My knowledge of such a famous author, can once again be attributed to film. I first encountered Miss Elizabeth Gaskell's work through watching North and South, a Masterpiece Theater release. The ingenious of the fantastic story in joint with the illumination of the relationship between the north and south of England, particularly in the eighteenth century, keeps me going back to watch it again and again. Ok, so Richard Armitage is also a big draw.
The point is, this film lead me to want to read another of her works. My choice was Mary Barton. Although I had never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell before, it seemed that the title Mary Barton rang at least a few bells. This book is a great piece of Victorian Literature. The base storyline is a love triangle that ends in murder. Within that story lies so much more about the political and socio-economic climate of the north of England at this time. Her writing engages the reader to think more deeply about Unions and what they really stand for. Socialism is presented in a way that many would never put such a name to it. The publication is contemporary with Karl Marx, and affiliation is too negative and referential to the Soviet Union and China. This book does not just focus on a one side's view of the economic contingency. In the end, you see the opposing view of the rich man's perception of the poor man who murdered his son to prove his point about the lower lot in life.
I believe that this book should make perfect source for any Western civilization class in order to highlight the Victorian Period. More subtle than Dickens, more real than Austen, and more politically revealing than Hardy, it makes a great addition to any academic library.