I started Mary Barton last week, and found I could hardly put it down. The plot is straightforward; Mary Barton is a beautiful young woman with two suitors. One, Jem Wilson, is an old family friend, an honourable working man who's been in love with her since childhood. The other, who turns her head for a while, is a rich mill owner's son, Henry Carson, whose intentions are only a bit of dalliance. Added to this story is a study of the social conditions of Manchester and its workers; some statements about the treatment and lives of the poor must have appeared shocking to her middle class readers. It really was a social novel, and I found myself comparing the ideas in it to her later North & South. She does not appear to have seen much change in the years between the two novels. I found this story very thrilling, with cliffhangers galore, until the closing chapters when Mary becomes ill. They drag a bit, until Gaskell seems to decide on a closing idea. And what a closer it was; Jem & Mary move to Toronto. I have to admit that reading "Toronto" at the end of a 19th century Manchester novel was a bit jarring for me; the images just butted up against each other strangely. When I'd finally wrapped my head around it, I gave myself a good laugh imagining them meeting all the Who's Who of 19th C. Toronto society, such as Susannah Moodie. [n.b. It was strange for me because I live near TO and so imagine it as it is now.] This was her first novel, and the authorial voice interrupts many times. I actually enjoyed it; I know many people find it irritating. She seems to have mostly gotten over that habit by her final novel, Wives & Daughters, one of my all time favourite books.