Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (and the 99%)

I have discovered something that I have often suspected to be true: twelve-year-old boys and 19th Century Brit-lit don’t mix.

I wrote the following in an email to Ryan the 7th Grader:

I am currently reading a book called Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I like Elizabeth Gaskell. She was a contemporary of Charlotte BrontĂ«, a close friend, and also wrote novels, many of them emphasizing local culture or political and socioeconomic strife of the times. Mary Barton is an interesting read, especially now after all the Occupy Wall Street business. It’s interesting to read of the same things happening almost two hundred years ago and to compare what has changed and what hasn’t between then and now. Mary Barton is set in Manchester, England of the 1840s, during the Industrial Revolution and portrays the working class’s general dissatisfaction and the ensuing class warfare of the period. See, the rich people who own cloth factories are all like, “Okay, we need our cloth to be cheaper than everyone else’s so that everybody will buy ours. To that end, let’s not pay our workers too much.” The factory workers are all like, “Umm, no way, Hosea! We’re the ones who do the actual work. We’re the ones who made you rich in the first place. We got mouths to feed. We DE-MAND better pay!” Then the rich peeps are like, “NEVAR!” and the poor people are like, “FINE! BE that way, 1%! We’re going to Occupy Manchester!” and then everyone’s all like, “Grawr rawr rawr!!!!!”

Meanwhile, there’s this girl named (guess what?) Mary Barton. She is the daughter of factory worker John Barton, who is embittered against the rich because of what he regards as their flagrant disregard for the welbeing of the working class. But Mary doesn’t care about all this. She’s super cute and even better, a cute guy likes her. Even better than that, the cute guy is loaded. He is Harry Carson, the dashing, playboy son of Mr. Carson, the rich, self-made factory owner. She dreams of being married to Harry Carson and being rich; of giving her poor, hard-working father every imaginable comfort, of being a fine lady and doing fine, lady-like things. But this quixotic castle-in-the-sky of hers comes crashing down around her when she realizes that she does NOT love Harry Carson at all, but Jem Wilson, the honest, hardworking son of her father’s friend. No sooner does she realize this than a brutal murder threatens to tear her life apart in a most horrific way, she realizes that she may loose her lover, and that it is all. Her. Fault.

Bom bom bwammm!!

Ryan’s reply to my thoughts? They are brief:

Ok well I didn’t really read the last paragraph cuz it sounded kinda boring but idk something about some Barton guy and falling in love.

I’m not sure why I even try.


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