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Mary Barton

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3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,712 Ratings  ·  516 Reviews
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 through love and marriage. Set in Manchester, between 1837-42, it paints a powerful and movi ...more
Paperback, 437 pages
Published April 20th 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1848)
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Flunderingchipper Yes. Victorian novels were very reserved. The most explicit content is usually a vaguely erotic description of a wrist.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëWuthering Heights by Emily BrontëThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeCrime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Best Books of the 19th Century
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Elizabeth Gaskell
4th out of 11 books — 25 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jessica
Oct 12, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: c19
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 Freid ...more
Kim
Feb 28, 2013 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

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
...more
Dolors
Mar 19, 2013 Dolors rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
After having read "North and South" quite a long time ago I had forgotten why this woman was a master in storytelling.

Because 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" does.

Even with all these formal constraints Gaskell manages to transmi
...more
Sarah
Nov 14, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
This was a good enough book. I think it was a very good attempt at showcasing the social conflict of Gaskell's era. Most of her characters are complex and I think the writing was quite good. It just didn't grab me though and I found a lot of it to be uninteresting.
K.
Feb 12, 2008 K. rated it it was amazing
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 absolu
...more
Holly
Sep 01, 2008 Holly rated it liked it
I'm not sure why I feel the need to read 19th century women's British lit, but I always go back to it, whether it's re-reading Austen or trying out new titles and authors. At first it was reading anything by Austen or that was Austenesque in period, satire, and romance. Now I've come to love reading the formal British diction and grammar - long sentences, Hackney London accents, and all. It's also an interesting way to learn about and live the historical period.

That said, I've read Gaskell befo
...more
☯Emily
Jul 31, 2011 ☯Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
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 squalid conditions and the affect this had on Mary Barton's father. There is a murde ...more
F.R.
Jan 30, 2015 F.R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Mary Barton, or It's Grim Oop North'

One doesn't like to fall back on cliches like the above, but the Manchester Tourist Board is never going to give a back cover blurb for this novel. Death, disease and destitution stalk the streets of the city which is seemingly a series of run-down slums, where a fall in demand for cotton can see whole families starve to nothing; where a flirtation with one of a higher class can lead to disgrace and possibly murder; where high passions are fermented even thro
...more
Jane
Where I got the book: public domain freebie on Kindle or was it directly from Gutenberg.com? Anyhow, a perfectly acceptable free copy which is one of the things I love about the internet.

Mary Barton is the pretty daughter of a factory hand who's an ardent Chartist (prototypical trade unionist) in an 1800s Manchester hit by economic hardship. She is loved by childhood friend Jem Wilson but has her eye on handsome Harry Carson, the boss's son. After Harry is assassinated and Jem is accused of the
...more
Nancy
Elizabeth Gaskell is a classic writer. Her characters have depth and her descriptions are detailed. She makes it hard to read modern works in which, most of the time, the writing is much thiner.
I can put this no better than the description on the back of the book, which reads in part:
"While it is certianly possible to consult Mary Barton as a social document depicting Manchester in the "hungry forties" with appalling precision, the novel cannot only be read as such. Partly because its love st
...more
Nancy Dardarian
Mar 05, 2012 Nancy Dardarian rated it really liked it
I loved this book, when I read it I was on a Victorian kick and had a lot of fun. It is sometimes a bit much but overall worth it.

I loved this bit:

Of all the trite, worn-out, hollow mockeries of comfort that were ever uttered by people who will not take the trouble of sympathizing with others, the one I dislike the most is the exhortation not to grieve over and event, "for it cannot be helped." Do you think if I could help it, I would sit still with folded hands, content to mourn? Do you not be
...more
Ana T.
Dec 15, 2009 Ana T. rated it really liked it
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 s
...more
Sabrina
I read this for my Victorian Literature class. Having not read many Victorian novels before, I wasn't sure what to expect. I enjoyed this book, although a lot of the decisions (and overall lack of communication) made by the characters, specifically Mary Barton herself, seemed a bit strange and frustrated me. This is definitely a book about class, both because the characters are all working class and the fact that Gaskell frequently inserts her middle class perspective onto the narrative. I found ...more
Mary
Feb 08, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How to Tell if You are in an Elizabeth Gaskell novel:

1. Someone you love just died.
2. You live in an industrial wasteland, which is wrapped in a peculiarly permanent winter.
3. Your father makes terrible decisions. You love him unconditionally.
4. Someone just dropped dead.
5. You believe that starving, striking workers and their capitalist oppressors could remedy vast structural inequalities by having tea together.
6. You just spurned a man. Immediately, you realize that you are actually in love wi
...more
Sara Steger
Jul 29, 2015 Sara Steger rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
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 G
...more
Helle
Nov 26, 2014 Helle rated it it was ok
There is a decent enough story at the heart of this novel, but as much as I hate being negative about Elizabeth Gaskell, whose Wives and Daughters I loved, this book is much too didactic for my tastes, probably for most modern tastes, I suspect. There were times in the beginning where I felt it was a communist manifesto, only half concealed in the novel form, with an extremely intrusive narrator.

It is the story of a young woman, Mary Barton, and the decisive years of her life in Manchester duri
...more
Marialyce
Sep 20, 2011 Marialyce rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, sept-2011
Actually, I do so wish there were half star ratings as I feel this one is definitely a 3.5 novel. Being that this was Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel, and being that a few people told me they couldn't get through it, imagine my surprise when I found I truly liked this book? It was a fine example of the saga of the the Victorian world where feelings are so hidden, and cues so missed that oftentimes, feelings are overlooked and poor judgements are made.

Mary Barton, a young pretty woman, learns the
...more
E. Chainey (Bookowski)
Elizabeth Gaskell'in en ünlü eseri. Mary Barton. Ne yalan söyleyeyim kadın karakterden çok erkek karakteri sevdim. James Wilson... Ah, o ne fedakar ve sadık bir aşık. Sevdiği için ölümü bile göze alan onurlu bir erkek. Çok ama çok beğendim. Unutulmaz erkek karakterlerim arasına girdim. Mary de iyiydi tabi ama şu zengin olma sevdası olmasa diyeceğim ama o zaman bu kitap kısacık birşey olurdu. Mary çok ama çok güzel bir kız. Birkaç erkeğin dikkatini çekiyor. Bunlardan biri de Harry Carson. Zengin ...more
Flunderingchipper
Jul 07, 2015 Flunderingchipper rated it it was amazing
Either you're a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell's works, or you heard that name and thought it sounded kind of like a cultured fart. If you're a member of the latter, I'll briefly explain what you should expect from a novel by this wonderful, wonderful woman. If you've never read a book from the Victorian period, I'll try to tempt you with Mary Barton as a starter.

Gaskell was very interested in women's suffrage and their overall role in Victorian society, so many of her novels, like Mary Barton, center
...more
Sheri
Jan 22, 2015 Sheri rated it liked it
This is a classic Victorian novel. Gaskell does a good job of presenting the worker's point of view in pre-union factory Manchester. However, the text itself was frequently long and preachy. I think John Barton might have been a more effective character if he just held it all for the end (but of course that is not the style of the times).

