Feb 11, 2013

Reading Check-In: Gaskell's Mary Barton

Going Home at Dusk, by John Atkinson Grimshaw
Death and sorrows keep Mary Barton in something of a shadow and many have criticized it for being very Victorian in it's sensibilities but even the some of Elizabeth Gaskell's contemporaries wrote it would have benefited from some light. She herself was in such a dark mood after the death of her infant son due to scarlet
fever, in one of her letters she wrote:
The greater part of the first volume was written when I was obliged to lie down constantly on the sofa, and when I took refuge in the invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes which would force themselves upon my remembrance. It is no wonder then that the whole book seems to be written in the minor key;
Others deemed it was one-sided and many masters were outraged:
“Half the masters here a bitterly angry with me-- half (and the best half) are buying it to give to their work-people’s libraries."
I'm about halfway and, yes, there have been many tragedies and deaths, while they could seem unrealistic Mary Barton takes place around the 'hungry forties' when potato crops were blighted-- the working class survived on potatoes and oatmeal. We also have to bear in mind that Manchester was extremely over-populated, over a few decades the number had more than doubled and it wasn't designed to sustain so many, resulting in appalling living conditions which in turn brought disease and cholera. Her prose isn't as well-developed as by the time she writes Ruth but her warmth of feeling creates some beautiful passages:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. he thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under?
I've managed to avoid spoilers despite the fact I've been researching about Gaskell but one thing I have learned is she wrote it with the title of John Barton (Mary's father) it was only at her publisher's insistence that it was changed. I'm not yet convinced the portrayal of the masters is so one-sided Jem Wilson's employer seems just but there could be something pivotal I've yet to read with regards to that part of the story.

Mary's just reached the point where she makes a discovery about her vanity and feelings and I'm curious to see how everything will play out although I'm nervous about Mr. Carson who was trifling with Mary in the beginning and now is angered by her rejection of him. It's so nice to see Jem's steadiness at work and responsibility towards his family, he is a good character. John Barton hasn't been the same since his disappointment with parliament and is wasting away at the lack of employment, partly because there are few positions and he isn't hired for them because of his involvement with the union. There's a sense that all his pent-up energy is going to burst.

2 comments

Caroline Helstone said...

I love Grimshaw's distinctive style - his shining moonlight doesn't make his gloomy surroundings less interesting. I won't tell the ending of Mary Barton but it was controversial when it was first published. In many ways sadder and more Zola-esque than North and South, and more realistic of the harshness of the 1840's, and the story is less rushed. But North and South is its superior in intelligence, depth of feeling and representation of characters. Still, it's sad that Mary Barton is neglected compared to many inferior classics. I suppose the public doesn't care for 19th century poverty and anything that does not smell of luxury and romance and hot heroes.

Crafts4others said...

The book sounds interesting, I will have to check it out later.

Feb 11, 2013

Reading Check-In: Gaskell's Mary Barton

Going Home at Dusk, by John Atkinson Grimshaw
Death and sorrows keep Mary Barton in something of a shadow and many have criticized it for being very Victorian in it's sensibilities but even the some of Elizabeth Gaskell's contemporaries wrote it would have benefited from some light. She herself was in such a dark mood after the death of her infant son due to scarlet
fever, in one of her letters she wrote:
The greater part of the first volume was written when I was obliged to lie down constantly on the sofa, and when I took refuge in the invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes which would force themselves upon my remembrance. It is no wonder then that the whole book seems to be written in the minor key;
Others deemed it was one-sided and many masters were outraged:
“Half the masters here a bitterly angry with me-- half (and the best half) are buying it to give to their work-people’s libraries."
I'm about halfway and, yes, there have been many tragedies and deaths, while they could seem unrealistic Mary Barton takes place around the 'hungry forties' when potato crops were blighted-- the working class survived on potatoes and oatmeal. We also have to bear in mind that Manchester was extremely over-populated, over a few decades the number had more than doubled and it wasn't designed to sustain so many, resulting in appalling living conditions which in turn brought disease and cholera. Her prose isn't as well-developed as by the time she writes Ruth but her warmth of feeling creates some beautiful passages:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. he thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under?
I've managed to avoid spoilers despite the fact I've been researching about Gaskell but one thing I have learned is she wrote it with the title of John Barton (Mary's father) it was only at her publisher's insistence that it was changed. I'm not yet convinced the portrayal of the masters is so one-sided Jem Wilson's employer seems just but there could be something pivotal I've yet to read with regards to that part of the story.

Mary's just reached the point where she makes a discovery about her vanity and feelings and I'm curious to see how everything will play out although I'm nervous about Mr. Carson who was trifling with Mary in the beginning and now is angered by her rejection of him. It's so nice to see Jem's steadiness at work and responsibility towards his family, he is a good character. John Barton hasn't been the same since his disappointment with parliament and is wasting away at the lack of employment, partly because there are few positions and he isn't hired for them because of his involvement with the union. There's a sense that all his pent-up energy is going to burst.

2 comments:

Caroline Helstone said...

I love Grimshaw's distinctive style - his shining moonlight doesn't make his gloomy surroundings less interesting. I won't tell the ending of Mary Barton but it was controversial when it was first published. In many ways sadder and more Zola-esque than North and South, and more realistic of the harshness of the 1840's, and the story is less rushed. But North and South is its superior in intelligence, depth of feeling and representation of characters. Still, it's sad that Mary Barton is neglected compared to many inferior classics. I suppose the public doesn't care for 19th century poverty and anything that does not smell of luxury and romance and hot heroes.

Crafts4others said...

The book sounds interesting, I will have to check it out later.

© November's Autumn
Maira Gall