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2018/19 Group Reads - Archives > Mary Barton Chapters 1-6

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message 1: by Candace (last edited Jul 01, 2018 11:22AM) (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Welcome to the Mary Barton discussion! Please discuss Chapters 1-6 in this thread. Do not include any spoilers from chapters after that. You may use the following questions as a way to begin your discussion, or you may discuss a topic that is not mentioned here.

1. What is our setting? What are some possible reasons Gaskell chose this setting, knowing that the Industrial Revolution has recently changed things in different ways for the different classes?

2. Is there any significance to the detailed setting of “Green Heys Fields” which starts our story?

3. John Barton is described as a “thorough specimen of a Manchester man”. How else is he described, including any beliefs? Contrast his friend George Wilson.

4. Describe “the mysterious disappearance” and the effect it has on Mrs. Barton. (To avoid confusion, I will call the elder Mary Barton “Mrs. Barton” and her daughter “Mary”.)

5. Why does Gaskell include such a detailed tea party ?

6. After Mrs. Barton’s death, what are some people afraid will happen to Mary?

7. What is the effect on John Barton from the death of his wife?

8. How does John Barton feel for the rich? What event led to these feelings?

9. What occupations are open to Mary? What does she choose and why?

10. Describe Alice’s life as a servant.

11. Margaret sings “The Oldham Weaver.” What themes in this song have we already encountered in the book?

12. What does the fire show us about Mary’s feelings? Does it show us anything?

13. What does it show us about Jem’s character?

14. Gaskell discusses Job Leigh’s interest in entomology. Why does she do this?

14. Do you like the poems or songs at the beginning of the chapters? Do they give you a hint as to what is going to occur. In that chapter?

15. How are opium and alcohol used?

16. Why does Barton visit the Carson house? What does he see there? (contrasted to the other houses we’ve seen)

17. What do you think of the narrator?


message 2: by Ashley (new)

Ashley  Jacobson | 4 comments Beautiful prose! I can’t wait to get further in!


message 3: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments I agree Ashley. She’s pulled me in with the writing and plot!


message 4: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1937 comments Mod
I've just finished these chapters and it is a very strong start to the novel. We are introduced to 3 families-the Bartons, the Wilsons and Margaret and her grandfather, and they are all interesting in different ways.

The Barton family-now reduced to father and daughter-show great difficulties coming-father is a union-supporter who dislikes the wealthy and feels they are robbing the workers (and the circumstances described certainly lend weight to his beliefs) and his much-beloved daughter (perhaps like her Aunt Esther before her?) seems to have attracted a wealthy admirer.

The Wilsons are family friends with a brave and clever son who has loved Mary seemingly forever-I am sure the reader is meant to wonder how Mary can overlook this apparently hard-working, handsome, good natured, and loving young man.

Margaret and her grandfather have hidden talents-Margaret sings beautifully and her grandfather is an amateur Naturalist-I loved the description of the worker scholars that Gaskell gives us.

This is an impressive opening few chapters-lots of interest, draws one in without overwhelming the reader with too many characters or plot twists. And what a well-presented description of the precarious living conditions of the working-classes-clearly none of these 3 families are many steps away from ending up as the Davenports have.


message 5: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1440 comments Mod
Gaskell was also a nonfiction writer, even kind of an ethnographer, and she brings her educational aims into this novel as well. It's really interesting.

It took me a while to get used to the punctuation and not find it so distracting :-)

I like her contrast between the different families here. It's really striking. And it's nice to read a Victorian novel where nobility isn't really an issue (I don't think even the Carsons are nobility, right?).

I'm looking forward to reading the rest!


message 6: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4505 comments Mod
Just finished these chapters. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read this author. I had forgotten how lovely she writes. The disparity of wealth reminds me of the growing disparity in our world today.


message 7: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Another thing that reminded me of today, Deborah, is that everyone is beginning to lose their jobs because of the Industrial Revolution in the book, Manchester had a lot of factories and hence probably why Gaskell chose it to show the disparity of wealth between the workers and the employers ( masters). Today, so many things are being designed to make people’s jobs easier or unnecessary because of advances in technology and computers.


message 8: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments #1. It’s interesting how so much detail is given describing Green Heys Fields , the charm, pleasant mysteries, delicious sounds - country business and mentioning how close but different it is from the town just 30 miles away- manufacturing business. Gaskell uses so much contrast to show her themes throughout the book- in this case, the innocence of the country versus the worldly, non- innocent things that happen in the city. (Also , is there a touch of Barton’s dislike of women working in the factories?). This theme , rural vs city, resonates throughout the book.


message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4505 comments Mod
Candace wrote: "Another thing that reminded me of today, Deborah, is that everyone is beginning to lose their jobs because of the Industrial Revolution in the book, Manchester had a lot of factories and hence prob..."

