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Mary Barton - Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell / Paperback / 480 Pages / Book is published 2006-03-09 by OUP Oxford

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      10.10.2008 18:18
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      If you like this sort of novel then go for it!

      Mary Barton is the first of many books I have to read for my English degree course. It was written in 1848 by Elizabeth Gaskell and tells the story of Mary Barton and all those close to her as they struggle to survive in Industrialising Manchester.

      Now being more into fast paced crime novels, informative historical fiction and chilling thought provoking mystery stories, Mary Barton was never going to be my cup of tea. I can however see how and why it would appeal to others, especially to those with a more classic taste in fiction or those who have a profound interest in the lives and times of people in hardship.

      Mary Barton is a situational novel and at the beginning introduces us to two families the Barton's and the Wilson's. It is here that we learn that John Barton is a questioner of the distribution of wealth and has no fondness for the relationship between rich and poor. We also learn at this point that his sister-in-law Esther has disappeared.

      Within the first few chapters we get to know a little about the backgrounds of the families we have just met but this is all torn apart with the death of Mrs Mary Barton. Her death is blamed on the loss of her sister Esther and she dies leaving behind her husband John and daughter Mary.

      The novel now progresses to tell us what has become of these families a few years later and this is were the real story begins. Deeply affected by his wife death John Barton has struggled to come to terms with the harsh realities of life and on occasion slip into severe depression. His daughter Mary ahs become a dressmaker's assistant and is doing well enough for herself. The Wilson's are plodding along too although this is once again torn apart by the death of their twin boys.

      The novel continues by charting the disputes between the masters and the workers by showing the disruption and distress this has caused on the lives of our two families. The love interests or admirers of Mary Barton are also followed and they including the Wilson's eldest son Jem as well as Mr Harry Carson who is the son of a factory owner. In a time of such struggle and strife how can anyone truly make an honest decision about where ones life should end up? More importantly though how will the decisions that Mary and those around her make affect the lives of not only themselves but everyone else too?

      When Mary Barton was first published it was in many respects quite a revolutionary novel as it dealt with many complex issues for its time, including prostitution and murder. Such issues although raised in other novels = such as those by Dickens are spoken about in a very forward sort of manner and discussed more openly than in other novels of the period.

      The book itself is broken down into chapters that are reasonably manageable in size although some do seem quite long. The writing itself is as you can imagine Victorian in its style but isn't as I first imagined exceptionally difficult to read. There is however a great quantity of Manchester dialect and slang within the novel and this can prove difficult at times to get to grips with. Luckily though most editions of the book explain what the majority of the difficult words mean by use of footnotes and this does, although make the reading process much longer, make it easier to comprehend.

      Now I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because I didn't. At times I found I had to really force myself to continue reading and it really isn't the sort of book I enjoy to read. It isn't however only the subject matter that irritated me a little because the author also has a way of writing at times that really grated on me.

      Now I know that the story contained within the book is written by someone and that, that person being the author controls how and when the story progresses. I do not however enjoy being reminded that this is the case and I found that this frequently occurred within the novel. For example on quite a few occasions Gaskell writes such things as "you won't know her yet because I haven't introduced you" and "Now I must take you back two hours from where we left Mary". This may be something that other readers do not mind or perhaps even like but it certainly didn't appeal to be.

      All in all however I must say that the book isn't something I would choose to read again and if the star rating were simply my personal ranking I would probably be giving the novel a mere one star. As it is however I am going to give it three stars because I can see how the novel appeals to some people and recognise the fact that on face value it was never going to be my sort of book.

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