“Mary Barton” is such a beauty. I lack of adjectives to describe how magnificent the language of the book is. Beautiful words are all around in the thick book. I even type many lovely, memorable phrases and sentences in my BlackBerry to make me easier reread them all whenever I wish to read something artsy.
It’s the first book that I would like to put it into my most favorite novel list because of its language. If there were people who later ask me on why they should read the novel, I would say the language is all what makes it really worth your precious time.
Mind you. Almost all of the novels that I have read so far, particularly those by Victorian writers, are indeed artistic. “Far from the Madding Crowd”, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “The Mill on the Floss”, to name a few, fall into this category. I am completely hooked by “The Mill on the Floss”, by the way, but its sentimental, sad plot is the most memorable aspect that is left in my mind until now. “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, for me, is outstanding for its characterization. “Far from the Madding Crowd” is the kind of story that leaves me with contentment because of its relatively gloomy plot, unconditional faith that ends in a happy, modest marriage among its two protagonists.
I can say I feel so sad reading “Mary Barton”. There are some quite funny moments but most of the time the book is all about bitter facts faced by the working class people in Manchester where the poor really suffer from unfair payment while the rich keep living luxuriously. Coming to the parts where several minor characters, one of them even passes away, due to hunger, is indeed heartbreaking. But nothing is more depressed than the scene where John Barton says farewell to his only kid, Mary Barton, on the night before he sets out a journey to Glasgow for labor-related affairs. I almost cry when I read those parts. So sorrowful because, as I expected, nothing is not the same again after that. John goes away without any news, and when he returns home, he looks lost. Although Mary and Jem are two characters that become the centre of the novel, I think it is the traits of John that makes the book “a complete story of human being”.
While Mary and Jem are described to be those who are mostly kind-hearted, John is the one that makes me hard to define. He is the one who is so overwhelmed with the labor condition at that time that he neglects Mary. He puts the interests of others above Mary’s future. He feels so miserable when he is out of work. Even when George, his best friend, dies, John looks unmoved. He says to Mary that is better for George to have passed away than to watch the worsening condition in Manchester.
I have sympathy for him for voicing, representing the needs of the laborers. However, I pity him for being unbalanced between labor-related affairs and his domestic matter. The way he abuses Mary after his London mission is fruitless triggers my anger. And my reaction gets harsher whenever he ignores her super tenderness with all the meal service despite his joblessness.
And the climax when he shots Harry Carson to death is unbearable. I pity him even more because the burden of all the labor issues carry him so far away from he used to be. When he admits he does not even know why he acts as cruel as that, I completely understand.
I can not blame John, though. He suffers a lot. He loses Mary’s brother because he can’t afford paying hospital fees. He witnesses the death of his fellow because of poverty. He has no pride when he does not work. He sometimes says he does not need meal, even when he is about to depart for Glasgow he refuses to eat. All he wishes to have is a job as the source of his dignity. John’s agony reaches his peak with the murder story. Probably, the only thing that he should have not opted is getting too much involved with his comrade in arms in fighting for their rights. He should have focus on his daughter. He makes a choice, somehow. The one that really costs his life. Again, he has faith in his option and that what makes the novel leaves a crack in my heart.
While for Mary.. what can I say about this character? Almost flawless. The only thing that causes my disrespect is when she has a giddy flirting with Harry Carson that makes the latter to put a high hope on their future marriage. It is this trivial act that causes the two male figures to have come in a misunderstanding with the final consequence of putting Jem’s life at the risk of being executed. But, Gaskell brilliantly makes Mary to pay her foolishness. She sacrifices her life to rescue Jem. When she almost dies to do this, I regain my respect for this protagonist. The way Jem loves her and vice versa is very touchy because their actions speak it all. This is what I really like with the romance story in the Victorian era. I once read this kind of love-based action when I read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd.’
Mary is the best daughter one can hope for. Her obedience is beyond everything. Her beauty is far deeper than her skin. And the one thing that makes me feel relieved with the fate of Mary is the presence and the love from Job Leigh and his granddaughter, Margaret. It would be so wicked should Gaskell leave Mary to face the hardness without their help throughout the book. She might not have a full love from her father but she has a best friend and best neighbor of all who stand by her side whenever she needs them all, especially when Jem is at the prison.
All in all, the book is perfect. It has a simple good story that really reflects people at the time the novel is written. The romance is influenced with social status and society perspective when the potency of the marriage between Mary as the daughter of the poor and Harry Carson as the son of the employee emerges. The complicated trait of John Barton, the innocence of Jem and the compassion from Job Leigh and Margaret confronts me with mixed feeling. And the reading journey is paid off with its pleasant closure. The very last, as it becomes the first point that I say here, is the language. To close this post, I’d like to share some of my favorites:
The passionate grief of youth has subsided into sleep
She could catch a wink of sleep
A lovely girl of sixteen, fresh and glowing, and bright as a rosebud
The mists and the storms passed clearing away from his path, though it still was full of stinging thorns
… used to dazzle her eyes by extraordinary graces and twirls
Where the distant horizon is soft and undulating in the moonlight, and the nearer trees sway gently to and fro in the night – wind with something of almost human motion, and the rustling air makes music among their branches, as if speaking soothingly to the weary ones, who lie awake in heaviness of heart. The sights and sounds of such a night lull pain and grief to rest. (This one is my most favorite.)