Mary Barton Season – Join a host of events through 2023

26th September 2022
in blog, blogsNnews, Events, Gaskell House Blogs, news, other

Please note that these events took place in 2023 but recordings are available. Please see the link to our Frequently Asked Questions for more information FAQS.

If you dare to injure her in the least, I will await you where no policeman can step in between. And God shall judge between us two.‘ Mary Barton, 1848

Celebrate the classic Mary Barton: A Manchester Tale with a series of events exploring Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel. Find out more about the story, characters and industrial background of this romantic action adventure. You can discover the context in which the novel was written and Elizabeth’s motivation for writing.

Original illustration from the book showing Mary stood over her father John Barton

Dating from 1848, the story follows heroine Mary Barton and her dilemma in the wake of tragedy as she is torn between working-class Jem Wilson and mill owner Henry Carson. Enjoy this season of special events includes partnerships with Jane Austen’s House, Brontë Parsonage Museum, The Portico and Manchester Metropolitan University.

All talks are online and £5 per person unless otherwise stated. All previous event recordings are available for purchase – please see our FAQ. You can also support the house by buying Mary Barton from our online shop.

Previous Talks

You are welcome to enjoy previous talks from this season and other previous years.

All previous talks are available to buy as a recording unless otherwise stated. Please make a donation for the £5 ticket price here and then email to request the recording.

Online Talk: Mary Barton: An Introduction

With Elizabeth Williams

Recorded January 2023

Our season of ‘Mary Barton’ events began with an introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life. The story is a tale of class strife, romantic love and action adventure as Mary Barton, daughter of a trade unionist, is torn between the working-class Jem Wilson and mill owner’s son Henry Carson after a tragic shooting. Mary’s dilemma powerfully dramatises the historical reality of Victorian life and foresees the class struggle and romantic plot of later novels such as North and South. Find out more about the context in which the book was written, including industrial Manchester and Elizabeth’s personal life with brilliant speaker Elizabeth Williams.

It was excellent. What an engaging, articulate, enthusiastic and well informed speaker.‘ Visitor to previous event.

Online Talk: Mary Barton’s Manchester

With Dr Diane Duffy

Recorded January 2023

Back by popular demand, Dr Diane Duffy led a literary journey of discovery to the places, buildings and landmarks of Manchester as featured in Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel Mary Barton, with extracts from the text to map the way.

This fascinating talk will interest anyone who wants to find out more about historical reality in Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing.

The talks have been a highlight of my year.‘ Visitor to previous event

Online Talk: Literary Heroines

With Libby Tempest

Recorded April 2023

A celebration of Mary Barton and some of the greatest nineteenth century literary heroines by women writers including Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Elliot. With heroines like Mary BartonJane Eyre, Anne Elliot in Persuasion and Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, these writers force us to question our views of nineteenth century women. Why are we drawn to Mary Barton and so many others? What sets these characters apart? Do they all break the rules and challenge convention? And what were the writers of these incredible characters trying to tell us? Libby Tempest, Chair of the Gaskell Society, revealed her personal literary heroines.

The presenter was excellent and it really gave an insight into the novels, characters and authors. Amazing how much one can learn in just over an hour!‘ Visitor to previous event

Radical Walking: Women and the Outdoors in Pride and Prejudice and Mary Barton

Please note, unfortunately a recording is not available for this event.

A conversation between Libby Tempest (Gaskell Society) and Lizzie Dunford (Jane Austen House) about walking as a revolutionary act for women in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. A first edition of Mary Barton and an early edition of Pride and Prejudice from the Portico Library’s collection will be available for viewing.

A partnership with The Portico Library and Jane Austen’s House 

In Person at the Portico as part of the Portico’s Walking / Writing and Rambling / Reading series of events and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Mary Barton season.

Online Talk: From Mary Barton to The Secret Garden – Elizabeth Gaskell and Frances Hodgson Burnett

With Prof Michael Sanders

Recorded May 2023

Frances Hodgson Burnett is best known for her children’s books The Secret Garden (1911) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1888) but she first made her name with industrial novels That Lass o’ Lowrie’s (1877) and Haworth’s (1879). That Lass o’ Lowrie’s tells the story of a remarkable ‘pit brow lassie’ (woman coal worker) Joan Lowrie, while Haworth’s offers a rags to riches to rags tale from the foundry floor. Manchester-born Burnett admired Elizabeth Gaskell and here Prof Sanders explores how her industrial novels reflect both Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1854-55). Did she shamelessly copy or subtly adapt Elizabeth’s famous novels? Join us for a closer looking at two classic women writers.

