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message 1: by Gem , Moderator (new)

Gem  | 798 comments Mod
Availability: Project Gutenberg various formats

Mary Barton is the first novel by English author, Elizabeth Gaskell, published in 1848. The story is set in the English city of Manchester between 1839 and 1842, and deals with the difficulties faced by the Victorian working class. It is subtitled A Tale of Manchester Life.

History

The 1848 title page of Mary Barton did not divulge the identity of the author. It was a common enough practice and had been popularised early in the century by Walter Scott (the Great Unknown).

The lengthy quotation on the title page of the book is from Thomas Carlyle – the most authoritative "sage" of the age.[1] It comes from his 1832 essay on Scott, in which he grudgingly conceded there might, after all, be something useful behind fiction’s falsities - not much, of course, but something. Carlyle, although no friend to fiction, went on to be a moving spirit behind what was called the "social problem novel" or, borrowing his phrase, "the Condition of England" novel.

Manchester

In Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell sets out her commitment to urban realism, portraying the rapidly-industrializing Manchester of the 1840s. At the time when Gaskell’s Tale of Manchester Life was published, Manchester had come to be regarded as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It was the engine room of the Industrial Revolution.

In the "hungry forties," it seemed the engine might have stalled. Crop failures across Europe had resulted in huge distress. Potato blight in Ireland caused mass starvation and the death or emigration of millions. Trade too was in the doldrums. Principally because workers, newly unionized, wanted a larger slice of the Industrial Revolution cake: better than poverty wages. Strikes and lockouts were particularly ferocious in Manchester. It was here, in the hungry forties, that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels conducted their great analysis, which resulted in the latter’s The Condition of the Working Class in England(1845). The worse things got, from their point of view, the better. Gaskell took a different, a Christian view. On one thing, however, they agreed. The "condition" was dire. During the period they and Gaskell were writing, over half the 150,000 workforce in Manchester was unemployed or on short time. It was dangerous.

The Year of Revolution

1848, when Mary Barton first saw print, is known by historians as "the Year of Revolution." Britain dodged the bullet – just. There were no barricades or gutters running with blood. It was a close run thing.[2] The revolutionary impetus in Britain has mobilized by the so-called "Chartist" movement. Chartism came into being in the North of England, specifically Manchester.[3]

The charter itself contained six demands of which the most seditious were universal franchise for men over 21, abolition of property qualifications for the vote, payment of MPs and a secret ballot for voters. All the demands have, thankfully, come to pass over the last century and a half – but they were incendiary stuff in 1848, and the authorities were determined not to give an inch. Chartist agitation climaxed, and collapsed, almost overnight, in 1848. Mrs. Gaskell did her part.

Critical Reception

Thomas Carlyle, in his magisterial way, approved of his words being used as the banner for a work of fiction. Mary Barton was, he grandly declared, "far above the ordinary garbage of novels".[4] He graciously wrote to the author telling her that despite its "faults" (a lack of "depth" and "cohesion") Mary Barton bore the stamp of "honesty and truth."[5] Gaskell treasured the letter.

With this first novel and its successors (North and South, Cranford, Wives and Daughters, etc.) Gaskell quickly forged an identity. One word sums up that identity: "maternal." For the Victorians, and for most of the 20th century, the author – once her anonymity was broken – was "Mrs Gaskell." That was indelibly installed as the name on her title pages.

Wifeliness and Maternity

Since the growth of the women’s movement in the 1960s, the author has been universally referred to as "Elizabeth Gaskell". Understandable as the re-titling is, one can make a case for retaining the ‘Mrs’ prefix. Wifeliness and maternity throb at the heart of Gaskell’s fiction. She began writing Mary Barton in an attempt to console and distract herself from the post-natal depression and grief she experienced after the death of her only son, Willie, from scarlet fever. Her intention in the novel was, as her preface states, "to give some utterance to the agony which, from time to time, convulses this dumb people." It was a handicap, she confessed, "that I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade." But one thing she had in huge supply was womanly sympathy. Other writers of the period (mainly men) wrote social problem novels with more knowledge of social problems – Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens – but none has the overwhelming well of human sympathy which floods through Gaskell’s work.

