Friday, December 11, 2009

Mary Barton - Elizabeth Gaskell

Set in Manchester in the 1840s, Mary Barton depicts the effects of economic and physical hardship upon the city's working-class community. Paralleling the novel's treatment of the relationship between masters and men, the suffering of the poor, and the workmen's angry response, is the story of Mary herself--a factory-worker's daughter who attracts the attentions of the mill-owner's son, who becomes caught up in the violence of class conflict when a brutal murder forces her to confront her true feelings and allegiances.

I had loved North & South, liked Cranford and I must confess that I was totally unprepared for my reaction to this Mary Barton. I loved it!!!

I am a bit undecided on what to mention first, Mary Barton focus on Mary who is apparently the main character but more than that is focusses on the industrial side of the city of Manchester in the 1840s, on the relationships between Masters and workers, but especially on the workers living conditions. The misery that forced them to desperate acts from seeing their families starve.

I think Gaskell is brilliant analysing human nature at its best and at its worse, I loved the voice of the narrator who narrated the story yes, but also explained what needed to be explained and reflected about what leads men to do what they do.

But the second half of Mary Barton is also a murder mystery. A man is murdered and another is accused and we know, like Mary does, that the accused is innocent. Fortunately something can be done to prove his innocence and we follow her as she tries to do exactly that.

Gaskell gives a voice to the desperate, the famished, the miserable, even to the prostitutes of the time. This is not a happy book, although is does have a happy ending, but I closed it with a happy sigh because I love these big social analyses and Gaskell tells the story with a fast paced compelling way that kept me hooked till the last page.

Grade: 4.5/5

This is my B Book for the The Alphabet in Historical Fiction challenge.


  1. I am just starting with Gaskell and I will keep ur review in mind while choosing my next book. Nice review

  2. This was my first Gaskell, years ago, and I immediately loved it. Though it is a first work, it is great: a social novel, a murder story, a love story all in one book!

  3. Oh this is going on my wishlist immediately! Fantastic review. Analyzing human nature is right up my alley!

  4. I loved N&S! It was my favourite reading this year. This seems another great book by Gaskell. Will try to get my hands on it. :D

  5. For those of you who haven't read it yet, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

  6. North and South is still the only Gaskell I have read, but I do intend to read more eventually! This will be going on my list.

  7. Great review! I must read some Elizabeth Gaskell; I can't believe I haven't yet, as I'm a huge fan of her contemporary, George Eliot.

  8. This sounds bleak, but fascinating. I loved your review -- very compelling!


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