Saturday, November 5, 2011

Preface to Mary Barton

This was the preface to the book Mary Barton. I found it really interesting, and wanted to share is with you all! It shed a completely different new light on North & South, and also on the book I was about to read.

"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. Living in Manchester, but with relish and fond admiration for the country, my first thought was to find a framework for my story in some rural scene; and I had already made a little progress in a tale, the period of which was more than a century ago, and the place on the borders of Yorkshire, when I bethought me how deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided. I had always felt a deep sympathy with the care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want; tossed to and fro by circumstances, apparently in even a greater degree than other men. A little manifestation of this sympathy, and a little attention to the expression of feelings on the part of some of the work-people with whom I was acquainted, had laid open them; I saw that they were sore and irritable against the rich, the even tenor of whose seeming happy lives appeared to increase the anguish caused by the lottery-like nature of their own. Whether the bitter complaints made by them, of the neglect which they experienced from the prosperous - especially from the masters whose fortunes they had helped to build up - were well-founded or no, it is not for me to judge. It is enough to say, that this belief of the injustice and unkindness which they endure from their fellow-creatures, taints what might be resignation to God's own will, and turns into revenge, in too many of the poor uneducated factory-workers of Manchester.

The more I reflected on this unhappy state of things between those so bound to each other by common interests, as the employers and the employed must ever be, the more anxious I became to give some utterance to the agony which time to time convulses this dumb people; the agony of suffering without the sympathy of the happy, or of erroneously believing that such is the case. If it be an error, that the woes, which come with ever-returning tidelike flood to overwhelm the workmen in our manufacturing towns, pass unregarded by all but the sufferers, it is the at any rate an error so bitter in its consequences to all parties, that whatever public effort can do in the way of legislation, or private effort in the way of merciful deeds, or helpless love in the way of 'widow's mites,' should be done, and that speedily, to disabuse the work-people of so miserable a misapprehension. At present they seem to me to be left in a sate where in lamentations and tears are thrown aside as useless, buy in which the lips are compressed for curses, and the hands clenched and ready to smite.

I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade. I have tried to write truthfully; and if my accounts agree or clash with any system, that agreement or disagreement is unintentional.

To myself the idea which I have formed of the sate of feelings among too many of the factory-people in Manchester, and which endeavoured to represent in this tale (completed above a year ago) has received some confirmation from the events which have so recently occurred among a similar class on the Continent."
~Elizabeth Gaskell October, 1848


  1. This is terribly interesting, thank you for posting this! North & South is one of my favorite novels (almost as dear as Jane Austen's works) and this excerpt it's a great explanation of what Mrs. Gaskell was attempting to do achieve with both novels. Showing both sides of the story, workers & masters, northerner & southerners, the differences and yet the similarities between their lives. I haven't read Mary Barton yet, but I hope to one day.
    Mrs. Gaskell sounds quite similar to Charles Dickens in this except. It's not wonder they were such great friends!

  2. I think this is fascinating indeed. Thank you!