their poverty and suffering In Mary Barton Gaskell gives a true and heartfelt account on the lives of these working class men and women The suffering they undergo due to the want of the basic needs for human survival such as food proper clothing and other basic facilities to warm them against the chilly English weather and the sicknesses and death which are so common due to their unhygienic living conditions and lack of nutritious food is sympathetically and almost passionately portrayed that it was a pure emotional struggle to read of them One can only imagine how keenly the author felt on these matters having personally witnessed their lives and living conditionsAmidst this dire setting Gaskell weaves a beautiful story of love and loyalty When Mary Barton a working class girl is pursued by two lovers one being a mill owner's son Harry Carson and thus above her class and the other being a family friend James Wilson of her own class this young vain beauty prefers the former But soon she understands that her heart truly belongs to James and is determined to win him back But when her true love is accused of the murder of Harry Carson her loyalty courage and strength are tested And the accidental discovery of the true culprit makes matters worse as Mary realizes saving her lover may also lead to losing another too dear to her heartThe character of Mary Barton was not likable at first She is vain and is driven by an ambitious heart Her beauty being her only asset she makes conscious use of it hoping to remove herself from the class to which she belongs and to step into the world of the rich Many a time I felt that she needs a good shaking to make her see her foolishness However Gaskell lifts her from there and slowly and steadily develops her character from the vain and silly young girl to a brave and courageous young woman who armed with love and loyalty walks through a difficult path to save the life of the man she loves making her yet another lovable Gaskell heroineMost of the rest of the characters of the novel were chosen from different sections of the working class Gaskell's reason behind this choice is to show to the world the different sides of men and women belonging to this class their talents and their interests She wanted the world to know that these are human beings eually worthy of recognitionIn addition there is also a subplot developed on the relationship between masters and the workers Working class laid all their miseries on the doorstep of the masters They believed that the masters didn't do enough to alleviate their suffering This settled idea was one major reason for the constant rift between the two sides This led to many forceful demands being made by the workers on their masters which were proudly and indignantly met and ignored And the lack of proper communication and the ego of both sides led to some detrimental actions being made by both sides with certain dreadful conseuences Gaskell presents all this through her subplot earning major criticism in her day that her portrayal of the matter was far fetched However for the author's part she firmly believed the lack of communication to be a major barrier to the peaceable relations between the two fractionsIn Mary Barton Gaskell tells her tale with so much feeling Her sympathy for the working class is obvious The beautiful and passionate writing of hers pours this sympathy into the hearts of the readers connecting them with the story and the characters and through them with the working class The writing is also full of suspense as a murder takes place and a race against time was made to clear the falsely accused before his innocent life is taken This was an excellent read overall I was truly surprised by the outcome for I was not expecting it given this novel being a less popular work by the author And I also see this novel as a sort of a preuel to her popular work North and South where the theme of master worker conflict was taken up and developed


  7. says:

    Okay I am turning into a major E Gaskell fan I absolutely loved this book It was her first and got a bit melodramatic in places but I think she made it work North and South was definitely better crafted but this was just as good a story Gaskell wrote at the same time as Dickens Industrial Age Britian She lived in Manchester trade town and knew the condiditions there very well She does a great job at describing the real living circumstances of the rich and poor The book is absolutely gripping in its portrayal of the very poor working people Loved it Will buy it


  8. says:

    This was Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel and it shows It's signficantly less assured than her better known works North and South Cranford and Wives and Daughters The eponymous heroine is at times annoying although she grows in stature as the work progresses and the narrative has a number of those features which make some readers avoid Victorian fiction a leisurely pace wordiness preachiness sentimentality and melodrama The novel starts very slowly At the half way mark the pace picks up and it turns into an interesting court room drama which would be even interesting if the outcome had not been predictable The last uarter of the novel falls off somewhat as Gaskell's preaching kicks into high gear That said Gaskell writes well and is a good storyteller notwithstanding the signficant implausibility of some parts of the narrative such as view spoiler the fact that all it takes for Mary to realise she is in love with Jem is to reject his proposal of marriage hide spoiler


  9. says:

    After having read North and South uite a long time ago I had forgotten why this woman was a master in storytellingBecause it seems impossible that a novel written in the classic way with long sentences and a stiff structure with ancient vocabulary and dealing with the pros and conts of the revolutionary working class in the industrial England of the late XIXth century might engage the reader the way that Mary Barton doesEven with all these formal constraints Gaskell manages to transmit such contained emotion that sometimes I didn't realise I had stopped breathing with anxietyMary Barton is a working class girl daughter of an impoverished widowed man Her pretty face catches the attention of Mr Carson one of the wealthy lads of Manchester and the possibility of seeing the end of their meagre existence leads her to dismiss her true love Jem Wilson with dreadful conseuences for all of themPartly historical and sociological thriller which portrays the situation of a whole generation and the start of what we call progress in the working system Deeply meaningful characters who will stick to your mind long after you have closed the bookLoved it


  10. says:

    I have never understood why Elizabeth Gaskell is not better known She was a contemporary of Dickens and a much better writer Both HARD TIMES by Dickens and MARY BARTON by Gaskell deal with the terrible plight of the working poor during the 1840s and 1850s Gaskell's characters are realistically drawn as opposed to Dicken's exaggerated comical characters Mrs Gaskell shows how factory workers lived in terribly sualid conditions and the affect this had on Mary Barton's father There is a murder which leads to a thrilling trial The suspense was skillfully done leaving me unwilling to put the book down This novel should lead to an interest in the social and economic realities of England in the mid 1800s An even cursory investigation will reveal that Mrs Gaskell did not exaggerate the conditions or the sualor of that time There are many deaths in the book but that was the reality for the factory worker and his family