“Mary! You’ll hear of me as a drunkard, and maybe as a thief, and maybe as a murderer. Remember! When all are speaking ill of me, you will have no right to blame me, for it's your cruelty that will have made me what I feel I shall become...”
Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell is a widely acclaimed work based on the 1831 murder of a Manchester England mill owner.
In the novel's Preface, Gaskell mentions the suffering of the Manchester poor, 'doomed to struggle...between work and want' and, obliquely, her own suffering following the death of her son, saying that 'three years ago I became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction'.
The first half of the novel chronicles young and beautiful Mary Barton, the motherless daughter of a factory worker father, and her romantic vacillations between Harry Carson, the wealthy son of a mill owner who is infatuated with Mary but has no noble intentions, and Jem Wilson, a long-time friend who is poor but loves Mary passionately.
The second half of the novel becomes a murder mystery and courtroom drama.
Some of the best and most memorable scenes are here: the heroine divulging her true feelings during cross-examination, a heart-pounding chase at sea, and the sad final moments of a major character.
ELIZABETH GASKELL (1810–1865) one of the nineteenth century’s most significant novelists was widely held to be the social conscience of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Her fictions offered an accurate portrait of Victorian society. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published in 1848. Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, was the first biography about Brontë. Some of Gaskell's best-known novels are Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.