Of course, for her time period she is also required to throw in the love story and produce a happyish ending for the living. The book is simultaneously more inn
...more
Cirtnecce
Nov 08, 2014 Cirtnecce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell had been lying on top of one of my bookshelves for some time At least for 3 years, it remained in the same corner of my book shelf, untouched and unread. I worshipped Gaskell and I would normally never let a work of hers that I possessed, lay unused especially for such a long time. But the blurb behind the book and I am quoting verbatim from Penguin Classic publication –
“Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover
...more
Ryan
Dec 06, 2010 Ryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The first one hundred pages of Mary Barton are concerned with two classes of people: the workers and the factory owners. There is a sort of understanding between these two groups that when times are tough, everyone suffers together. For the factory owners, this means that they can't buy as many flowers and concert tickets. For the workers, it means that illnesses remain uncured and stomachs slowly turn in on themselves. The 19th century was a time of prosperity and power for England, but it was ...more
Mel
Wow! by far the favorite of Mrs. Gaskell's books I've read so far. How really awful it was to be poor in Manchester in the 1840s. It was all about how tragedy happens to really good people. It lacked artificiality and had great characterisation. There was so much you wouldn't expect her to write about, opium addicts, alcoholic prostitutes and murders. She talked about mother's giving opium to their children to fend off the feelings of starvation and there were many many deaths. But despite this ...more
Clare Cannon
Jul 02, 2012 Clare Cannon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 15 years - Adults
A little slower to start than other Gaskell novels, but this sensitive portrayal of the class divide in Manchester in the 1840s offers a valuable insight into how human nature can respond to want, suffering, injustice, guilt and love. It is a simple story about the rich and poor in a small manufacturing town, and instead of cluttering the background with detailed description, Gaskell's narrative is sparse. The characters and their plight are the sombre focus, and their anguish confronts us more ...more
Sverre
Apr 22, 2013 Sverre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book for the casual reader. It is a true literary classic à la Gaskell's contemporary, Dickens' works. Published in 1848, It has Lancashire dialect and colloquialisms aplenty, aided by footnotes and a copious appendix. It has harsh social and economic commentary, interlaced with strong Christian and bourgeoisie influences. Most of all it is a narrative of desperate privation, devoted friendships, a zealous romance, a vengeful murder and dramatic mystery, taking place in the 1830s a ...more
Diana
Ok, I could not--COULD NOT--finish this.
Maybe it was just too close on the heels of Vanity Fair. Maybe I'm just sick of High Victorian Melodrama. Maybe I've just tried to read too much 19th century literature in a (relatively) short space of time.
Whatever it was, I could barely stand reading this, which really is a shame as I normally quite like Elizabeth Gaskell.
But, since it had gotten to the point that I was having to force myself to read this book (which was supposed to be for pleasure), an
...more
Emma
Apr 03, 2013 Emma rated it liked it
Clearly a novel with a purpose, bordering almost on propaganda. Yes, Mrs. Gaskell, I understand that conditions were poor in Industrial Manchester. However, I don't think that justifies much of the plot's resolution: I don't think the characters' motivations are at all realistic.

While I think the Victorian heartstrings would probably have been tugged by the amount of religious piety she lays upon her poor, ignorant, working class characters, I found it overtly patronising. This is perhaps becau
...more
David Beeson
Reading Mary Barton, her first novel, it is easy to see what an excellent writer Elizabeth Gaskell would become: the story is an absorbing one, the background well constructed and dramatic, the characters appealing and interesting. However, it is in the later books that her potential truly realises itself.

In Mary Barton, there is not enough depth to the characters. While it is true that Mary herself is by no means all of a piece, but on the contrary brings much of her own misfortune on herself
...more
Karene
Sep 17, 2011 Karene rated it really liked it
I like books that motivate me to introspection. I think that was what I liked best about Mary Barton. I didn't realize until after I'd finished reading it that this is Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel. I think that explains some of its flaws. However, it also goes to show what an incredible author she is. Gaskell really delves into social issues in her novels, and this is no exception. For those who have read North and South, it is somewhat reminiscent of that novel in that a good deal of the nov ...more
Nina
Jun 05, 2012 Nina rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Juliet Stevenson's reading of this, as I did her reading of North and South. I love these industrial novels fraught with class tension. I also loved the picture of daily life that Gaskell gives us, as well as the bitter contrast between rich and poor lives. Mostly, it made me want to drink more tea.
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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson (29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs. Gaskell, was an English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. She is perhaps best known for her biography of Charlotte Brontë. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and as such are of interest to socia ...more
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“If you dare to injure her in the least, I will await you where no policeman can step in between. And God shall judge between us two.” 16 likes
“He asks me which of them two I liked best. Perhaps I liked Mr. Harry Carson once--I don't know--I've forgotten; but I loved James Wilson, that's now on trial, above what tongue can tell--above all else on earth put together; and I love him now better than ever, though he has never known a word of it till this minute... I never found out how dearly I loved another till one day, when James Wilson asked me to marry him, and I was very hard and sharp in my answer (for indeed, sir, I'd a deal to bear just then), and he took me at my word and left me; and from that day to this I've never spoken a word to him, or set eyes on him; though I'd fain have done so, to try and show him we had both been too hasty; for he'd not been gone out of my sight above a minute before I knew I loved--far above my life," said she, dropping her voice as she came to this second confession of the strength of her attachment. "But, if the gentleman asks me which I loved the best, I make answer, I was flattered by Mr. Carson, and pleased with his flattery; but James Wilson, I"--
She covered her face with her hands, to hide the burning scarlet blushes, which even dyed her fingers.”
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