Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Mary Barton

Rate this book
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 moving picture of working-class life in Victorian England.

480 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1848

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Elizabeth Gaskell

863 books3,225 followers
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. 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 social historians as well as lovers of literature.

Елізабет Гаскелл (Ukrainian)

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
4,714 (24%)
4 stars
7,082 (37%)
3 stars
5,266 (27%)
2 stars
1,453 (7%)
1 star
511 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,188 reviews
Profile Image for Mary.
285 reviews17 followers
February 8, 2015
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 with him. But it would be unfeminine to say so.
7. You are very, very hungry.
8. Typhoid.
9. Your friends are spinsters. One of them dresses her cow in flannel. You find this endearing.
10. You, your future spouse, and some spinsters are the only people still alive.
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 2 books45k followers
January 13, 2021
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It offers an important perspective on the rich/poor divide in Victorian Manchester. It was written for middle class readers who were unaware of the realities of working class life, and it's so interesting to hear the corresponding narrative voice (which, whilst not omniscient, knows both halves of experience and why all people are intrinsically the same).
Funny, engaging and worth reading. I can't believe it hasn't got more hype!
Profile Image for Candi.
608 reviews4,590 followers
February 24, 2020
"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 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 more 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 more, 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 sweetest."

While 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 equipose. 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 quicker 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."
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
451 reviews3,229 followers
April 14, 2020
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 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 quietly 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 facts...after 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 quite hard going, painful in spots for the casual readers, than again life is the same...
Profile Image for Jessica.
97 reviews6 followers
October 12, 2014
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 squalor 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 more 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 inadequate sewage systems. She denies the terror of Manchester life only enough to make it more 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 more genuinely human than anything Dickens or Eliot ever manage to find.
Profile Image for Gary.
934 reviews201 followers
August 24, 2019
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 and children died and children died, while their employers lived off the fat of the land.

The exploitation and suffering of the British poor at this time was every bit as cruel and exploitative as that of the slaves in the colonies.
The novel captures the clashes of the time between the wealthy employers and the labourers is dramatized by personal struggles.
Central 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 Carson.

The '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 character.

Mary 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.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
510 reviews390 followers
January 1, 2023
Mary Barton is the very first novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell. Living in the industrial city of Manchester and having firsthand 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 of 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 passionately portrayed that it was an 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 conditions.

Amidst this dire setting, Gaskell weaves a beautiful story of love and loyalty. When Mary Barton, a working-class girl, is pursued by two lovers, the young beauty, in her vanity, chooses the rich and powerful. Soon, however, she understands to whom her heart truly belongs. But when her true love is wrongfully accused of murder, her loyalty, courage, and strength are tested.

The 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 heroine.

Most 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 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, equally worthy of recognition.

There is also a subplot developed on the relationship between masters and workers. The 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 consequences. 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 fractions.

In 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. It is also full of suspense with the murder and the race against the time 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 the lesser popularity of this novel. And I also see this novel as a sort of a prequel to her more popular work, North and South where the theme of master-worker conflict was taken up again and developed.
Profile Image for Dolors.
524 reviews2,177 followers
March 19, 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 transmit such contained emotion that sometimes I didn't realise I had stopped breathing with anxiety.

Mary 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 consequences for all of them.

Partly 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 book.

Loved it!
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
567 reviews4,597 followers
October 27, 2020
Someone please help me break this curse the universe has placed on my reading life. I can't even enjoy an Elizabeth Gaskell novel now?!

This was just okay. It's way longer than it needed to be, but it was neat to see some early hints at what was to come in North and South.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,707 followers
July 15, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews507 followers
February 28, 2013

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 more interesting if the outcome had not been predictable. The last quarter 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 . In addition, the setting of the novel - Manchester between 1837 and 1842, torn apart by industrial strife between mill owners and factory hands - is inherently interesting. Gaskell depicts the plight of the poor with sympathy, although her suggested cure for the devastating consequences of working class poverty - - reveals her own social conservatism. Gaskell was not arguing for the abolition of either capitalism or the class system.

Notwithstanding the weaknesses of the work, I very much enjoyed listening to the audiobook narrated by the truly wonderful Juliet Stevenson. Even when it was at its most predictable, the narrative still held my interest. It's not destined to be up there with my favourite Gaskell novels, but I still liked it a lot, somewhere between 3-1/2 and 4 stars worth.

