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Mary Barton

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  16,841 ratings  ·  932 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 movin
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 437 pages
Published April 20th 2006 by Oxford University Press (first published 1848)
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JellyInAJar Yes. Victorian novels were very reserved. The most explicit content is usually a vaguely erotic description of a wrist.
Gail The themes are similar: of the plight of the working class, effects of the industrial revolution and the relationship between masters and workers. I e…moreThe themes are similar: of the plight of the working class, effects of the industrial revolution and the relationship between masters and workers. I enjoyed North and South much more because the characters were more devoped. Mary Barton is too melodramatic and preachy.(less)

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Feb 07, 2015 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
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 beauty."

Sharing the above quote 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 more than that. This is my third piece by Elizabeth Gaskell, and apparently I am reading the
Henry Avila
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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... those...Murder 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 ambiti ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary Barton was an important landmark in 19th century English literature in that , more possibly than even any Charles Dickens novel, it raises awareness of the plight of the poverty stricken English working classes.Unlike 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 a ...more
Jun 22, 2007 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
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,
Jan 31, 2008 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
Sep 07, 2012 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
Mar 19, 2013 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
Jul 26, 2011 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
Katie Lumsden
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
As brilliant this time as it was the first. This is probably the most exciting and page-turner Victorian books out there, and is highly worth everybody's time.
I'm calling this one read because it took me nearly three weeks to get just past the halfway point, and I don't think I'm a slow reader. Will I try it again? Probably, because I bought the book. But I don't recommend it to others.

I really enjoy Gaskell's writing. But this book is so depressing. Maybe it gets better, but it's too much of a downer for me right now. I expected a love story with the social commentary off to the side. It's pretty much the opposite, and I'm not sure exactly where the
Sep 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z2015, fiction, classics
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.
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
I love Gaskell’s writing (Wives and Daughters is one of my all-time favorites), and things were going swimmingly for the first half of Mary Barton. It’s about a group of working-class families living in Manchester, and brilliantly details the poverty and class tensions created by the Industrial Revolution. But from the middle onwards it becomes a glacial crime drama, and the ending chapters feature some of the least believable, most heavy-handed Christian sermonizing I’ve ever read. It’s the kin ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics
First, I agree with other reviewers that Mary Barton is not quite of the same caliber as her other novels. Second, Mary Barton is not the most likeable of characters and it would have been nice if someone had hauled off and given her a good smack. On the other hand, once I started to read,it was impossible to put down!
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Your heart would have ached to have seen the man, however hardly you might have judged his crime.”

This is what fiction does for us—allows us to “see the man,” to walk in his shoes. In this story, we “see” Manchester, England in the 1830’s. We see a working man who is without work, a man who watched his son die from lack of nourishment. We see a young woman tempted to give up everything she loves for some basic comforts. We see their neighbors and friends struggle—not always successfully--to sus
I can't believe I'm giving a Gaskell novel this low a rating... And yet, I can't but rate it so. The storytelling is deficient despite the plot being theoretically sound, and there’s too much mawkishly romantic melodrama from early on, to which you have to add dialogue that sounds as trite as this example between the protagonist, Mary Barton, and her suitor:

"I tell you, Jem, it cannot be. Once for all, I will never marry
"And is this the end of all my hopes and fears? the end of my life, I m
Jan 25, 2015 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
Although I didn’t realize it, this was Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel and by happy circumstance it was also my first to read by her. There were any number of favorable things which could be said about the novel, such as Gaskell’s portrayal of a manufacturing town class struggle during an economic crisis, family politics on both sides of that contention or the simple, clean plot.

But what completely won me over were the clear ethical choices in the story. It wasn’t overtly didactic or preachy. It
Mar 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a novel clearly of its time and place, and if you can get your head into that zone (early 1800s in Manchester), you may enjoy it more than I did. At times I found it preachy, boring and full of poetic references that didn’t seem that interesting to me. The novel seemed overly long. However, it does have a moving plot, and some interesting characters.
What if Bessie Higgins and her father from North and South were made the central characters of a novel, and Mr. Thornton was murdered?

You'd end up with something like Mary Barton.

And while it was a good book, it's's just not North and South, which is one of my all-time favourites. Mary Barton is a much harder read.

Set in a similar time and place, with the same core issues (condition of England, masters vs. workers, etc) Mary Barton focuses on the lowliest of the poor of Manchester, g
Aug 11, 2008 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
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I did not love this nearly as much as North and South, but over the course of the novel I grew more and more fond of it. The characterization is not as superb as in N&S, but I did come to know most of the characters quite well. There are a few passages in the middle devoted to a mermaid, which certainly won me over! Overall, this felt like a first novel when compared to N&S, but that makes me more eager to pick up the later works of Gaskell! ...more
Where I got the book: public domain freebie on Kindle or was it directly from 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
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was my first go as an audio book after many years. I throughly enjoyed having the story read to me. And thank you to the National Library Service for providing audio books to those of us who have visual impairments.

Now onto the review.

The story takes place in Gaskell's home of Manchester in the north of England. It is a family story that is full of tragedy and misunderstandings. It also depicts the way of life of the working man during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century.

This sto
Trudy Brasure
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this again. It's not as wonderful as North and South or Wives and Daughters, but I enjoyed it more than Ruth or Cranford. There are so many similar elements to North and South, and the details into the lives of the working class is expanded. I don't feel the deep empathy for Mary or Jem as I do with Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Mary's struggles are much more dramatic and difficult to relate to. And we don't get to know Jem as well as we get to know John Thornton.
The first time I read this, I really struggled with it. I think I got caught up in the love triangle element of the story to the point where I couldn't see anything else. I was also comparing it to my two favourite Gaskell books, North & South and Wives & Daughters.

But on reread, letting the story stand on its own? I really enjoyed this one. It's about the lengths that someone will go to for what they believe in. It's about a teenage girl who's so infatuated with a hot, rich guy that she doesn't
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’m a Gaskell fan but hadn’t read her debut. This was, as I think another reviewer said, more Dickensian than others I’ve read.

Heavy, though somehow it escapes dreary.

But Gaskell’s voice is compelling and she creates a story that flows you from page to page.

I didn’t love the story, but I cared what happened enough to keep reading and enjoyed time in the stream of Gaskell’s writing.
Sotiris Karaiskos
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
One of the quite a few social novels written in Great Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century describing the difficult conditions of life of the working class. I would say, however, that it goes one step further by citing the causes of this situation. Although the writer, as she mentions in her preface, does not have the necessary economic knowledge, she finds the source of evil in the insensitivity of the capitalists who, in their effort to make more profits, are indifferent to plunging ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
3.5 stars

I adore Elizabeth Gaskell's works so much, even though I have to say that this one is my least favourite, probably because it was her debut novel and many themes she approached in this one were treated even better in her later works. Gaskell is amazing at describing 19th century industrial society and this one was no exception, it truly felt like it could have been someone's life in Manchester at the time, which also means it could be quite dark. However, I did feel like it dragged a bi
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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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