I agree. Most thought the changes would make their lives easier, yet it created (and is creating) hardship instead. The scene where they seek the infirmary order, also reminds me of how much the insurance companies have control over health care in the US. It never fails to amaze me how history repeats itself.


message 10: by Trev (new)

Trev | 358 comments Although Mary outwardly rebuffs any comments about a relationship with Jem Wilson, her responses at the mill fire tell us that she has deep feelings for him that she is repressing, possibly in a subconscious way. Her anxiety as he crosses the precarious make-shift bridge, followed by her fainting, shows that, even though there is an outward disregard for his wanting to marry her, there is an attachment she cannot break.


message 11: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2941 comments Mod
I like the friendship between Mary and Margaret, even though their personalities are so different.
The contrast between rich and poor is really strong in chapter 6. The rich young women thinks nothing of spending what would be a fortune to a poor family on a rose.

In general, the capitalists got their wealth due to the efforts of the poor, whether they were factory or mine owners.

I wonder what happened to Mary's Aunt Esther. Did she run off with someone? Or was it much worse?


message 12: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4505 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "I like the friendship between Mary and Margaret, even though their personalities are so different.
The contrast between rich and poor is really strong in chapter 6. The rich young women thinks not..."


The difference between wealth and poverty hit home for me with the description of the house


message 13: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2941 comments Mod
I read a non-fiction book about life in the slums of London a few years ago and the depiction of the horrible room in which the man died of typhoid are not exaggerated. It really was that awful.


message 14: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I like the friendship between Mary and Margaret, even though their personalities are so different.
The contrast between rich and poor is really strong in chapter 6. The rich young women thinks not..."


I think it’s interesting that because the mother is gone , there seems to be a fear from many that Mary will end up like Esther. ( Right now, everyone just has a guess.). Maybe because it’s the mothers job to teach the daughter how to act , maybe it’s because Mary is so pretty like Esther was, or maybe because it’s so easy to make a mistake and ruin your reputation for good.


message 15: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments @Deborah comment 12 - She gives us this tea party which shows us what they have and who they are. It will also be good to contrast with what others have later in the book.


message 16: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1440 comments Mod
I wonder if we'll see Aunt Esther again. I have a feeling she'll be back.

I am so behind :-( Snowed under by work and only on Chapter 9. Hope I can catch up next week after this project.


message 17: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments @message 13 . She does seem to be writing a lot based on life at the time of the 30s and 40s in Manchester/a manufacturing town post Industrial Revolution. Because she was married to a head of a Unitarian Church, she was a full believer in the faith. She believed that she should not waste readers time or be responsible for frivolous matter going in her readers minds. Gaskell wanted people to read this novel, recognize the problem/conflict, and come up with solutions for that problem. She believed her novels should have a “clear moral or spiritual message.” ( Introduction to Penguin Classics)


message 18: by Candace (new)

Candace (cprimackqcom) | 138 comments Lori wrote: "I wonder if we'll see Aunt Esther again. I have a feeling she'll be back.

I am so behind :-( Snowed under by work and only on Chapter 9. Hope I can catch up next week after this project."


Thank you for joining us Lori!! I think you probably will catch up because the plot just sucks you in and gets harder to put down and hence goes by faster- but that is me!! You’ll have to let me know how you like it. I’m very impressed with her writing techniques.


message 19: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments I’m terribly behind the group, but am enjoying this novel very much so far. I agree that Gaskell’s writing is superb. Also, that Mary has deeper feelings for Jem than she wants to believe. Perhaps because she seems set on riding above her station; at least her pursuit of the seamstress position and style of dress indicates that to me.

Also, whatever is going on with Henry Carson. I also love her friendship with Margaret. It gives her character more depth. Margaret and her grandfather are just wonderful characters!

I also like that Gaskell hasn’t made the owners into faceless monsters. We see selfishness and indulgence, but it seems more out of ignorance and remove.


message 20: by Ashley (new)

Ashley  Jacobson | 4 comments Others who are behind: I’m trying to decide if I should plow thru and start discussing in the thread for the second week (since it’s ending just today) or if it’s worth coming back here to discuss?

I should be caught up soon and was planning on going the more recent discussion but I see that there are others in the same boat as me.


message 21: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2941 comments Mod
Please feel free to comment whenever you want, Ashley.
I am generally behind at the beginning and then get hooked on the book and catch up quickly.

I like the tone of the book so far. It shows us the different characters' lives without sentimentality.


message 22: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1937 comments Mod
Agreed, Ashley, the threads often stay active as later comers catch up and discuss at whatever stage they are. Please share your thoughts as you go along.

Renee, I also like the friendship between Mary and Margaret- I wonder if that is something one sees more with women writers-more of the relationships that occur between women in the absence of men.


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