Profile Image for ☯Emily  Ginder.
578 reviews98 followers
July 31, 2011
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 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 squalor of that time. There are many deaths in the book, but that was the reality for the factory worker and his family.
Profile Image for K..
887 reviews108 followers
February 12, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Laura.
743 reviews266 followers
October 12, 2017
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 love story is. It's in there somewhere, but it's probably hiding in the poverty, starvation and death.

Another note: Why is this book called "Mary Barton"? She may be the main character, but I don't feel I know her well at all. She is a flat, "good" girl. I was really hoping she'd develop beyond that, but I haven't seen it after 220 pages, so I doubt I will at this point. I know her the least of any of the characters.

This book is making a Point. And I agree with the Point! I agree very strongly. But I don't need to be beaten into a bloody pulp with it. Having given up this book, I feel like I've thrown a big rock off my back. Relief! If you choose to read this, realize going in that it's not an uplifting read, and then it may work much better for you.
Profile Image for Coloma.
183 reviews
October 26, 2018
Primer contacto con Elizabeth Gaskell superado. Y con nota. La historia es muy buena y sus personajes también.
Si bien al principio me chirriaba un poco que intentara influir tanto en mi concepción y pensamiento sobre los personajes, luego me di cuenta de que simplemente se trataba de una "amiga" que me contaba una historia, con sus pequeños parones para comentar y juzgar a sus protagonistas, como si estuviéramos tan a gusto con un té deshilachando ese relato entre las dos; cada una con su opinión, a veces coincidente y a veces no. Pero ambas disfrutando de "nuestra interesante charla" ☕️
Así que, gustosamente, seguiré con el resto de andanzas de la Gaskell, of course! ⭐
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
July 10, 2021
Free for Audible Plus members.
Narrated by the talented Juliet Stevenson.

The story is dark and grim, but realistic, down to earth and it rings true. It describes life in Manchester, England, in the first decades of the 20th century. Melodrama is absent; the harshness of life speaks for itself. The prime focus is the lives of the working people.

Faith and religion are the sole saving grace for some. Not being religious myself, I nevertheless fully appreciate how religious concepts are drawn, enveloped in moral principles rather than in dogma.

The reality of the working class people is poignantly, beautifully drawn—with pathos, empathy and understanding.

Juliet Stevenson gives a marvelous narration—perfectly modulating the intonation for the character speaking. The story is a delight to listen to. The reading is not overdramatized.

There is a glimmer of hope at the end. Realistic and heartfelt are the two words that best describe this novel, the author’s first! Well written and informative historical fiction!


*Wives and Daughters 4 stars
*Mary Barton 4 stars
*Ruth 4 stars
*Cousin Phillis 3 stars
*North and South 2 stars
*Cranford 2 stars
*Mr. Harrison's Confessions 1 star
*Sylvia's Lovers TBR
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,691 reviews292 followers
August 22, 2016
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 may say, for it is the end of all worth living for!" His agitation rose and carried him into passion. "Mary, you'll hear, maybe, of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief, and maybe as a murderer. Remember! when all are speaking ill of me, you will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me what I feel I shall become. You won't even say you'll try and like me; will you, Mary?" said he, suddenly changing his tone from threatening despair to fond, passionate entreaty, as he took her hand and held it forcibly between both of his, while he tried to catch a glimpse of her averted face.

Why are Victorian writers so fond of overwrought and over-the-top theatrics and sentimental drama? Why do they favour it over telling the story competently instead?

Because this one had a great idea for a plot: a murder carried out on a mill owner, in which the female lead's father and sweetheart are suspected by turns. There's ideological and class tensions between the moneyed mill-owning industrialists and the factory workers and Union leaders, with a side of family and community difficulties for extra flavour, that'd have provided with plenty of thrilling drama on its own, if Gaskell had handled the execution of the premise better. Instead, we got a run-of-the-mill (pun intended) weak plot centred round solving what's perhaps the most predictable of all murder mysteries I've read recently, and the characters are either excitable and babbling-prone stereotypes or plain flat. There's an irritatingly predictable resolution to the murder, with me being able to tell the identity of the murderer pages and pages and pages before the revelation point. Rather anti-climactic.

