Mary Barton is beautiful but has been born poor. Her father fights for the rights of his fellow workers, but Mary wants to make a better life for them both. She rashly decides to reject her lover Jem, a struggling engineer, in the hope of marrying the rich mill-owner's son Henry Carson and securing a safe future.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65) moved from the London of her childhood to Knutsford and later Manchester, and her experience of the differences between North and South deeply informed her writing. Writer of six novels, numerous shorter works and the biography of her great friend Charlotte Bronte, Gaskell was at first published anonymously but later in her own name. Much of her work was serialised in Charles Dickens's widely-read literary weekly, Household Words. Mary Barton was Gaskell's first novel, and deals with many of the great social and political themes that came to be so distinctive of her work. Gaskell's other novels Cranford, North and South and Wives and Daughters are also published in the Penguin English Library.