This study of Gaskell's Mary Barton (1848) examines the emergence of a powerful space in the early decades of the nineteenth century — a space which forms the nightmarish underside of the bourgeois home, the industrial slum, and with it a new way of social organisation. Gaskell negotiates with the intimate life of the emergent proletariat through the lens of her bourgeois ideology1, and she therefore replicates many of the epistemological assumptions of the bourgeois domestic novel in Mary Barton. What Engels calls the "social and political omnipotence of the bourgeoisie" (Engels 217) undeniably permeates the novel int he way the seemingly heterotopic space of the Industrial town — the separation of rich aqnd poor, of middle class and workers — reaffirms domestic ideology; thus my title "taming heterotopia." This essay, which examines how one of the earliest Industrial novels conceptualizes space and time, in order to demonstarte that social spaces, rather than the gradual development of characters, energise Gaskell's compositional method. This emphasis on space reveals the nexus between industrialism, feminine sexuality and prostitution in Mary Barton, thereby highlighting the prevalence of the domestic aesthetic in a work that negotiates a reality vastly different from that of the bourgeois domestic novel. This disjunction of form and the content leads to the central tension in the novel, which, I argue, stays with the reader despite the sentimental resoluton of antagonisms at the end.
Mary Barton vividly illustrates the living conditions of the English working class, the urban poor in the 1840s. Gaskell locates her "Tale of Manchester Life" against the background of enormous social and economic change including a battle against Corn Laws, changes to the Poor Law, Chartism, factory reform and electoral reforms. Gaskell's photographic gaze travels from Manchester to London and Liverpool and her narrative abounds in descriptions of the urban mob, the by-lanes "public houses, pawnbrokers shops, rag and bone warehouses . . . a gin palace" (Gaskell 45-6) to record the effects of Industrial Capitalism. These are not random impressions but details which will form an assemblage central to the plot. Gaskell's traveling eye records details so as to bring the fragmented cityscape into the realm of representation via a linear narrative. Interestingly however, the author chooses to focus on the sanctified space of the home, not the factories from the very beginning. The spatial construction of multifarious working-class and bourgeois homes allows the urban enters the realm of representation.
The description of the Davenport home in an Industrial slum for instance seeks to highlight the debilitating effects of the rapid reordering of physical space under Capitalism. The description of the cellar is bathed in phantasmagoric images to convey the cold, stench and danger
very dark . . . window panes . . . broken and stuffed with rags . . . the smell was so fetid as almost to knock the two men down . . . the damp, nay wet brick floor through which the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up; the fireplace was empty. (Gaskell 55).
The annihilation of space recorded by Gaskell's observing ethnographic eye underlines the employers' unfettered quest for profits and unprecedented horrors of poverty. This picture of unrelieved poverty which extends into every realm of life: cultural, intellectual and moral mirrors Engels' unflinching, insistent emphasis on waste in Conditions "The streets are generally unpaved, rough, dirty, filled with vegetable and animal refuse, without sewers or gutters" (Engels 26). Engels' archaeology of space seeks to highlight Working Class oppression hidden in the topos of Industrial Manchester, forcing predominantly middle class readers to take cognizance of the residuum of the city-scape, that part of the city they avoid or never see. The chapter titled "The Great Towns" opens with an description of the "knotted chaos of houses" (Engels 51), hordes of people crowded together into the meanest and foulest slums, clothed in rags, exposed to the damp and cold and their bodies sickly, stunted and deformed. The conceptualization is of a class so different so as to constitute an altogether different race. The extreme poverty of the slum is juxtaposed against the luxury of the Carson household. A vivid description of the "luxurious library . . . the well spread breakfast table . . . the splendor of the (Carson) apartment" (Gaskell 63-4) follows the emphasis on the "crowded dwellings . . . the dim gloomy cellar" (Gaskell 54-7). Gaskell converts discrete visual facts into the dynamic language of totality that orients readers towards a hermeneutic of synthesis. Here she uses the spatial contrast to foreground a sense of communality amongst the poverty-stricken while their employers remain ignorant of their names, as of their predicament2.
