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on 8 November 2012
This novel is not for those without reading stamina and resilience yet it rewards those with both. It is a densely written work dealing with the trials of life in the industrial landscape of Manchester when to be a "have not" meant just that; the necessity to go without food, warmth, and any comfort when workers were laid off. Elizabeth Gaskell depicts a loving family wracked by the travails of daily poverty, whose humanity is tested to the limit. She has great sympathy for those whose lives are so hard and she depicts totally believable characters. She addresses issues still of concern to us today. But this is not a tract - we care about these people. Mary grows in moral strength in spite of her circumstances and Jem is a worthy hero. This is ultimately an engaging, very sad and illuminating read.
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I approached my first Gaskell novel with a touch of apprehension and I have to admit I didn't enjoy the first few pages, but after a while I was hooked.
Even if the plot is improbable at times, the story is entertaining and the gallery of characters presented is memorable. The description of an industrial city in the 19th century is deeply moving. All in all, a great achievement. A must read.
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on 2 August 2008
Mary Barton is one of those books that sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading, because it is so sad and the era so is also heart warming, full of characters that you truly get to know and love and necessary as an evocative history of that period. I would totally recommend it, however , not as a holiday book - it's heavy and needs to be viewed as such or it'll really get to you! superb
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on 13 November 2011
I have just re-read Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell has an obvious sympathy for the industrial poor. In Esther we have a warning of what Mary Barton would have become had she not been more fortunate than her aunt. The story is well written and the meaning of any dialect words which are unfamiliar are easy to understand within the context they are placed. Mrs Gaskell writes very matter-of-factly of the conditions of the day, which make them more convincing than if they were sensationalised. I was not convinced that the elder Mr Carson would have had any sympathy for or understanding of the motives for the perpertrator of the crime against his son, but overall I enjoyed the book and will read more by Elizabeth Gaskell.
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on 29 May 2013
This is, in my opinion, the best Gaskell novel. Characters are beautifully formed, three dimensional and utterly human. Its is a gritty social commentary without feeling anything like a dull history lesson. The plot is skilful, relentless and always surprising. A really, really great read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 April 2010
Elizabeth Gaskell was most famous for 'Cranford' and, I suppose, after the excellent BBC TV adaptation, also 'North and South'. This is an earlier book and shows signs of inexperience and even naivete in the narration, but it carries the reader forward by the power of a compelling story and, even more, the moral conviction that lies behind Mrs. Gaskell's concern for the working people in the book and the hard, uncertain lives they lead, struggling with poverty, disease and uncertain employment in Industrial Revolution Manchester. Her compassion and her Christian conscience are everywhere apparent in the tale of Mary, torn between her love for Jem Wilson and her anxiety for her brooding, damaged father. Relations between workers and employers are central in the book, but the author does not see things in simple black and white, them and us terms, though she is very critical of the effects of the employers' decisions. Mr. Carson, the millowner, himself a man who has achieved financial power by hard graft, is not a one-dimensional figure, and his behaviour towards the end shows a depth of human decency which enhances the book. It's a dark tale, with a murder at its centre, and the courageous journey Mary makes to Liverpool to find a key witness for the trial makes compelling reading. Characterisation can be thin (though Job Legh, the old self-taught naturalist, is interesting) and Mrs. Gaskell has a tendency to overwrite in places, but this is still an important and impressive book, and it repays the reader many times over.
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on 12 June 2001
Gaskell`s first novel "Mary Barton" (1848) is a tragedy set in nineteenth century Manchester. The plot revolves around the eponymous heroine, and her choice of lover, on one hand ,wealthy Henry Carson, and on the other, a working- class family friend,Jem Wilson.The central theme,however, is the yawning chasm between the lifestyle of the prosperous, and that of the poverty-stricken.Gaskell paints a very bleak picture of death,endemic disease and misery, and those familiar with Engel`s "Condition of the Working Class in England" will be treading a familiar path.Allied to social and political comment, elements which lead to a virtual banning of the book upon publication,there is the melodrama of the Victorian romantic novel in all its glory, and some genuinely moving moments, handled with great skill and sensitivity.Ultimately a message of "the masters suffer as well" comes through but Mary Barton has many miles of misery to walk through before she can walk out into the sunshine.
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on 10 October 2006
having been to see the play Mary Barton i felt able to tackle this book, its pretty heavy going as the speech is written in old manchester dialect even though i'm from manchester it slows you down a bit but its well worth it as it takes you back to a time when the poor were really poor and gives you an insight into times gone by before benifits and the nhs and makes you realise how lucky we are, saying this language is interesting , not sure if i would have still enjoyed it if i'd read it without having knowledge of the story before hand, but if you are used to reading this type of litrature i'm sure you will be fine, the story centres around a young woman and her life in desprate times and follows her and her family and friends, the detailed discription in this book takes you back to this era and you can easily see in your mind the hardships endured by the poor living amongst the rich mill owners in this big city, i wouldn't say its a quick easy read but i definatly enjoyed it and its given me the confidence to read more of the same types of books
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on 7 January 2016
I can't understand why a BBC adaption hasn't been made yet - it is a fantastic story which I have read again and again. Set similarly to North and South with the mills, Mary has a troubled life and is not sure where her heart is until a crime occurs. All very exciting and just can't put it down!
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on 24 December 2015
This is a long read, so don't be too impatient with the plot. It is set in Manchester around the 1840s, and I would advise anyone to prepare for it by reading Engels's description of the same area in the same era, "The Condition of the working class in England in1844", which is a free is a free download on Kindle, and gives a factual description based on evidence and extensive personal research. Where Engels gives a factual account, Elizabeth Gaskell adds flesh to the bones by setting strongly drawn characters and a dramatic plot in this dire part of England. As such, it's not a comfortable read, but it does bring this period of history to life. The plot is somewhat melodramatic in parts - it is after all a Victorian novel written within the stylistic conventions of the time. If you have read "Cranford", and enjoyed it, you will find this book very different, but don't let that stop you reading it. Gaskell comes across as a very caring person, in part struggling to see a way forward in the conflicting interests of labour and factory owners, with both of whom she has some sympathy in their relative situations. In the end, she seems to fall back on everybody being nicer to each other, and though that's always a good plan, you may find the political element slightly naive.
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