Literary Review of Mary Barton

Topics: Woman, Elizabeth Gaskell, Matty Island Pages: 5 (1851 words) Published: January 28, 2013
Before looking at Ruth, we have a novel very different from Mary Barton in Cranford. While Mary Barton is a novel of the poor people's struggle to survive in a changing society which needs them as workers yet turns a blind eye to their suffering, Cranford is concerned with the struggle of an old-fashioned society against the changes being forced upon it by the new industrialism. In Cranford there are two main characters who grow and change together: a young woman called Mary Smith, and her older friend Matilda Jenkyns. Through their friendship, these two women symbolize the union of the new England with the old Victorian values. It is apparent that industrialism is making it difficult for the old ways to continue, especially the "code of gentility" which is a major force in the lives of the women, and men, of Cranford. However, we understand at the end that it is possible for the old to co-exist with the new as Mary Smith merges the values and behaviors of the older generation with her Drumble background. Originally, Cranford was published in eight parts in Charles Dickens' journal, Household Words. The first installment appeared in 1851 with more following in 1852 and finishing in 1853. As Peter Keating suggests in his introduction to the Penguin edition of Cranford, the delay in the installments was due to the writing of Ruth, published in 1853 (Keating 8). Cranford is different from the other novels by Elizabeth Gaskell in that it is the depiction of a small English village and is concerned with the everyday occurrences in the lives of mainly older ladies, rather than the story of a great social problem threatening the lives and security of the characters. The narrator of the story is a young woman called Mary Smith. We are not given much information about Mary except that she once lived in Cranford but moved to the big city of Drumble with her businessman father. In fact, we know so little of Mary that it isn't until late in the book that her name is even mentioned. It is apparent that Mary has lost her mother although how and when are not stated; this is perhaps why she is eager to return on visits to the town of Cranford and its comforting female society. Mary spends a good deal of her time in Cranford as her father is busy and is quite content to let his daughter stay with their old acquaintances in the country. He must certainly feel that she is mature and responsible enough to leave him and visit her old friends. When in Cranford, Mary stays mainly with Miss Matty Jenkyns, the daughter of the late rector, and this friendship between the old spinster and the younger woman provides a look at the effect their respective ages have on their attitudes and personalities. We learn from Mary that the town is made up predominately of women: "whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford" (39). The society is a highly structured one: there are rules of decorum and order which must be followed, the "code of gentility," and everyone has a highly-developed sense of the proper model of behavior. Mary provides the unique viewpoint of someone who is not a stranger to the town, yet is sufficiently detached from the modes of everyday life there to be able to report on them. She tells us the ways of the town and of the women in it, including their individual quirks and fancies such as chasing sunbeams with newspaper to avoid fading a new carpet. Miss Matty Jenkyns has been mentioned as the person with whom Mary Smith stays on her visits to Cranford. In order to better understand Miss Matty's character, one must look first at her older sister, Deborah. Mary says of her: Miss Jenkyns ... altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men. Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior. (51) Miss Jenkyns is a woman who knows her own mind and is sure to let other people know it as well. Deborah Jenkyns is the strongest proponent of the code of...
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