Engels, who charts a nexus between this culture of filth, poverty, drunkenness and sexual licentiousness, thereby replicates the rhetoric of bourgeois reformers, critics and investigators, including Peter Gaskell and Chadwick. However whereas the they emphasize these terrible conditions for the purpose of reform, Engels ostensibly contrapuntal voice introduces the idea of revolution, which according to him holds the promise of redemption. According to him, the aggravating problems only hasten change. To use Getrude Himmelfarb's formulation "the disease contained within itself its own antidote" (Himmelfarb 278). This points out a new ideology in the early decades of the nineteenth century ensured that the rhetoric of poverty gave way to the rhetoric of property and political economy. This "proletarianisation of the poor" (Himmelfarb 285): propertylessness and an increasingly political consciousness are well charted by Gaskell. Mary Barton depicts how propertylessness both "pauperised . . . and revolutionized" the proletariat (Himmelfarb 284). As Aruna Krishnamurthy aptly points out the Industrial city then provides a dialectical space of a heterotopia where exploitation and its other, the exploited, confront each other.
Engels celebrates this loss of holistic vision as the harbinger of change — "The great cities are the birthplace of labour movements" — Gaskell also chronicles the rise of political consciousness, incipient unionization amongst the proletariat and John Barton's involvement in the Chartist Movement "We are their slaves as long as we can work, we pile up their fortunes with the sweat of our brows, and yet we are to live as separate as if we were in two worlds; ay, as separate as Dives and Lazarus, with a great gulf betwixt us" (Gaskell 9) but her frequent use of songs and Biblical analogies tends to sentimentalise the portrait of the poor. When Gaskell wants to explain John Barton's reasons for becoming a Chartist she does so by citing a poem: "What thoughtful heart can look into this gulf/ that darkly yawns "twixt the rich and poor'. Songs such as The "Oldham Weaver" and the "Manchester Song" lend authenticity to the narrative but also detract from the realism, enhancing the pathos and making it difficult not to sympathize with the poor. Furthermore John's comparison of the rich and the poor to Dives and Lazarus bespeaks of a moral outrage which has religious outrage and paradoxically foregrounds the timeless dimension of a conflict well grounded in what E.P. Thompson calls "industrial time'.
Moreover the author entertains the possibility of violence aimed at subversion, even half sympathises with it only to "take refuge at critical moments in the representation of a female innocence, exchanging a politically dangerous man for a sexually unaggressive young woman and a narrative that threatens drastic change for one that proves to be reassuringly static" (Yeazell 127). The brutal act of assassination itself can be seen as an inability to confront issues of class antagonism. But once Harry Carson is assassinated and Mary realizes her father is to blame, the focus of the text shifts to Mary's vindication of Jem without a public revelation of the fact that it is her own father who should be tried instead. Instead all her energies go into suppressing public knowledge of her father's crime.
This sudden change in Mary highlights the age-old idea of duty intrinsic to the idea of femininity in the bourgeois domestic novel. Moreover the moment of revelation unmasks the way in which time functions in Mary Barton. Gaskell starts by chronicling everyday time at a realistic pace but increasingly time, in this particular novel, is organised around a series of crisis, in the Bakhtinian sense of the term. Ordinary time loses its value "Another year passed on" (Gaskell 28) while moments of revelation, resolution, sudden changes of heart (as opposed to a gradual development of inner subjectivity) and drama are foreground over all else.
This crisis — Mary's discovery of the Jem's valentine note and with it her father's guilt — serves as a pivotal point in Mary Barton. The moment which activates within Mary this sense of filial duty, shifts the narrative focus to the virtuous dutiful feminine protagonist, and John Barton disappears, only to re-appear at the end as a "poor, wasted skeleton of a man" (Gaskell 350). The final scene of Carson embracing a dying Barton envisages a paternalistic end to the class struggle. The reconciliatory gesture at the end seems contrived for Barton confronts Mr. Carson not as an oppressor or antagonist, but a poor, desolate man while Mr. Carson, on the other hand, begins to understand the workers' perspective. She makes a case for working men to be treated "as brethren and friends" by their employers. Once again Gaskell's narrative does not rely on the gradual growth of inner subjectivity-the change in Mr. Carson, his humanisation is immediate interestingly after a "feverish night of Gospel reading' (Himmelfarb 510). Gaskell, like Engels, seems to exalt temperance and self-control as virtues for the proletariat which in turn indicates the limits of the bourgeois powers of perception. The novel of social protest then metamorphoses into an appeal for reform at the personal level consonant with Gaskell's Unitarian beliefs and the spirit of Christian sympathy3 for "rich and poor, masters and men were . . . brothers in the deep suffering of the heart"(Gaskell 345). A change of heart, the reader is led to believe will change the relations between capital and labour.
Mary Barton attempts to represent the class-conflict "I wish to impress what the workman feels and thinks" (Gaskell 21) but through the constant juxtaposition of politics and courtship and the prioritization of the latter, the novel seeks to practice containment. What's more, the development of the Mary's subjectivity essentially traces the trajectory towards the realization of a virtuous self owing to the purgation of all sexually deviant impulses. Both the agent of social metamorphosis i.e. John Barton and the sexual deviance i.e. Esther have to die in order for Mary to emerge as the individualist heroine of English fiction. This dual act of containment of politically and sexually deviant impulses and the naturalization of the virtuous heroine as the normative ensures that the novel embodies the bourgeois norm of domesticity.
The figure of the prostitute is important for it functions as the middle ground between the erotic and economic in Mary Barton. The woman's body becomes the site of articulation of certain anxieties related to the industrial city. As Foucault points out in The History of Sexuality modern societies are marked by a decreasing interest in hetersosexual monogamy. Instead "what came under scrutiny was the sexuality of children, madmen, women and criminals" (Foucault 1981: 38). Gaskell, much like Engels, and later Acton equates the malady of prostitution with "disease and crime" (Acton 1). The figure of the prostitute gains prominence as the "other' of the orderly household. Mary Barton displaces political conflict onto sexual conflict like much domestic fiction of the day.
The emphasis on filth for instance, gains resonance when it is projected onto the female body "the woman who stood besides him was of no doubtful profession. It was told by her faded finery . . . the gauze bonnet, once pink, now dirty white, the muslin gown, all draggled and soaked up to the very knees"(Gaskell 116). Mayhew carries this connotation of filth further when he describes the prostitute as "a shameless hag . . . a lewd spirit of darkness from the nether world" (Mayhew 43). In Powers of Horror Kristeva points out that filth is not a quality in itself, but rather is that which has been "jettisoned" beyond certain boundaries or margins; and, as she notes, fiction invariably figures into such an inquiry. Commenting on the "unmistakable links between excreta, decay and sexuality" (Bataille 58) she writes, "It does not unfold without a share of fiction, the nucleus of which, drawn from actuality and the subjective experience of the one who writes, is projected upon data from the life of other cultures"(Kristeva 68). Much in the same vein Gaskell locates the figure of the prostitute in the socio-cultural mileu but sentimentalizes the prostitute in the vein of a number of novels such as Dickens' Oliver Twist4. Judith Walkowitz insists that prostitution meant independence from family control, a greater social, economic and cultural freedom "the picture that emerges (from a historical study) contrasts with the image of the voiceless victim that dominated the literature on prostitution" (Walkowitz 1973:100). Gaskell's complicity with this stereotype is evident in the recurrence of the epithet "poor to refer to Esther "poor thing" (Gaskell 116), "poor Esther" (Gaskell 225), "the poor crushed butterfly, the once innocent Esther" (Gakell 370).
Walkowitz also suggests that "the most distressing causes of prostitution are those which arise from poverty — want of employment and insufficient remuneration for needle and other kinds of work in which females are employed" (Walkowitz 1980:37). However Gaskell uses John Barton as a spokesperson to root prostitution in the love of dress and aspirations of upward mobility, not unemployment. His story makes Esther the part of a larger social tragedy: factory work leads to Esther's downfall by making her independent and giving her the means to buy finery. The ubiquitous understanding seems to be that of fallen women as social casualties of cataclysmic spatial developments, particularly the lack of sex-based segregation in factories.
Interestingly it is John Barton, the working class radical, who repeatedly espouses the language of patriarchal protection. His objections to women working in factories "My Mary shall never work in a factory"(Gaskell 7), Jane Wilson's anecdotes about factory girls' ignorance of domestic chores "Wife o' his'n will never work away fra' home" (Gaskell 113) echo Engels' insistence on the disruptive effects of mechanization and his prioritization of domestic pursuits over all else. He laments the factory system by locating the problem in the lack of segregation which destroys all notions of sexual decency and domestic chastity "The wife supports the family, the husband sits at home, tends the children, sweeps the room and cooks. This case happens very frequently in Manchester alone, many hundred such men could be cited, condemned to domestic occupations . . . the world is turned upside down" (Engels 144-5, emphasis mine). As Nancy Armstrong aptly points out "Geographies of domestic disorder were also maps of moral disorder" (Armstrong 654). A disorderly house becomes symptomatic of a disorderly society. This represents the ways in which assumptions of gender interacted with Industrial Capitalism and underlines a range of contemporary views on the erosion of masculine power with the advent of the capitalist system5. The causal connection between sexual repression and an insistence on sexual fidelity, central to the bourgeois novel only become more pertinent with newer (more menacing) ways to spatial organization.
