Mary Barton (Gaskell)
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Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (1848) depicts the lives and struggles of working-class Mancunians in the early years of Chartism. The author’s preface expresses Gaskell’s “deep sympathy” with her working-class neighbors in Manchester and desire to “give some utterance to the agony which, from time to time, convulses this dumb people.” Embedded in a melodramatic romance, the novel examines the growing desperation of Mary Barton’s father, John Barton, and other striking workers, culminating in his murder of a factory owner’s son. The novel expounds on Gaskell’s Unitarian beliefs, especially the Christian duties of compassion, forgiveness, and love of one’s neighbor; its “engaging narrator” (Warhol 1989) makes earnest pleas to middle-class readers to sympathize with and intervene on behalf of poor and working-class Britons. However, Mary Barton also betrays Gaskell’s discomfort with Trades’ Unions and working-class political mobilization.
KeywordsChartism Condition of England Hungry Forties Industrial novel Manchester Social problem novel Trade unions Unitarianism
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