In the novel's Preface, Elizabeth Gaskell mentions the suffering of the Manchester poor, "doomed to struggle... between work and want" and, obliquely, her own suffering following the death of her son, saying that "three years ago I became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction."

Footnotes and Source

[1] The long title page quote runs: "'How knowest thou,' may the distressed Novel-wright exclaim, 'that I, here where I sit, am the Foolishest of existing mortals; that this my Long-ear of a fictitious Biography shall not find one and the other, into whose still longer ears it may be the means, under Providence, of instilling somewhat?' We answer, 'None knows, none can certainly know: therefore, write on, worthy Brother, even as thou canst, even as it is given thee.'"

[2] a close run thing - a British English term is a situation in which the people competing with each other are almost equal, so neither of them is more likely to win than the other

[3] Chartism - a UK parliamentary reform movement of 1837–48, the principles of which were set out in a manifesto called The People's Charter

[4] Thomas Carlyle to ‘the author of Mary Barton’, 8 November 1848. Quoted in Angus Wilson, Elizabeth Gaskell: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 72-73.

(Source: An introduction to Mary Barton on the British Library website by John Sutherland who is Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus at UCL. He has taught principally in the UK, at the University of Edinburgh and UCL, and in the US at the California Institute of Technology. He has written over thirty books. Among his fields of special interest are Victorian Literature and Publishing History. He is a well-known writer and reviewer in the British and American press.) PLEASE NOTE: Sections of this article were redacted due to spoilers.

Additional Reading:

PLEASE NOTE: these articles DO have spoilers

wikipedia.org
About Mary Barton on gradesaver.com
Mary Barton on ninetheenthcenturydisability.org


message 2: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
MadgeUK also posted in our other thread;

Mary Barton, published in 1848, is one of the most influential British novels about the effects of the Industrial Revolution upon the working classes and the way they tried to combat its ill effects through trade unionism and Chartism, which called for universal suffrage for men. Gaskell saw the world through the prism of the kind of Christianity which believed 'you are your brother's keeper' and that the wealthy had a duty to look after the poor. Hers was an early socialism influenced by her friend, the author Charles Kingsley, founder of the Christian Socialist movement:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chri...

Gaskell may also have heard of Frederic Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) about the poor working conditions in the Manchester factories his father owned. In 1848 Engels co-authored The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx. These were political theories about the more equitable sharing of wealth ('capital') being discussed by educated people of the day which were more akin to Thomas More's idealised Utopia than the discredited communist regimes of the 20thC.


message 3: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
Trev added:


The house that Elizabeth Gaskell lived in for most of her writing life has been fully renovated and is now open to the public. It is situated in Plymouth Grove, Manchester, England and is maintained by an historical trust. The website (link below) contains lots of background information about the family and the area of Manchester where she lived. Although Mary Barton was published two years before she moved to Plymouth Grove, the house is not too far away from where most of the 'Manchester Life' took place in the novel. I hope to be revisiting the house during the Mary Barton read to drink in the atmosphere and examine the artefacts relevant to the story.

http://elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk


message 4: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Inspiration for Mary Barton?-

On January 3, 1831, a mill owner, Thomas Ashton was murdered by 3 striking workers in Manchester. Major Uprisings, rebellions, and labour riots had been frequent during the year prior to his death due to the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent Trade Unions and Chartist movements were founded to combat extreme poverty in a major industrial city such as Manchester. Ashton’s murder is said to have inspired Gaskell’s novel, Mary Barton. (Wikipedia - Assassination of Thomas Ashton)


message 5: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments I’m listening to a LibriVox recording done by Tony Foster. It’s quite good.


message 6: by Ashley (new)

Ashley  Jacobson | 4 comments Glaskell wanted to name the book John Barton because in her mind he was the main character or “the central figure” (her own words). But her publisher charged the name to Mary’s. “So many people over-look John B or see him merely to misunderstand him” (again, her words).

