Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton Gaskell

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell was my Classics Club Spin book for September and October. It was her first novel, published in two volumes in 1848, bringing her to the attention of Charles Dickens who was looking for contributors to his new periodical Household Words. It’s the third book of hers that I have read. It is a long book and begins slowly, developing the characters and building up to the main story.

It covers the years 1837 to 1842, a time that saw the growth of trade unions and of Chartism, of industrial city expansion and a time of extreme economic depression. The structure of society and social attitudes were changing with the growth of materialism and class antagonism. As people moved away from the countryside and into Manchester to work in the cotton mills, the city grew from 75,000 in 1800 to 400,000 in 1848 when Mary Barton was published, creating great wealth for the mill owners whilst the mill workers were housed in horrendous slums.

Mary Barton is the story of ordinary working people struggling with the rapid social change and terrible working and living conditions. Mary is the daughter of John Barton, a mill worker and trade unionist. John is a hard worker, but he is determined that she should never work in a factory, so she works as an apprentice to a dressmaker and milliner. She is flattered by the attentions of Henry Carson, a mill owner’s son and believes he will marry he and that she will live in luxury and she spurns Jem Wilson, her childhood friend, only later realising that it is him she loves.

However, work for the factory dries up and it closes down. The workers are desperate and John becomes an active trade unionist and a Chartist. (Gaskell gives a detailed picture of the Chartist Movement and their demands for political reform.) Eventually he turns to opium to relieve his situation. Things go from bad to worse – Henry is murdered and suspicion falls on Jem. Mary realises the mistakes she had made and that it is Jem that she loves, and when her efforts to prove his innocence lead her to suspect the real culprit, she is left with a terrible dilemma.

I have only just touched the surface of this novel and there are many strands that I have left out. There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mary’s Aunt Esther, the story of Mary’s friend Margaret, who is slowly going blind, and her grandfather, Job, Jem’s mother and his Aunt Alice country women who came to Manchester to work, a factory fire and the illnesses and diseases that were endemic at the time, amongst others. It is a touch melodramatic in parts and does include quite lengthy rhetorical passages and commentary in Gaskell’s own voice as narrator. But on the whole her style is clear and detailed giving a sense of reality. It is a powerful novel, a love story, as well as a tragedy, presenting a moving picture of the lives of working people in the middle of the nineteenth century.

3.5*

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book, Mary Barton is also one of my TBRs so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

5

which for me is Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by October 31, 2019.

Mary Barton

 

I’ve read some of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and enjoyed them. This is her first book, set in Manchester between 1839 and 1842.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two men. Through Mary’s dilemma, and the moving portrayal of her father, the embittered and courageous Chartist agitator John Barton, Mary Barton powerfully dramatizes the class divides of the ‘hungry forties’ as personal tragedy. In its social and political setting, it looks towards Elizabeth Gaskell’s great novels of the industrial revolution, in particular North and South.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Classics Club Spin: My List

 

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It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 23 September compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st October 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 13 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated seven of the titles to make the numbers up to 20.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  6. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  7. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  8. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  9. Murder by Matchlight by E C R Lorac
  10. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarqu
  12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  13. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  14. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexte
  15. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  16. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  17. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  18. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  19. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  20. Murder by Matchlight by E C R Lorac

I’m quietly hoping it will be Murder by Matchlight or Smallbone Deceased, but any of them will be OK.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

19

which for me is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by May 31, 2019.

Sweet Thursday

I added this book to my Classics Club list after reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, a book I loved. I’m hoping it will be just as good,

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In Monterey, on the California Coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But Sweet Thursday is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen. Returning to the scene of Cannery Row, Steinbeck brilliantly creates its bawdy, high-spirited world of bums, drunks and hookers, telling the story of what happened to everyone after the war. There are colourful characters old and new, all united by love, laughter and tears: Fauna, the latest madam at the Bear Flag brothel, Doc, still there for everyone else but feeling strangely sad himself, and Suzy, the new hustler in town who might just be the girl to save him.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Classics Club Spin: My List

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 22 April compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st May 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 15 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated five of the titles to make the numbers up to 20 – Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, The Return of the Native, Sweet Thursday and Clouds of Witness.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. The Forsyte Saga (1) : The Man of Property by John Galsworthy
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  10. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  11. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
  12. The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
  13. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  14. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  18. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  19. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  20. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

I think I’d like it to be one of Charles Dickens’s books …

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

1

which for me is Greenmantle by John Buchan. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2019.

Greenmantle

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916. I’ve read the first, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Richard Hannay is tasked to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world and takes off on a hair-raising journey through German-occupied Europe to meet up with his old friend Sandy Arbuthnot in Constantinople, where they must thwart the Germans’ plans to use religion to help them win the war. Set during World War I, Greenmantle is a contraversial meditation on the power of political Islam (it was pulled from Radio 4’s schedule at the time of the 7 July bombings).

I’m really pleased this book came up in the Spin for me as it will fit in with my reading about World War I.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret at the “Gai-Moulin”.

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon, translated by Siân Reynolds is one of the early Maigret books, first published in 1931. Two teenage boys, Delfosse and Chabot, attempt to burgle Le Gai-Moulin, a nightclub in Liege in Belgium, but on finding a body they panic and leave, fearing they’ll be suspected of murder. The next day, to the boys’ amazement, the corpse is found in the Botanical Gardens in a large laundry basket in the middle of a lawn. Who was he, who killed him, why was he killed and who had moved the body from the nightclub to the Botanical Gardens?

This short book is mainly concerned with Delfosse and Chabot and their subsequent actions that set them at odds with each other and land them in police custody. It’s an unusual Maigret book in that Detective Chief Inspector Maigret is not immediately involved in the police investigation – that is carried out by Chief Inspector Delvigne of the Belgian police and part of the mystery is why Maigret is even in Liege. Adèle is the dancer referred to in the title but she doesn’t play a major role in the book, although the two teenagers are obsessed with her. It’s quite a puzzle and Maigret doesn’t reveal his thoughts, or his reasoning until the end, much to the annoyance of Delvigne.

The plot is unconvincing and Maigret’s actions seem quite implausible, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book. It’s not really the crime that is in focus, as Simenon is skilled at setting the scene and drawing convincing characters in a few paragraphs. In this novel the two boys and Adèle stand out:

She wasn’t beautiful, especially now, lounging about in her mules and shabby peignoir. But perhaps, in the familiarity of this intimacy, she held even more allure for him.

How old was she, twenty five, thirty? She’d certainly seen life. She often talked about Paris, Berlin, Ostend. She mentioned the names of famous nightclubs.

But without any excitement or pride, without showing off. On the contrary. Her main characteristic seemed to be weariness, as could be guessed from the expression in her green eyes, from the casual way she held a cigarette in her mouth, from all her movements and smiles. Weariness with a smile. (page 28)

I knew that Simenon was a prolific author, writing seventy five novels and twenty eight short stories featuring Maigret, but I was surprised to find that The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin was the 10th book that he published in 1931. By the end of 1931 his books had been translated into 18 languages.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (7 Aug. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141393521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141393520
  • Source: my own copy – thanks to Sarah’s Giveaway at Crimepieces blog
  • My rating: 3.5*

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with the word ‘the‘ used twice in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.