Thursday, March 01, 2018

Mary Barton

Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1848. 437 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: There are some fields near Manchester, well known to the inhabitants as "Green Heys Fields," through which runs a public footpath to a little village about two miles distant.

Premise/plot: Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel is largely set in the manufacturing town of Manchester. Readers first meet Mary as a young girl on the eve of an all-too-common tragedy: the death of her mother due to complications from childbirth. Mary is raised by her father, John. Life is difficult--even in good years, when work is to be found and food relatively easy to come by. When Mary is old enough, she too goes to work. It is through her work that she meets a mill-owner's son, Harry Carson. He flatters and flirts and flirts and flatters. Her head is turned, but it doesn't stay turned. After receiving a proposal from a boy she's known practically since she was a toddling baby, Jem Wilson, she realizes her mistake...realizes too late. She's said NO to the worthy man. When Harry Carson is found murdered, people suspect Jem. For their battle of words over Mary were overheard. No one seems to be aware that the unsatisfied workers essentially drew lots to see who got the privilege of killing the mill owner's son. Will Jem be hanged for a crime he didn't commit? Or will Mary be able to save him with her quick-thinking and decisive actions?

My thoughts: I do hope that potential readers will forgive the initial slow-pacing. I don't think the slow pace is a waste. I don't. It allows for character development--relationship development. Mary Barton has friends--close friends--that we come to know and love. Jem's "Aunt Alice" for example, and the young Margaret and not-so-young Job (Margaret's grandfather). These characters become essential to the plot later on.

The first half of the novel definitely focuses on ideas and principles. John Barton is a man of opinions. Aunt Alice is an amazing spiritual role model. The second half of the novel is a fast-paced mystery-novel. A crime has been committed. A suspect has been arrested. A court date has been set. Time is running out to prove his innocence. Mary holds his fate in her hands--at least it feels so to her.

The last few chapters beautifully come together and were absolutely WONDERFUL.

  • Don't think to come over me with th' old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don't know, they ought to know.
  • Opportunities are not often wanting where inclination goes before, and ere the end of that winter Mary looked upon Margaret almost as an old friend.
  • People admire talent, and talk about their admiration. But they value common sense without talking about it, and often without knowing it.
  • The vices of the poor sometimes astound us HERE; but when the secrets of all hearts shall be made known, their virtues will astound us in far greater degree. Of this I am certain.
  • Errands of mercy—errands of sin—did you ever think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound?
  • Such is the contrariness of the human heart, from Eve downwards, that we all, in our old Adam state, fancy things forbidden sweetest.
  • This disparity between the amount of the earnings of the working classes and the price of their food, occasioned, in more cases than could well be imagined, disease and death. Whole families went through a gradual starvation. They only wanted a Dante to record their sufferings. And yet even his words would fall short of the awful truth. So a petition was framed, and signed by thousands in the bright spring days of 1839, imploring Parliament to hear witnesses who could testify to the unparalleled destitution of the manufacturing districts. Nottingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, Manchester, and many other towns, were busy appointing delegates to convey this petition, who might speak, not merely of what they had seen, and had heard, but from what they had borne and suffered.
  • Life-worn, gaunt, anxious, hunger-stamped men, were those delegates.
  • Remember, too, that though it may take much suffering to kill the able-bodied and effective members of society, it does NOT take much to reduce them to worn, listless, diseased creatures, who thenceforward crawl through life with moody hearts and pain-stricken bodies.
  • Real meekness of character is called out by experience of kindness.
  • Her love for him was a bubble, blown out of vanity; but it looked very real and very bright.
  • "But it's so hard to be patient," pleaded Mary. "Ay, dear; being patient is the hardest work we, any of us, have to do through life, I take it. Waiting is far more difficult than doing. I've known that about my sight, and many a one has known it in watching the sick; but it's one of God's lessons we all must learn, one way or another." After a pause—"Have ye been to see his mother of late?"
  • "It's hard work to be patient to all of us," said Mary; "I know I find it so, but I did not know one so good as you did, Alice; I shall not think so badly of myself for being a bit impatient, now I've heard you say you find it difficult."
  • I sometimes think I am a child, whom the Lord is hushabying to my long sleep. For when I were a nurse-girl, my missis always telled me to speak very soft and low, and to darken the room that her little one might go to sleep; and now all noises are hushed and still to me, and the bonny earth seems dim and dark, and I know it's my Father lulling me away to my long sleep. I'm very well content; and yo mustn't fret for me. I've had well-nigh every blessing in life I could desire.
  • The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil. The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with mute reproach. Why have we made them what they are; a powerful monster, yet without the inner means for peace and happiness?
  • As the man who has had his taste educated to love reading, falls devouringly upon books after a long abstinence, so these poor fellows, whose tastes had been left to educate themselves into a liking for tobacco, beer, and similar gratifications, gleamed up at the proposal of the London delegate. Tobacco and drink deaden the pangs of hunger, and make one forget the miserable home, the desolate future.
  • Oh! much what all doctors say: he puts a fence on this side, and a fence on that, for fear he should be caught tripping in his judgment.
  • It is the woes that cannot in any earthly way be escaped that admit least earthly comforting. Of all trite, worn-out, hollow mockeries of comfort that were ever uttered by people who will not take the trouble of sympathising with others, the one I dislike the most is the exhortation not to grieve over an event, "for it cannot be helped." I mourn because what has occurred cannot be helped. The reason you give me for not grieving, is the very sole reason of my grief.
  • Oh! surest way of conversion to our faith, whatever it may be— regarding either small things, or great—when it is beheld as the actuating principle, from which we never swerve! When it is seen that, instead of overmuch profession, it is worked into the life, and moves every action!
  • Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister to Him, for He knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another. It's the happiest work on earth.
Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister to Him, for He knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another. It's the happiest work on earth.