So interesting! To me, this type of info makes the novel more interesting to read. This last time though some Austen, I kept in mind the working titles when she first started writing. It’s fun to see the work through the authors eyes as they were initially, and then to see how things evolved. Also, it’s funny to me (I don’t know why) that she had a publisher back then that is like we expect now- someone to tweak things and tell her what to change to make it sell better.


message 7: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
That's really interesting, Ashley, it does make you look at the book a little differently, and I can see how John Barton is also a central character. If the intention of the novel was more to draw attention to the plight of the working class in England, rather than a romance/personal tale, this would have made sense as the title.


message 8: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments The British Library website on MB says:

Gaskell’s first title for her novel was ‘John Barton’. He, she said, ‘was the person with whom all my sympathies went.’ But her publishers persuaded her to make the centre and climax of the novel Mary’s romantic entanglements. The novel which was conceived, and half written, as social realism merged into melodrama is about which of her suitors the heroine will marry. It was a shrewd change from the commercial point of view (these two volumes were, after all, intended for library subscribers). It may be thought wrong from the literary point of view.

She began writing Mary Barton in an attempt to console and distract herself from the post-natal depression and grief she experienced after the death of her only son, Willie, from scarlet fever. Her intention in the novel was, as her preface states, ‘to give some utterance to the agony which, from time to time, convulses this dumb people’. It was a handicap, she confessed, ‘that I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade’. But one thing she had in huge supply was womanly sympathy.

During the period Gaskell was writing, known as 'the hungry forties', over half the 150,000 work force in Manchester was unemployed or on short time. It was a dangerous time politically. Potato blight in Ireland had caused mass starvation and the death or emigration of millions. Trade too was in the doldrums. Newly unionised workers wanted a larger slice of the Industrial Revolution cake rather than poverty. Chartism came into being in the North of England, specifically Manchester but it was incendiary stuff in 1848, and the authorities were determined not to give an inch, fearing a revolution. Chartist agitation climaxed, and collapsed, almost overnight, in 1848 but Elizabeth Gaskell did her bit by propagandising it and the conditions which engendered it.


message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Madge UK wrote: "The British Library website on MB says:

Gaskell’s first title for her novel was ‘John Barton’. He, she said, ‘was the person with whom all my sympathies went.’ But her publishers persuaded her to ..."


Thanks Madge. The political and business issues represented in this novel seem eerily similar to today


message 10: by Trev (last edited Jul 24, 2018 04:44AM) (new)

Trev | 354 comments Deborah wrote: "Madge UK wrote: "The British Library website on MB says:

Gaskell’s first title for her novel was ‘John Barton’. He, she said, ‘was the person with whom all my sympathies went.’ But her publishers ..."


The Chartist movement only lasted about ten years yet it had a huge impact on future industrial relations in Britain. It's importance can be measured by the fact that it is part of the school national curriculum today. I found a brief overview of Chartism in the BBC archives as well as an article from the BBC History magazine.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/...

https://www.historyextra.com/period/v...

Until recently there was a pub named 'The Chartist' in a village called Skelmanthorpe, only a few miles from where I live. The villagers made a banner which is now in a local museum. The banner had to be kept hidden but was brought out and hoisted at the rallies when thousands of people gathered to hear the chartist leaders.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryofthewor...


message 11: by Madge UK (last edited Jul 24, 2018 05:51AM) (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments Although shortlived in the 1840s the Chartist Movement had roots in the Civil War when The Levellers and members of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army participated in The Putney Debates of 1647, lobbying Parliament for adult suffrage:

http://bcw-project.org/church-and-sta...