Clearly, ‘tis been quite the disappointment in so many ways...
Profile Image for Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun).
314 reviews1,964 followers
November 17, 2017
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 kind of ending that’s designed to bestow a lesson on readers, at the expense of the characters’ personalities and priorities. I still recommend this to anyone who’s enjoyed Gaskell before, but if you’re new to her work, pick up North and South or Wives and Daughters instead.
Profile Image for Sarah.
394 reviews134 followers
February 8, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Laura.
89 reviews22 followers
July 13, 2018
Esta mujer tiene una capacidad increíble de contar historias. Es el segundo libro que me leo de ella, y ambos me engancharon un montón. Tanto este como el de Norte y Sur comparten un hilo similar, pues hablan de los conflictos que se creaban entre patronos y obreros, de la falta de entendimiento por ambas partes y la situación precaria en la que vivían los trabajadores.

Es un regalo poder conocer casi de primera mano todos estos acontecimientos, por parte de alguien que los vivió de cerca. Lo bueno de todo ello, es que la autora trata de revelar las razones de cada una de las partes para actuar como lo hacen, cómo ven cada uno de ellos la situación. No busca realmente posicionarse en un bando o en el otro, para ella no hay una sola verdad, y casi parece que su intención es lograr un acercamiento entre ellos, para abrir la mente y crear conciencia de las posibles injusticias que puedan estar cometiendo tanto los patronos como los obreros.
Al final, llega a la conclusión de que todos están en el mismo barco y todos deberían comunicarse y tener en cuenta los intereses de ambos para que nadie salga perdiendo y, sobre todo, para evitar que los obreros vivan en unas condiciones terribles, de pobreza, miseria y sufrimiento.

La forma en la que está escrita el libro me llamó especialmente la atención, ya que la autora le cuenta directamente al lector lo que está pasando o ha pasado e intercala muchas veces sus propias reflexiones.

La religión y los valores cristianos, como es normal, están muy presentes en la obra. Apela constantemente a la compasión, al perdón, al arrepentimiento y a la humildad.
Por otro lado, la muerte también tiene un papel importante, tanto que casi parece un personaje más. Casi es vista como una bendición, una liberación de los sufrimientos de este mundo o un modo de liberarse de las culpas y tormentos de la conciencia. Aunque también se ve como un castigo o una venganza.

Luego trata temas como la prostitución y el acoso. Las mujeres tenían que comportarse como señoritas, ser discretas, recatadas y obedientes. Si no lo hacían, pasaban a ser vistas como coquetas/descaradas, y todo el mundo las señalaba con el dedo. Las prostitutas eran consideradas unas parias y ellas mismas eran las causantes de su perdición, aunque el hambre, la necesidad y la pobreza las hubiesen empujado a ello (es decir, la propia sociedad. En fin, cuando no se quiere ver la realidad…). Y luego, no se te ocurriese rechazar a un pretendiente, porque si el tipo en cuestión te acosa constantemente después, te humilla o básicamente decida, por celos, hacerle daño a otro pretendiente que puedas tener, toda la culpa recaerá en ti, no en él. La mujer será una superficial/descarada/vanidosa incapaz de aceptar el honor que supone que alguien se fije en ella, y él será visto como al pobre infeliz que ha tenido mala suerte y al que hay que tener lástima. Si él hace algo horrible, hay que entender que fue por el rechazo sufrido, pobre. Mala mujer…
En fin, me parece bien que Jem le hable abiertamente de sus sentimientos a Mary, pero dar por hecho que ella tenga que aceptarlo solo porque son amigos de la infancia, cuando ella nunca le había demostrado sentir el mismo amor, y dejarle ver (casi como coacción) que lo hará un desgraciado si no se convierte en su mujer, pues me parece pasarse un poquito. Y en cuanto a Harry, vale que Mary le ha seguido el tonteo, pero en el momento que decide ser clara y decirle que la deje en paz, por mucho que le parezca mal que le haya dado falsas esperanzas, si tuviese madurez, lo aceptaría y no haría lo que hace.

Ah! Y que no se me olvide hablaros del señor paternalismo, otro protagonista más de la novela, como os podéis dar cuenta.

En conclusión, Gaskell es una narradora nata. Esta novela es más oscura quizás que la de Norte y Sur, y te mantiene con el corazón en un puño, de hecho, hacia el final, me estuve mordiendo las uñas toda angustiada porque necesitaba saber qué iba a pasar. Sin embargo, quizás me gustaron más los personajes de Norte y Sur que los de esta historia, aunque empaticé con ellos y me interesaron igual, que conste. Hay algunos momentos intensos por ahí que consiguen despertarte la vena emocional.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,887 reviews488 followers
April 16, 2017
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!
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book145 followers
August 28, 2017
“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 sustain their sanity and their lives.

This all sounds very grim, but Gaskell has a hopeful style of writing that balances out the pain of her subject matter.

It seems George Eliot considered this a “silly novel” (Gaskell and millinery novels were mentioned in her essay “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.”) It sounds like she thought they lacked originality and that the writing did not demonstrate adequately the benefit of educating women. Eliot provides a wonderful demonstration of the value of education—her books are an education in themselves. But I get the feeling from reading both that Gaskell understands poverty from a closer viewpoint. So there’s value in both writers, of course.

What makes this one good is not vivid characterization or beautiful passages of description. It is the attempt to accurately show the plight of the poor-- even when it is full of death and sorrow, to not turn your face from it. This comes through so strongly that it is mesmerizing.

“Don’t think to come over me with the old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor. I say, if they don’t know, they ought to know.”
Profile Image for Petra.
832 reviews118 followers
October 18, 2022
Mary Barton definitely suffers from the first book syndrome. I would absolutely love this if I wouldn't compare this to other books by Gaskell that are far more distinguished. Gaskell definitely had a message she wanted to achieve with this novel and I enjoyed how thoroughly she discusses the poor conditions of factor and mill workers. I learned to appreciate this book so much more second time around -- I didn't focus on the weakness of Mary Barton as character but was swept away with the atmospheric writing and how well the plot was paced in the second half. Mary Barton isn't probably the best place to start with Gaskell but it's still very much worth of read, especially if you enjoy writers like George Gissing.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,200 reviews65 followers
March 16, 2017
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 was illustrative in that a character would be up against some insurmountable foe/obstacle and though it meant going against his own best interest(s) he would choose based on what was the right thing to do or some higher moral purpose, rather than what was in his own interests. Not all characters and not all the time, of course, or it would be very tedious. There was conflict and villains.

Moral relativists would hate this book! 3.5, but the extra ½ point for knowing and showing right from wrong. I will read more by Gaskell.
Profile Image for Quirkyreader.
1,505 reviews43 followers
February 4, 2017
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 story greatly appealed to me because I had read some of Gaskell's other works, Charlotte Bronte's "Shirley" and other history books about the working life in Northern England in the 19th Century.

The main message I took away from this story was, no matter what adversity you are going through, persevere and never give up.
Profile Image for Julie.
550 reviews275 followers
September 22, 2021

With a pinch of generosity.

This became a bit of a slog, about half way through, with the constant sermonizing and finger-wagging goodness. Tsk. Tsk.

I do appreciate Gaskell's writing, however, overall, and I put myself firmly in Victorian shoes (or petticoat, perhaps) when I read this, knowing her audience -- and having an eye for the times.

She writes (painfully) well about the "cotton famine", the ugly dance of success/failure of the trade unionists; and one has a sense of complete immersion in the disasters of the industrial soup. It is a powerful novel in that context; she slips, somewhat in my eyes, with the melodrama of the silly morality play that ensues because of Mary's fleeting dalliance.

I continue to appreciate Gaskell's works -- though they never reach so far into my heart as does George Eliot.
Profile Image for F.R..
Author 29 books197 followers
January 30, 2015
'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 through the want and hunger. Yes, it’s melodramatic; yes these are the very streets Catherine Cookson stalked for decades (much to ITV Drama’s delight), but actually I enjoyed it more than I did George Gissing’s ‘Demos’. ‘Demos’ feels academic, a book that doesn’t want to get its fingers dirty. ‘Mary Barton’ is mired in dirt, it doesn’t stint from the filth of those dark, dingy, filthy and cobbled streets. But more importantly, it’s a book with a strong, beating human heart. There’s a whole raft of characters here that the narrative is determined that you understand, empathise with and even love. The book makes them real, gives them the air of life and asks the reader to forgive them their foibles (and even their greater sins), then be happy at any hope which comes their way.

Okay, it ain’t subtle. The working folk are good natured but down trodden, the employers and masters are harsh and unfeeling. Any reader wanting a nuanced and rounded view of labour relations in the North West of England in the Victorian age should look elsewhere. It’s also fair to say that the book builds to a big courthouse crescendo, before tapering off quite substantially. But despite these flaws (and one of those isn’t really a flaw in what is a polemic), Gaskell captures this world with incredible skill and brio, creating her characters with such thoughtfulness and care that even when they behave surprisingly it seems to derive from a real place, to give us a passionate steam-powered – and soot covered – book, which tries to let sunlight through to even the dankest corners.
Profile Image for Terry.
288 reviews64 followers
March 12, 2020
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.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,188 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.