Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (Version 2)

Elizabeth Cleghorn GASKELL (1810 - 1865)


"Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life" was Mrs Gaskell's first full-length novel. It was published anonymously in that tumultuous year of political change, 1848 - only a few months after the Communist Manifesto co-authored by her fellow Manchester-resident, Friedrich Engels. Engels's experience as agent in his father's cotton-spinning factory motivated him to write "The Condition of the Working Class in England", a classic account of the sufferings of the poor under the factory-system.

Elizabeth Gaskell's own personal contact with the plight of the poor cotton workers of Lancashire also compelled her to a compassionate examination of their lives; but as a middle-class woman, married to a Unitarian minister, her approach to her subject took on a more emotionally complex significance; influenced by religious faith but also by more personal considerations.

In the brief preface to the novel, Mrs Gaskell hints at her initial impulse. The loss of a beloved child in infancy led her to seek a therapeutic outlet, but one which left her uncertain of her capacity to contextualize her public, writerly response to the tragedies occurring in the surrounding society of Manchester's poorest classes: "I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade..." She was, however, determined to portray, in novelistic form, the intimate connection between the private experience of her characters and the social forces of her time. The success of the novel led her to proclaim her authorship and move on to further works of fiction, which have secured her in our times a mounting reputation as one of the leading novelists of the mid-Victorian period.

Certainly the novel features numerous death-scenes, all conveyed with a depth of sympathy that contrasts with the queasy iambics with which Dickens orchestrated the notorious demise of Little Nell. Mrs Gaskell was not, like Dickens, a London-based novelist observing the sufferings of the provincial poor with a journalistic detachment - as evidenced in his own admirable, Lancashire-based novel "Hard Times". Gaskell lived among the people whose attenuated lives she chronicled - and however hesitantly, as a d├ębut novelist, she rendered their experience in literary terms, her writing presents us with a true insight into the sufferings of individuals at a point in history when the mass of human beings fell casualty to the forms of economic progress following upon the Industrial Revolution. Most impressively she called into question the political and social cost of creating a resentful proletariat despairing of survival in (to quote Karl Marx) a "heartless world".

Our reader Tony Foster is a resident of Manchester and a near-neighbour of Mrs Gaskell (allowing for their separation in time). His superb narration renders the native speech of her characters with an authenticity which ideally conveys the spirit of this book. A truly moving experience awaits everyone who gives ear to this 'Tale of Manchester Life'. (Summary by Martin Geeson)

Genre(s): Culture & Heritage, Published 1800 -1900

Language: English

Section Chapter Reader Time
Play 00 PREFACE Tony Foster
00:04:16
Play 01 CHAPTER I - A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE Tony Foster
00:20:39
Play 02 CHAPTER II - A MANCHESTER TEA-PARTY Tony Foster
00:15:16
Play 03 CHAPTER III - JOHN BARTON'S GREAT TROUBLE Tony Foster
00:22:37
Play 04 CHAPTER IV - OLD ALICE'S HISTORY Tony Foster
00:23:04
Play 05 CHAPTER V - THE MILL ON FIRE--JEM WILSON TO THE RESCUE Tony Foster
00:44:43
Play 06 CHAPTER VI - POVERTY AND DEATH Tony Foster
00:41:33
Play 07 CHAPTER VII - JEM WILSON'S REPULSE Tony Foster
00:19:50
Play 08 CHAPTER VIII - MARGARET'S DEBUT AS A PUBLIC SINGER Tony Foster
00:35:51
Play 09 CHAPTER IX - BARTON'S LONDON EXPERIENCES Tony Foster
00:35:56
Play 10 CHAPTER X - RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL Tony Foster
00:32:24
Play 11 CHAPTER XI - MR. CARSON'S INTENTIONS REVEALED Tony Foster
00:32:46
Play 12 CHAPTER XII - OLD ALICE'S BAIRN Tony Foster
00:20:46
Play 13 CHAPTER XIII - A TRAVELLER'S TALES Tony Foster
00:21:23
Play 14 CHAPTER XIV - JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH POOR ESTHER Tony Foster
00:27:43
Play 15 CHAPTER XV - A VIOLENT MEETING BETWEEN THE RIVALS Tony Foster
00:30:47
Play 16 CHAPTER XVI - MEETING BETWEEN MASTERS AND WORKMEN Tony Foster
00:26:07
Play 17 CHAPTER XVII - BARTON'S NIGHT-ERRAND Tony Foster
00:23:56
Play 18 CHAPTER XVIII - MURDER Tony Foster
00:27:50
Play 19 CHAPTER XIX - JEM WILSON ARRESTED ON SUSPICION Tony Foster
00:28:04
Play 20 CHAPTER XX - MARY'S DREAM--AND THE AWAKENING Tony Foster
00:17:51
Play 21 CHAPTER XXI - ESTHER'S MOTIVE IN SEEKING MARY Tony Foster
00:25:02
Play 22 CHAPTER XXII - MARY'S EFFORTS TO PROVE AN ALIBI Tony Foster
00:27:09
Play 23 CHAPTER XXIII - THE SUB-POENA Tony Foster
00:27:35
Play 24 CHAPTER XXIV - WITH THE DYING Tony Foster
00:20:30
Play 25 CHAPTER XXV - MRS. WILSON'S DETERMINATION Tony Foster
00:17:43
Play 26 CHAPTER XXVI - THE JOURNEY TO LIVERPOOL Tony Foster
00:07:44
Play 27 CHAPTER XXVII - IN THE LIVERPOOL DOCKS Tony Foster
00:16:38
Play 28 CHAPTER XXVIII - ''JOHN CROPPER, AHOY!'' Tony Foster
00:16:28
Play 29 CHAPTER XXIX - A TRUE BILL AGAINST JEM Tony Foster
00:11:50
Play 30 CHAPTER XXX - JOB LEGH'S DECEPTION Tony Foster
00:10:35
Play 31 CHAPTER XXXI - HOW MARY PASSED THE NIGHT Tony Foster
00:12:17
Play 32 CHAPTER XXXII - THE TRIAL AND VERDICT--''NOT GUILTY.'' Tony Foster
00:47:48
Play 33 CHAPTER XXXIII - REQUIESCAT IN PACE Tony Foster
00:31:25
Play 34 CHAPTER XXXIV - THE RETURN HOME Tony Foster
00:31:37
Play 35 CHAPTER XXXV - ''FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.'' Tony Foster
00:30:21
Play 36 CHAPTER XXXVI - JEM'S INTERVIEW WITH MR. DUNCOMBE Tony Foster
00:16:53
Play 37 CHAPTER XXXVII - DETAILS CONNECTED WITH THE MURDER Tony Foster
00:22:52
Play 38 CHAPTER XXXVIII - CONCLUSION Tony Foster
00:13:07