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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Mary Barton

This year is the 160th annniversary of a landmark novel by a woman writer: Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. Gaskell’s ‘Tale of Manchester Life,’ published in 1848, starkly depicted the mill-workers’ harsh living conditions. It was denounced as biased by mill-owners and Tory press. Mrs Gaskell herself insisted she wrote the truth. She had first-hand knowledge of the cotton workers' lives because of her husband William's work; he was a Unitarian minister whose work took him right into the mazy alleys and disgustingly filthy closed courts of central Manchester.
Gaskell also wrote the first major biography of Charlotte Brontë. Her first impressions of Howarth and Charlotte's father Patrick greatly coloured her descriptions of the Brontë household. At this time Charlotte and her father were at loggerheads over her courtship by Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom she went on to marry. Gaskell's portrait of Patrick as a stern patriarch became part of the Brontë legend.

The importance of making a good first impression on an editor is the subject of my latest feature; you can read it in the March issue of the New Writer.
Image: Powerloom Room, 1844
Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844. Author's collection.

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