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Mary Barton

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Book Overview: 

Mary Barton is the first novel by English author Elizabeth Gaskell. The story is set in the English city of Manchester during the 1830s and 1840s and deals heavily with the difficulties faced by the Victorian lower class.

The novel begins in Manchester, where we are introduced to the Bartons and the Wilsons, two working class families. John Barton reveals himself to be a great questioner of the distribution of wealth and the relation between the rich and the poor. He also relates how his sister-in-law Esther has disappeared after she ran away from home.

Soon afterwards Mrs Barton dies, and John is left with his daughter Mary to cope in the harsh world around them. Having already been deeply affected by the loss of his son Tom at a young age, after the death of his wife, Barton tackles depression and begins to involve himself in the Chartist movement connected with the trade unions.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Such is the contrariness of the human heart, from Eve downwards, that we all, in our old Adam state, fancy things forbidden sweetest. So Mary dwelt upon and enjoyed the idea of some day becoming a lady, and doing all the elegant nothings appertaining to ladyhood. It was a comfort to her, when scolded by Miss Simmonds, to think of the day when she would drive up to the door in her own carriage, to order her gowns from the hasty-tempered yet kind dressmaker. It was a pleasure to her to hear the general admiration of the two elder Miss Carsons, acknowledged beauties in ball-room and street, on horseback and on foot, and to think of the time when she should ride and walk with them in loving sisterhood. But the best of her plans, the holiest, that which in some measure redeemed the vanity of the rest, were those relating to her father; her dear father, now oppressed with care, and always a disheartened, gloomy person. How she would surround him with every comfort she could devise (of co. . . Read More