It was absolutely superb – very informative and delivered with authority.‘ Visitor to previous event

Online Talk: Bad Women

With Sherry Ashworth

Recorded September 2023

‘Revenge may be wicked, but it’s perfectly natural.’ Becky Sharpe, Vanity Fair, 1847

The stereotype of the Victorian woman is that of a domestic angel, pure, innocent and a helpmate to her husband. But the women in this talk challenge that with a vengeance! Enjoy a look at the dark side with the bad women of Vanity Fair, Mary Barton, Little Dorrit, Daniel Deronda and many more. Join Sherry Ashworth for a look at how the worst women in literature shock society and defy convention to make their own way in the world. Not to be missed!

Sherry is excellent.’ Visitor to previous online event

Online Talk: Mary Barton and the Year of Revolutions: ‘John Barton became a Chartist, a Communist’

With Prof Michael Sanders

Recorded September 2023

Elizabeth Gaskell’s debut novel Mary Barton (1848) is recognised as one of the most important Victorian works to explore the working-class Chartist movement, in this case through the character of Mary’s father, John Barton. Popular speaker Prof Mike Sanders is back to reveal the historical truth behind the story, published just three years after Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and amidst rumours of revolution. Perfect for anyone who wants to explore the context of this classic novel including the reality of Manchester and the ‘hungry forties’.

It was absolutely superb – very informative and delivered with authority’ Visitor to previous online event

Online Talk: Song of the Shirt

With Dr Ingrid Hanson

Recorded October 2023

With fingers weary and worn,

   With eyelids heavy and red,

A woman sat in unwomanly rags,

   Plying her needle and thread—

      Stitch! stitch! stitch!

Thomas Hood wrote the famous poem The Song of the Shirt (1843), in honour of a widow and seamstress named Mrs Biddell, who was forced to work in poverty. So how can the poem help us better understand Elizabeth Gaskell’s popular novel Mary Barton? Victorian public opinion was both shocked and titillated by reports that seamstresses might be forced into prostitution by poverty. How were these concerns reflected in contemporary literature? Dr Ingrid Hanson looks at the figure of the seamstress, the reality of destitution and Victorian sexual politics in this insightful talk.

Online Event: Shirley – Charlotte Brontë and The Industrial Novel

Recorded November 2023

Charlotte Brontë is a giant of Victorian literature and the much-loved author of the classic Jane Eyre, but what of her lesser-read second novel, Shirley, written in the grief and sadness of family loss? Brontë’s Shirley was set amongst the tumultuous times of the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite machine breakers. Her strong female characters and industrial strife show the author had plenty to say about contemporary class and sexual politics, much like her friend Elizabeth Gaskell in her first novel, Mary Barton. This special partnership event explores the historical reality behind Charlotte’s writing including her beloved Yorkshire moors, famous sisters and the status of women in Victorian life. Join us as we delve into the original novel including the chance to see a first edition of both Shirley and Mary Barton live from the Portico.

This event included three speakers and ​Q&A session: Andrew Stodolny (Learning Officer at Brontë Parsonage Museum), Dr Emma Liggins (Reader in English Literature and Co-Director of the Long Nineteenth-Century Network at Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Debbie Challis (Events Producer at The Portico).

A partnership event with Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, The Portico and Manchester Metropolitan University

Online Event: Mary Barton and ‘Condition of England Novels’

Recorded November 2023

Elizabeth Gaskell spoke of the ‘unhappy state of things’ in her debut novel, Mary Barton and explored the issue again in her later work North and South. She was one of a number of authors concerned with the divide between the rich and poor. Contemporaries such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Kingsley, Fanny Trollope and Harriet Martineau shared her concerns in novels such as Hard TimesBleak HouseShirley and Michael Armstrong: Factory Boy. So what answers could these literary giants offer? How did popular writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens bring social issues to a wider audience? Our expert panel explored these so-called ‘Condition of England’ novels in the grand finale to our Mary Barton season. Perfect for anyone who wants to find out more about the background to some Victorian classics. With Libby Tempest (Gaskell Society), Prof Michael Sanders and Dr Emma Liggins.

We've got a certainly is a beauty...I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can.’

Elizabeth Gaskell, in a letter to her friend Eliza Fox in 1850.