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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 17 November 2015
A dramatic portrayal of the poverty of the working class in the idustrialised north of England in the 19th century. I found it difficult to read because the action was substantially revealed by dialogue recorded in the dialect of the area and the time. The story line concerns problems of the daughter of an early trade unionist fighting for workers rights, while she is flattered by the attentions of the mill owners son.Graphic tales of the horrid living and working conditions abound and the book is worth reading as a social history of the period alone. It reminded me of a later book, The Road to Wigan Pier, but truthfully related by the suffering characters in the story.

I found it difficult to read because the action was substantially revealed by a difficult to understand dialogue written in the dialect of the area and the time. The descriptive passages are also rather ponderous at times.

However I was glad I read the book and will go on to read the author.s acclaimed work North and South.
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on 4 August 2015
I would not normally choose to read a classic novel of this nature. My interest in history is not strong enough to motivate me and I usually find the style of writing quite difficult to read. However, my wife had just finished the book and strongly recommended that I read it because Mary Barton is a powerful story and tells us much about England in the first half of the 19th century.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The story of Mary Barton (and her father and friends) is fascinating and makes one realize just how hard life was for the poor during these times: often no food or heating; and no electricity or running water. And employment conditions – one of the main components of this book – were appalling. Fighting the wealthy mill owners proves to be a difficult task.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has even a slight interest in English history and living conditions in the 19th century.
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on 1 February 2015
Fifty years ago I enjoyed books by George Eliot, Jane Austen and the Brontes. But like other people of my age, I now find nineteenth century literature a bit difficult. To a degree, this book (along with Trollope's "The Warden") is an exception. True, it is wordy and a bit sentimental. Indeed, some of the "cultured" brigade might be tempted to label it as chick-lit, were it not for its clear literary merit. There is also a high moral tone. But it is vivid, descriptive and of interest historically. And we are are spared gratuitous violence, lurid sex, etc. and find ourselves in a land of comparative innocence, but not a green and pleasant one, since it contains a good deal of poverty and despair.

In summary, this book has a lot going for it: some beautiful prose, detection, tension and a court room drama. It is worth persevering with.
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on 23 May 2014
and that's what I mean too, it's okay. This book did NOT grab me, though I'm well aware that Gaskell is a serious novelist and this is a serious novel. But that thought was actually a conscious niggle continuously, and the writer seemed to be at her characters' elbows continuously, not to mention at the reader's elbow. It felt like reading for a literature syllabus.
All that dialect is uphill to wade through, though I'm sure it's authentic, and of course a novel set in that milieu has to make some attempt at getting the speech right.
When all's said and done, the lukewarm response is purely personal. If a book has been as consistently well rated as this one over a long critical period, I'm prepared to believe the defect is with my taste.
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on 13 January 2013
Although Elizabeth Gaskell lived in close proximity to the area of the area Manchester she describes, I wonder in fact
if she ever experienced at first hand or saw the dreadful circumstances in which the poor survived. If she
didn't then she certainly gives a first rate descriptions of an area of Manchester that would remain deprived for
many many years and is only now in 2013 beginning to emerge from the ravages of post industrialisation.
Her characters remain vivid long after the story has been read and although at times romantic and melodramatic, are
sensitively drawn.
I bought this book as it is set within an area where a campaign group are trying to save the only Grade II listed building remaining in an area from which the wealth of the world began. The building in question is Ancoats Dispensary and in Elizabeth Gaskell's book this great building is mentioned as are the conditions in which people lived and died.
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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 14 September 2013
I read this some years ago together with North and South and Wives and Daughters. This has a slight edge for me. Although occasionally a little judgement based on religion creeps in Mrs Gaskell does a wonderful job of painting a very vivid picture of life during the Industrial Revolution. I am happily re reading Mrs Gaskell for the umpteenth time. For anyone who enjoys this book I would also recommend "A Manchester Man" by Mrs L. Banks. A gift for a history lover who also enjoys a good story.
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on 12 September 2013
Elizabeth Gaskell is not so well known as she should be. As a chronicler of the plight of the factory workers in 19th century Manchester she manages to be clear-sighted about their poverty and degradation and yet never forgets the common humanity which binds master and worker alike. If it lacks the genius prose style of Dickens or the emotional complexity of Bronte, it is still to be valued as a testament and a warning from history of the consequences of ignoring the responsibility we all have for each other.
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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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