Set in Manchester at the start of the "hungry forties", Mary Barton(1848) is a sympathetic, truthful portrayal of ordinary people struggling with rapid social change and overcrowded cities.
Mary Barton is the daughter of a mill worker and trade unionist, John Barton. Flattered by the attentions of Henry Carson, the son of one of the mill owners, she rejects the love and devotion of her faithful admirer, Jem Wilson. But Carson is murdered and suspicion falls on Jem. It is not only Mary who has to consider her real allegiances and feelings as events unfold. The impact of the murder affects the lives and attitudes of all concerned.
Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel introduced the fiction-reading public of the mid-nineteenth century to aspects of the contemporary world it knew little about. Part tragedy, part romance, passionate anger yet touched by humour, Mary Barton remains the major novel acclaimed by Charles Dickens on first publication.
The twists and turns of a naive girl's life in Manchester during the Victorian era, the girl (of course) is Mary Barton. Being poor during the Victorian years is not for the weak of heart, they are hard working people and they are not ashamed of it. I found the story heart wrenching and entertaining at the same time. I spent most of time sniffling around the house muttering under my breathe about unfair life is/was - considering historical facts about mill workers during the Industrial era of the 1800's. When the muttering happens my husband knows not to cross my path, but thats a different story.
Overall, I loved the story. It had all the elements that make a great story: love, passion, anger, conflict, revenge and forgiveness.
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (4.5/5) Classic Literature; Published: 1848; 2009 100 + Reading Challenge (99); 18th & 19th Century Women Writers' Reading Challenge (7);