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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 bleak...however...it 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 10 April 2010
i found this one of the best gaskells i have read. it had everything from love, murder, revenge, misery and joy, i dont know what more you would want from a book? i cant believe there hasnt been an adaptation of this and hope that happens soon. for anyone who loves gaskells cranford, this book is a bit grittier and darker but i highly recommend it
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on 10 December 2008
Mary Barton is ahead of it's time. It is not your typical classic, so even if you're not a fan of Jane Austen give it a go!

I found myself unable to put this down and I was literally holding my breath whilst reading the final chapters!

Mary is a feisty, young girl, who hasn't realised that her consequences have actions and that the people she loves may not be who she thought, or rather hoped, they were.

The storyline is rather dark as it is focused around a murder, but it deals with the subject matter fantastically and has lighter, heart-lifting moments.

Elizabeth Gaskell is excellent at creating a beautiful, but hard-hitting romantic story. I think she is a fantastic writer and would thoroughly recommend 'Wives and Daughters' and 'North and South'.
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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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on 11 October 2010
This is the first of Elizabeth Gaskill's novels, and therefore isn't her best. Her author's voice is far too domineering, at times lecturing; and the minor characters given too much importance.
However, there are excellent passages, and the overall historical detail is clearly written by someone who had witnessed the people and the places described. The plot works well, giving the reader an opportunity to reflect upon how society affected the people of the time. These thoughts are also very relevant to life in the 21st century.
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