Following the death of his wife and the government's refusal to pass his local trade union's chartist petition, John Barton sinks into a depression so deep that not even his doting daughter can lift him out of it. Seeing the poverty that her family has been reduced to and the desperation in her father's eyes, Mary Barton realises she must reject the proposal of her working-class lover, Jem. Instead, she sets her sights at a master's son, the wealthy heir of a Manchester mill, Henry Carson, in the hope that his situation will improve her own.
In a shocking turn of events, Mary discovers Mr Carson has been shot and her former lover, Jem, accused of his murder. As life-altering secrets emerge and the lives of those around her are put on the line, Mary must decide who to trust and who to denounce.
Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, is an emotive condition of English work in which she artfully intertwines the socio-political struggles of the 'hungry forties' with elements of a classic love story. Mary Barton is a pioneering work of fiction which has ensured that Gaskell's name will forever be included in a list of England's greatest authors. Its success was such that it even won the attention of Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, forging a great working relationship between the writers, and later leading Gaskell to write Brontë's biography.
Multi-award winning actress, Juliet Stevenson has graced the stage and screen with a myriad of powerhouse performances for over 40 years. Aged nine, she developed a passion for the spoken word after performing a reading of a WH Auden poem in front of her entire school. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and later became a member of its artistic council. Her theatre experience is vast and includes parts in Measure for Measure, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Burn This and Death and the Maiden.
She is also known for her film career in works such as Bend It Like Beckham, Emma, Truly Madly Deeply and Mona Lisa Smile. Stevenson has been BAFTA-nominated and been the winner of a Laurence Olivier Award. In 1999, she was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, for her services to Drama.
Juliet's other audiobook narrations include Sense and Sensibility, North and South, The Portrait of a Lady and Madame Bovary. These and many more can be found at Audible.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jenny on 01-04-2018
Very satisfying experience
I really enjoy Gaskell and I really enjoy all of Juliet Stevenson's narrations (I have listened to so many). This is a great novel with an emphasis an a certain socio-political issue told by means of a story that is worthwhile within itself. Whilst the socio-political viewpoint is obviously one-sided, it offers valuable insight into working class life all that time ago. Stevenson captures characters' personalities so well, she is spot-on with her regional accents, and I feel she does justice to the novelist's intentions.
By Anonymous User on 11-07-2017
Another ripper from Mrs Gaskell
I listen to any unabridged audio book read by Juliet Stevenson, and read any novel by Mrs Gaskell. This is another great one. Mary Barton isn't up there with North and South for a great inspiring romance, but it's a solid, well-drawn and interesting story of a young woman's journey to the realisation that sometimes the life you thought you wanted for yourself isn't the life you needed after all. Jem Wilson is a good stolid hero with a sound moral principle, and the villain is suitably arrogant to make his come-uppance just a little bit welcome. Written from several perspectives, Mrs Gaskell once again shows that no one dies unregretted by no one -- everyone matters from someone's point of view. I thought this novel particularly good in its portrayal of Victorian life and justice -- better than North and South, which is usually regarded as Mrs Gaskell's finest.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Amazon Customer on 14-09-2010
Narration as Brilliant Performance Art
Juliet Stevenson is nothing less than brilliant in narrating this work of Elizabeth Gaskell, and brings its several characters to life with seeming effortlessness. It is a piece of vibrant performance art. Gaskell's touching novel is a reminder that the extent to which socio-economic dislocation and abuse will be eradicated is dependent on being spiritually alive to the oneness of humanity. And though written over 150 years ago, Gaskell's deep concern over society's deafness to the poor, never heavy-handedly conveyed, unfortunately still has rich meaning.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
By Pat on 20-08-2013
Mrs. Gaskell was so far ahead of her time
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote novels and short stories in the 1840-60's. That is 150 years ago! And her novels have aged perfectly because the people speak in voices that you could hear today.
She was only 55 when she died, leaving her last novel, "Wives and Daughters", unfinished. She also wrote "North and South", referring to England and the comparison between idyllic village life and terrible manufacturing town life. "Cranford" is a short novel, her second, and probably her best when considering characterizations.
I find it incredible that "Mary Barton" was her first novel. It is chock full of people you will recognize from our culture today. Our American culture at that, probably any culture.
Gaskell wrote in a manner that was so far ahead of her time. She needs to be appreciated by more people than just English majors. Her work deserves all sorts of people to read it. Just darned good story-telling.
I heartily recommend all her novels to Audible listeners. Even though these novels are in the public domain, the Audible versions are so much better spoken. The readers chosen by Audible are perfect, light British accent and easily understood. They add a lot to these books.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Nicholas on 11-08-2014
Moments of wonderful intensity
It is not for the plot but for the writing that one reads or listens to Mrs Gaskell, and here Juliet Stevenson is exactly the right reader. The intensity and passion of that scene, for example, where Mary Barton tries to contact Jem before he sails away, so that he can give his testimony at court: the tension that builds is masterful. It is a scene I shall remember for a very long time, and to which I shall surely return on this recording.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
By Daniel on 16-10-2015
Juliet Stevenson does it again! She has such a beautiful, soothing voice. I could listen to anything narrated by her. It doesn't hurt that Elizabeth Gaskell is an author that I really like and admire. The themes explored in this novel are very deep but I didn't find them melodramatic as other people did - I only found them dramatic. I really liked this book - maybe not as much as North and South, but it's close behind.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful