Mary Barton Book Review + Junk journal pages and new felts

After the hare I’ve made two new felt creatures: a pouncing cat and a duckling, and am working on a spider. It was gloomy outside when I made them, then sunny today but windy and very cold, so I haven’t gotten a chance to take proper pictures of them yet. Here’s a preview:



“junk journal” pages I collaged today.

Rather than making another felt critter, today I wrote for a few hours, then collaged some pockets into my notebook, “junk journal” style. Until about two days ago I didn’t realize that was a term, and was having mixed success trying to find pictures of the sort of thing I wanted to do, searching for art journals and altered books. When was that term coined, and why? Anyway, apparently it’s a thing now to paste doilies inside of collage notebooks under that term. It seems popular to have bits of ribbon or strips of cloth sticking out all the edges, along with collaged tags in pockets inside. I’m not entirely certain what I’m going to do with the tags yet, but might use them to keep track of skills I’ve learned and places I’ve gone this coming year.

Another term that’s new to me: washi tape, which is decorative masking tape. I suppose it was popularized, perhaps invented, in Japan, since the name means “Japanese paper tape.” That’s it along the pocket edges and, fancy name aside, it is indeed translucent masking tape with designs printed on it. I like it, but next time I’d like to get a more opaque light colored version that’s better for writing on.

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848)

I hadn’t read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell before, and picked Mary Barton to accompany my investigations of the Industrial Revolution because both Nineteenth Century innovation and this book took place among the textile and steel mills of Manchester in the North of England.

I listened to the audio version of this book while making the art projects shown above, and chose it in part because there’s a free high quality reading up at Librivox. There are two readings available, and I listened to the solo version, read by Tony Foster. He gave a professional reading, with a nice radio voice, pleasant English accent, and convincing Northern colloquialisms. I don’t think I had read anything in Northern English dialect before, but it seems to have a lot in common with Scottish dialect, but less opaque. Or perhaps Ms. Gaskell simply made it more accessible for her readers.

This was Gaskell’s first novel, and it does show a bit. She follows the tropes a bit too closely. Of course there’s a love triangle featuring a dashing, rich young cad and an upright, falsely accused working class man. Of course there’s an older woman representing the lost Celtic Christian wise woman, bearing everything without complaint and picking medicinal herbs in the hills. Of course there’s a Fantine figure, the fallen woman who started out naive yet well meaning, was abandoned by her higher class lover, and sinks into misery and depravity. Of course all the timing lines up exactly for maximum dramatic affect. There’s a murder that could have been a mystery, except that it isn’t handled that way — the verdict of the trial is actually a chapter heading.

Still, it’s not a bad book. It’s inspired by sympathy for the working class she lived next to in Northern England, who were undergoing a small but brutal depression in the year of the novel — watching their children die of fevers and infections brought on by the unavoidably squalid living conditions and malnourishment of poverty. It’s the precursor to the sort of romance one finds in Christian bookstores, with everyone eventually realizing their wrongdoing and repenting of their sins or forgiving one another while quoting Bible verses. It’s also the genera of George MacDonald’s realistic novels, but his are rather better because there’s a deeper store of wisdom showing through the otherwise cliche characters.

Rating: 4/5 — in keeping with one would expect for the genera, within which Jane Eyre is 5/5 and generic Amish romances are probably 3/5 — they accomplish the task they set themselves of being moderately edifying and entertaining. Not in competition with truly great novels that offer a window into depths of the human soul that are unexpected and familiar all at once.

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