Victorian ideas about separate spheres of influence exemplified in "the Angel of the House," were deep-rooted and intensified abhorrence of what was seen as completely deviant behaviour. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman' became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics6. In early novels such as Mary Barton and Oliver Twist the prostitute is represented, to use Foucault's term as a juridical enemy, she is linked to other criminals and therefore easily identified with and confined by the police7. Michel Foucault reminds us that this modern spatialisation was predicated upon a "double silence' (Foucault 1994: 108) and Gaskell participates in this silencing which prevents the manifestation of resistance.
The obvious purpose of Esther's presence in the novel is to represent Mary's state if she were to give in to her upper-class seducer. Defining her discourse as innocent and free of political bias — "I know nothing of political economy or theories of tradition" — Gaskell gives material form to middle-class ideology. Gaskell's discourse of sexual repression reveals the "fundamental link between power, knowledge and sexuality' (HOS 5). Mary Barton ultimately falls back on strategies of social control, what Foucault terms "discipline'. Esther is the "other" needed to affirm the self of the individualist heroine of English fiction. The expressive economy of the novel relies on schematic spatial juxtapositions to contrast Mary and Esther. Esther appears located within the topos of the "busy, desolate, crowded street" while Mary is the lucky inhabitant of "the home of her (Esther's) early innocence." The working-class home becomes the object of Esther's envy: — the "old dwelling place, whose very wall and flags, dingy and sordid as they were, had a charm for her", for it becomes representative of "that happy class to which she could never anymore belong". For Mary, on the other hand it is this dwelling that functions as a moral shelter which aids the development of her consciousness and ensures she is capable of becoming the "wife of a working man" (Gaskell 292).
Walkowitz argues that for mid-victorians prostitution constituted a disorder that threatened to infect healthy neighbourhoods (Walkowitz 1980: 41). Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor (1851) constantly harps on the figure of the prostitute as a polluter of men who threatens to contaminate respectable society both physically and morally. Interestingly Gaskell's Esther echoes this view of prostitution as a contagious malady " . . . her aunt pushed her off with a frantic kind of gesture, and saying the words, "Not me. You must never kiss me" (Gaskell 228). Esther's death8 of consumption underlines her delineation as a symbol of pollution, representative of a degenerate social milieu. These images of pollution convey a sense of horror at the disruption of social and natural order. Moreover the nexus between defiled female sexuality and venereal disease anticipates the mid-nineteenth-century debate about sanitation and social reform. Esther's death only furthers this didactic approach to prostitution and functions as a literary stratagem to contain moral and sexual disorder.
Esther's apprehension about Mary, that "it would be better for her to die than to live to lead such a life as I do" (Gaskell 153) and the continual emphasis on female purity, constiuttes one of part of a system in which the homemaking roles of women create a space free from the pollution and corruption of the city and reiterates the ideal of what Mary Poovey calls the "Proper Lady'. Esther's apprehension about Mary "How can I keep her from being such a one as I am, such a wretched loathsome creature . . . how shall I save her" (Gaskell) is resolved with Jem's proposal and Mary's discovery of her love for him. The rhetoric of "love' thus reaffirms the heroine's faithfulness and serves as a "bulwark against passion and revolution both" (Yeazell 136).
Significantly, the heroine's metamorphosis into the duty-bound feminine self takes place entirely in public spaces. Mary's has to brave "the noise of the people, and the bells, and horns; the whiz and the scream of arriving trains" (Gaskell 266) in order to travel to Liverpool searching for an alibi. The urban spaces traversed by the heroine are clearly a far cry from the comfortable confines of the omniscient Victorian parlour. Moreover while the interval of narrative time between Mary's refusal and her subsequent realization is otherwise starkly reminiscent of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Mary confesses her love in the public space. As Mary Poovey points out, the courtroom instead of the private domestic space becomes the metonymn of the inner psychological space of the protagonist. Mary confesses her love for Jem within the confines of the courtroom, a public place — this despite Margaret's assertion "men are so queer, they like to have all the courting to themselves" (Gaskell 134). On the other hand the quasi-public confession of the assassination takes place within the confines of the working class home. Social meanings, once again, are discursively constituted by the spatial location. The disruption of the binary between the public and the private mitigates the bourgeois validation of privacy. Gaskell's narrative becomes the fullest embodiment of the increasing fluidity between the public and the private that characterized post-revolutionary England. Gaskell clearly derives the model of the Angel-in-the-house from the aesthetic of the bourgeois novel but transposes it onto a newer reality to foreground the ideal of an Angel-out-of-the-house: located in the public realm but bound to the concept of duty and sexual fidelity still "Her patience, her grief and perhaps her silence, had began to win upon the men" (Gaskell 277). Instead of showing a fallen woman redeemed within a domestic sphere Gaskell reveals domestic ideals, emerging from the private sphere to become active in the public realm9.
