Mary, daughter of a trade unionist, is attracted to Henry Carson, son of a mill owner, but when Henry is murdered and Jem Wilson, Mary's admirer, becomes the chief suspect, she must reexamine her loyalties.
Elizabeth Gaskell's novel of working class life in a northern English mill town was controversial when it was published in 1848 because of its sympathy for the downtrodden workers and its indictment of the wealthy class that exploited them. Gaskell, the wife of a Manchester clergyman, wrote her first novel from firsthand experience of the lives of both rich and poor in that community, and she depicts her working-class characters (and even a prostitute) as richly complicated individuals. (She writes in her Preface: "I bethought me how deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided.") Her recreation of the busy city and of the rural lanes around it brings the landscape of northern England vibrantly to life. There is also a notable subtheme in MARY BARTON: the plight of children. Gaskell reportedly began to write as a way to get over her grief at the death of her own son; her consciousness of the innocent victims of poverty and greed looms large in her first novel, and the deaths of the children of several of the main characters, including the son of the wealthy mill owner, are key events. In the end, Gaskell makes the point that suffering unites all classes and types of people.
- Fiction + Literature Genres, Fiction + Literature Themes
- Classics, Politics, Conflicts + Dualities, Legal + Courtroom + Crime, Love + Relationships + Sex, Work + the Workplace, Types of Characters, General, Human Qualities + Behavior, Medicine + Health, Literary Genres + Types of Novels, Family + Friendship
- December 1, 1996
- December 1, 1996
- Macdonald Daly, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell