Mary Barton

Subtitled 'A Tale of Manchester Life', Elizabeth Gaskell’s (1810 – 1865) first novel (published anonymously in 1848) is classed as a ‘Condition of England’ work. It conveys contemporary concerns about the destructive effects of industrialisation. Thomas Carlyle termed this period the ‘mechanical age’, and forecast revolution if changes were not effected. Gaskell was married to a Unitarian minister, and was deeply aware of the need for improved working conditions; for education, and for sanitary reform. The novel's working-class heroine is torn between affection for two very different men, one from her own class, the other an industrialist’s son.

Creator:
Elizabeth Gaskell
Published:
1848
Full title:
Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life
Forms:
Prose
Genre:
Victorian Literature
Literary period:
Victorian

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An introduction to Mary Barton

Article by
John Sutherland
Theme: 
The novel 1832 - 1880

Professor John Sutherland explores the personal and social circumstances that prompted Elizabeth Gaskell to write Mary Barton, her novel describing industrial poverty in Manchester during the 'hungry forties'.

Realism

Article by
John Mullan
Theme: 
The novel 1832 - 1880

Professor John Mullan explores the key features of realism and the different ways in which Victorian writers used them.

The Condition of England novel

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Technology and science, Poverty and the working classes

Writers such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë illuminated contemporary social problems through detailed descriptions of poverty and inequality. Dr Sophie Ratcliffe considers how the Condition of England novel portrayed 19th-century society, and the extent of its calls for reform.

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