This Norton Critical Edition of Gaskell's first novel is based on the 1854 Fifth Edition, the last edition corrected by the author.
"Contexts" includes letters related to Mary Barton's publication as well as Gaskell's reaction to her harshest critics. Ten contemporary reviews reflect the dual nature of the novel's critical reception: one group valuing its eye-opening moral energy and concern for the suffering of the working classes and the other group taking Gaskell to task for the deceptive implications of her perceived flawed reasoning. A section featuring fifteen illustrations from the novel offers readers the opportunity to explore narrative emphases.
"Criticism" collects seventeen major interpretations of the novel's central themes.
Contributors include Kathleen Tillotson, Richard D. Altick, John Lucas, Catherine Gallagher, Hilary Schor, Deborah Epstein, Susan Zlotnick, Jonathan H. Grossman, and Liam Corley, among others.
A Chronology of Gaskell's life and work and a Selected Bibliography are also included.