Standing on the shoulders of these earlier suffragists the Chartists left a fine legacy as by the 1850s Members of Parliament accepted that further reform was inevitable and further Reform Acts were passed in 1867 and 1884 extending the vote. By 1918, five of the Chartists' six demands had been achieved - only the stipulation that parliamentary elections be held every year was unfulfilled (thank goodness, every five years is enough!).

And of course the Suffragettes stood upon the shoulders of these earlier men (although The Levellers also had women suffragists) and obtained Votes for Women in the UK in 1918.


message 12: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
Madge-would Manchester have been a centre of the Chartist/Labour movement at the time or was Mary Barton set there simply because Gaskell knew it well?


message 13: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Lancaster was a center of manufacturing. I remember reading somewhere that 1/3 of the cotton factories were there. I don’t recall if there were a lot of Chartist and Trade-Union riots there, but I’m guessing there was. A main concern of Gaskell’s was for the employer and employee to see that their goals were in line with each other and it benefitted the two of them to get along and work together.


message 14: by Madge UK (last edited Jul 24, 2018 08:45PM) (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments Frances wrote: "Madge-would Manchester have been a centre of the Chartist/Labour movement at the time or was Mary Barton set there simply because Gaskell knew it well?"

Manchester, which is in Lancashire, was the centre of the Chartist movement because it was the centre of manufacturing and a very large, well populated town. Lancaster is a smaller town. One of the reasons Lancashire was the centre of the cotton industry is because it has a high rainfall. The damp atmosphere helped cotton weaving and fast flowing rivers helped power the earlier water mills prior to the Industrial Revolution.

The Labour Party originated in London in 1889 as an offshoot of th Trade Union movement which was strong in mining and manufacturing areas. It had not been formed at the time Gaskell was writing. Trade Unions were illegal until the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 but there were a number of them all over the country and it was their members who formed the Chartists. Skilled workers in the engineering and textile industries began to form unions in the 1850s after the collapse of Chartist movement. The Trades Union Congress was established in 1868 and trade unions were legalised in 1871.


message 15: by Creative Orange (new)

Creative Orange (Rumell Khan) (rkrespectedmember) I am really excited with this book because it talks about the place where I live.


message 16: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
I really enjoyed this read-please feel free to comment in the appropriate sections as you're reading-the threads stay open and people will continue to discuss.


message 17: by Creative Orange (new)

Creative Orange (Rumell Khan) (rkrespectedmember) I have issues when I'm talking about a section in a book I end up bringing out a spoiler without even knowing it.


message 18: by Trev (new)

Trev | 354 comments Rumell wrote: "I am really excited with this book because it talks about the place where I live."

For more background information about the author you might want to visit Elizabeth Gaskell's former home in Plymouth Grove, just a mile from the centre of Manchester. The link to the website is in message 3 above.


message 19: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1935 comments Mod
Rumell wrote: "I have issues when I'm talking about a section in a book I end up bringing out a spoiler without even knowing it."

Most of us will tend to comment as we go so we don't know the spoilers when discussing the earlier sections. The last thread will be your chance to talk about the book as a whole once you've finished reading it and to not worry about spoilers-as we've finished Mary Barton you could go straight to the last thread and let us know what you thought.


message 20: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 2933 comments Rumell wrote: "I have issues when I'm talking about a section in a book I end up bringing out a spoiler without even knowing it."

Please be sure not to do so in our discussions elsewhere or you will make yourself unpopular with some members.


message 21: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Rummell, I have that problem too, especially when I have to read ahead for some reason. However, we give a reading schedule and discuss the book by sections. So if you can prevent yourself from reading ahead, that is the easiest way not to worry about spoilers.


message 22: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
And if you are really worried about spoilers, you can comment in the last thread as you read the book. All you need to state is the chapter you are referring to.

I have been guilty of a spoiler or two myself. 😩


message 23: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1435 comments Mod
If I'm reading ahead and not feeling too lazy, I'll type up my thoughts as I finish the section. That works better than just writing up a few notes, because I never remember what the notes mean later!


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