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Mary Barton

A Tale of Manchester Life

A Novel


Elizabeth Gaskell

The Plot: Story of a Working Class Family 

  • Located in Manchester
  • Site of the infamous ��Satanic Mills��
  • Roots in countryside
  • Survival, class struggle & love

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell 

  • born: 1810
  • grew up in Cheshire
  • married Rev. William Gaskell in 1832
  • bore and reared children
  • worked with poor in Manchester
  • published Mary Barton in 1848
  • wrote several more novels
  • died 1865

Gaskell��s Introduction 

  • Preface Oulines Problem & Solution
  • Problem:
    • working class is poor and suffering
    • working class hates capitalists
    • Danger: specter of 1848 Revolutions
  • Solution: Reform
    • legislation
    • merciful deeds

Reading the Book 

  • For the story
    • read the book through once, just for the story
  • For the themes
    • re-read the book for the flesh on Marx��s bones
    • i.e., to think about the relationship between theory and (novel-)life

Taking notes 

  • outline the story
  • note passages on themes
    • bracket or copy out
  • regroup theme material
    • index or regroup

Theme Example: Primitive Accumulation 

  • Gaskell doesn��t think in terms of ��primitive accumulation��
  • She paints life, people��s experiences
  • YOU have to make the link

Primitive Accumulation in Chapter One 

  • Story: Bartons & Wilsons walk on Green Hays Fields
  • Gaskell sets up dichotomy between countryside & city
  • Countryside is painted attractively
  • City is painted darkly, unattractively

Motto at beginning of Chapter One 

  • ��Manchester Song��
  • City: ��Oh, tis hard, tis hard to be working

              The whole of the live-long day��

  • Countryside:

             ��And lovingly they��ll be wandering

              Through field and briery lane.��

Chapter 1 Text: 

  • Charming rural area:

��pleasant mysteries,��  ��delicious sounds,�� ��clear pond,�� ��quaint farm house and garden,�� and ��wild flowers��


  • City:

      ��busy, bustling manufacturing town��

Chapter 1 Text: 

  • Country girls:

��wenches with such fresh rosy cheeks, or such black lashes to gray eyes��


  • City girls:

��below average, . . . sallow complexions and irregular features��

Chap. 1 Text: Nuances 

  • Country girls:

   ��deficit of sense . . . characteristic of rural inhabitants��


  • City girls:

   ��an acuteness and intelligence of countenance��

Chap. 1 Text: Nuances 

  • John Barton -weaver, mill worker

   ��stunted look about him; and his wan, colourless face��


  ��resolute,��  ��latent, stern, . . . one from whom a stranger would have asked a favour with tolerable faith that it would be granted��

Chap. 2 Text 

  • Ugly City & Homes

     -streets awash with ��household slops, washing suds, etc.

     -dark even with fire ��ruddy glow�� & candle ��coarse

           yellow glare��

  • Country Medicine & Health

     -Alice ��knowledge of hedge and field simples�� for ��drinks  and medicine��

     -Alice, the country woman, is a sick nurse & healer

Chap. 4 Text 

  • Alices memories

    ��the hills there as seem to go up into the skies��, a cottage situated among giant grey rocks all covered with yellow & brown moss, ��the ground between them knee-deep in purple eather, smelling sae sweet and fragrant�� etc.

  • vs  her damp, dark cellar

Chapter 6 Text 

  • Davenport��s home: worse than Barton��s or Alice��s
    • everything sold to eat, pay rent, house bare
  • Davenport on ��mouldy straw��, the children ��rolling on the damp, nay wet, brick floor through which the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up��
  • Davenport��s weak resistance to typhus ��brought on by miserable living, filthy neighborhood, and great depression of mind and body��

Chap. 24 Text 

  • ��Alice spoke, and sang during her waking moments, ... so happily with ... the scent of the heather, and the song of the wild bird hovering about her in imagination -- with old scraps of ballads, or old snatches of primitive versions of the Psalms (such as are sung in country churches half draperied over with ivy, and where the running brook, or the murmuring  wind among the trees, makes fit accompaniement...��

Link with Theory-1 

  • juxtaposition country - city concerns enclosure - encarceration (in factories, in cellars)
  • attractiveness of countryside = resistance to being driven off, longing to return
  • bleakness of city = bloody legislation to enforce

Link with Theory-2 

  • industrialization meant drop in quality of life, health-wise
  • industrialization meant widening of perspective, understanding
  • Gaskell very similar to Marx in this

Other themes 

  • Capitalists�� attitudes toward workers (like machines)
  • Anger of workers toward capitalists
  • Power of the wage, bypassing of exchange value
  • Effect of business cycle
  • Dangers for working class women
  • Working class self-activity
    • --negative: unions, charter
    • --positive: self-reconstructed
  • Child labor
  • Industrial Accidents
  • Labor mobility & families
  • Dynamics of strikes



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