Elizabeth Gaskell: Mary Barton

(2330 words)
  • Josie Billington (University of Liverpool)

Mary Barton is, generically-speaking, a mixed novel. Celebrated, from its publication to the present day, as a work which vividly depicted the acute sufferings of the industrial working-class in nineteenth-century England, through a social realism unparalleled in contemporary fictional writings in a similar tradition, it is often criticised, nonetheless, for evasively resorting to romance and melodrama in its dénouement. The orthodox critical position – established by Raymond Williams, Arthur Kettle (who first dubbed the work a “social-problem novel”) and others – is that, in the second half of the novel, Mrs Gaskell retreated from the implications of the moving record of distress presented in the first half, falling …

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Billington, Josie. "Mary Barton". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 27 July 2001
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=3725, accessed 29 November 2015.]