However it is the spatial dynamics of Mary's and Jem's dwelling in Canada which becomes an ideological lynchpin for buttressing bourgeois values revolving around conjugality and motherhood while providing a point of reference for assessing the limits of Gaskell's text. The moralised trajectory of representation is evident in the shift from the street, where to Mary meets Harry to the enclosed space of the home and the purgation of Mary's earlier coquetry and signs of sexuality for procreation within a domestic economy. The locale is suggestive of Foucauldian Utopia10: "a long low wooden house, with room enough to spare . . . There is a garden around the dwelling and far beyond that stretches an orchard" (Gaskell 371). An early description of Mrs. Barton's tea-party anticipates this process of embourgeoisment:
In the corner between the window and the fireplace was a cupboard, apparently full of plates and dishes, cups and saucers, and some non-descript articles, for which one would have fancied their possessors could find no use-such as triangular pieces of glass to save carving knives and forks from dirtying the table cloth. [Gaskell 12]
Yet as the narrator goes on to inform the reader "Mrs. Barton was proud of her crockery and glass" (Gaskell 12). Mary's and Jem's emigration to Canada underlines the way the novelist seeks to solve social conflicts by taking recourse to the domestic realm. In Mary Barton then the spatial construction of the working class home functions essentially as a system of signs and points to the fact that Gaskell's novel remains an incomplete gesture circumscribed by the spatial architectonics of bourgeois ideology. What this paper then argues for is a narrative that includes dual chronotopes: one that is grounded in the oppression perpetrated by the upper classes on the proletariat and the other of the lived space of the narrator: the bourgeois residence and its spatial architectonics that have a necessary effect on the narration.
Gaskell's spatial imagination then comes to epitomize Gramscian "contradictory consciousness'11. New epistemological articulations contend with pre-existing codes. Her fluctuation between received structures of thought ("uncritically absorbed" and interiorised) and the natural desire to transform the world as a member of a larger community gets dramatised as a conflict to portray the working class consciousness and at the same time quell disorder by valorizing the domestic in Mary Barton. The splits ubjectivity of the author12 has been traced to her subject postion as the wife of a Unitarian Minister and the liminal position occupied by a woman-writer and the anxious creation of the public identity. The fragmented city-scape is brought into the realm of representation but the occulted world of the moral, sexual and cultural deviants cannot be visualized even when the examining gaze is, as it would appear to be here, direct. The ruptured ideological affiliations of Mary Barton and its tentative articulation of the urban aesthetic make it a work symptomatic of the period of transition from the novel of domesticity to the Dickensian novels which map out the urban consciousness.
In his book Marxism and the City, Ira Katznelson views Engels's early text on the industrial city of Manchester as the bearer of a double message: "Writing at the precise branching moment of the emergence of the modern industrial city, [Engels] connected the development of this new urban form to the epochal changes of the industrial revolution; he showed how changes in organization of city space affected social relationships within and between classes; and he tied this social geography to the suffering and coming tom consciousness of the new proletariat" (Katznelson 144).In such a reading of the city the focus shifts from an empirical, extra-discursive reading of space, in this case Industrial Manchester, to a psycho-social reading of the same13. Gaskell too seeks to capture the psycho-social effects of Industrialisation through "an integration of a variety of spatial experience within the heteroglossic space of fiction14" (Krishnamurthy 429).
Nevertheless Gaskell's narrative does not participate in the effacement of history. On the contrary, Mary Barton is one of the first novels to visualise emergent social knowledge and chronicle the labyrinthine underside of the industrial city15 as it crosses the topographical threshold from the hegemonic world to the subaltern for personal restitution and the benefit of the larger body politic. The realist novel of 1848 clearly negotiates with a "complex interlock" (Williams 151) of the dominant and residual culture on the one hand and specific and still forming modes of emergence on the other. Foucault, while explaining his concept of a "specific intellectual," insists that the specificity of intellectuals comes from their situation "at the precise points where their own conditions of life or work situate them" but is also linked to "the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies" (Foucault 1980: 126-132). Gaskell, like the Foucauldian specific intellectual, might fail to change people's consciousness, but works like Mary Barton do facilitate the processes of confrontation that engage with and potentially devalorize regimes of truth-production. In other words, she helped Victorian readers confront the situation of the working classes and also went some way towards calling into question orthdox opinion, values, and political power.
Last modified 15 November 2008