I have never understood why Elizabeth Gaskell is not better known. She was a contemporary of Dickens and a much better writer. Both HARD TIMES by Dickens and MARY BARTON by Gaskell deal with the terrible plight of the working poor during the 1840s and 1850s. Gaskell's characters are realistically drawn as opposed to Dicken's exaggerated comical characters. Mrs. Gaskell shows how factory workers lived in terribly squalid conditions and the affect this had on Mary Barton's father. There is a murder which leads to a thrilling trial. The suspense was skillfully done, leaving me unwilling to put the book down. This novel should lead to an interest in the social and economic realities of England in the mid-1800s. An even cursory investigation will reveal that Mrs. Gaskell did not exaggerate the conditions or the squalor of that time. There are many deaths in the book, but that was the reality for the factory worker and his family.