Mary Barton : A Tale of Manchester Life Paperback
Edited by Macdonald Daly
Elizabeth Gaskell's remarkable first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life portrays a love that defies the rigid boundaries of class with tragic consequences.
This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by MacDonald Daly. 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 Chartist agitator John Barton, Mary Barton 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. Macdonald Daly's introduction discusses Gaskell's first novel as a pioneering work in the recognition of the conditions of the poor and working class; this edition also contains full notes and a chronology of Gaskell's life. Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65) was born in London, but grew up in the north of England in the village of Knutsford.
In 1832 she married the Reverend William Gaskell and had four daughters, and one son who died in infancy.
Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published in 1848, winning the attention of Charles Dickens, and most of her later work was published in his journals.
She was also a lifelong friend of Charlotte Bronte, whose biography she wrote. If you enjoyed Mary Barton, you might like George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, also available in Penguin Classics.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 464 pages, illustrations
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 31/10/1996
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780140434644
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by heidijane
I have mixed feelings about this book. Some bits were really thrilling and exciting - particularly the murder trial and Mary's efforts to track down the alibi to try and clear an innocent man's name. However, the rest of it surrounding felt quite pedestrian and plodding, despite the large number of deaths due to poverty and starvation in the first few chapters. More could have been made of the worker's strike, and the injustices etc. But the central story is still enjoyable.
Review by wisewoman
Review by jessicariddoch
I think that I simply was not in the correct frame of mind to be able to read this novel or perhaps it was the conditions that these people were living in that just made me feel unsatisfied.The writing however did draw me into the world that they inhabited and I could believe all that was happening. In the end it was a will written book, which believable characters and a strong story line, that i simply happened not to appreaiate.would still be happy to recomend it however
Review by debbieaheaton
In Gaskell’s classic novel, Mary Barton is the daughter of a disillusioned trade unionist. Rejecting her lover, Jem, she sets her sights on a mill owner’s son, Henry Carson. When Henry is shot and Jem becomes the prime suspect, Mary finds herself torn between the two men. Mary’s dilemma powerfully illustrates the class divisions of the “hungry forties.” A pioneering novel set during the great division between the wealth and poverty.
Review by pgchuis
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.