The firm faith which her mind had no longer power to grasp, had left its trail of glory; for by no other word can I call the bright happy look which illumined the old earth-worn face. Her talk, it is true, bore no more that constant earnest reference to God and His holy Word which it had done in health, and there were no deathbed words of exhortation from the lips of one so habitually pious.
And death came to her as a welcome blessing, like as evening comes to the weary child. Her work here was finished, and faithfully done.
If they've been worthy to be heartily loved while alive, they'll not be forgotten when dead; it's against nature. And we need no more be upbraiding ourselves for letting in God's rays of light upon our sorrow, and no more be fearful of forgetting them, because their memory is not always haunting and taking up our minds, than you need to trouble yourself about remembering your grandfather's face, or what the stars were like—you can't forget if you would, what it's such a pleasure to think about.
"Let my trespasses be unforgiven, so that I may have vengeance for my son's murder." There are blasphemous actions as well as blasphemous words: all unloving, cruel deeds, are acted blasphemy.
He fell to the narrative now afresh, with all the interest of a little child. He began at the beginning, and read on almost greedily, understanding for the first time the full meaning of the story. He came to the end; the awful End. And there were the haunting words of pleading. He shut the book, and thought deeply. All night long, the Archangel combated with the Demon.
"God be merciful to us sinners.—Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us!" And when the words were said, John Barton lay a corpse in Mr. Carson's arms.
Well! God does not judge as hardly as man, that's one comfort for all of us!
But still, you see, one's often blind to many a thing that lies right under one's nose, till it's pointed out.
You can never work facts as you would fixed quantities, and say, given two facts, and the product is so and so. God has given men feelings and passions which cannot be worked into the problem, because they are for ever changing and uncertain.
If fellow-creatures can give nought but tears and brave words, we take our trials straight from God, and we know enough of His love to put ourselves blind into His hands. You say our talk has done no good. I say it has.
I see the view you take of things from the place where you stand. I can remember that, when the time comes for judging you; I shan't think any longer, does he act right on my views of a thing, but does he act right on his own.
There are stages in the contemplation and endurance of great sorrow, which endow men with the same earnestness and clearness of thought that in some of old took the form of Prophecy.
To those who have large capability of loving and suffering, united with great power of firm endurance, there comes a time in their woe, when they are lifted out of the contemplation of their individual case into a searching inquiry into the nature of their calamity, and the remedy (if remedy there be) which may prevent its recurrence to others as well as to themselves.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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