Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
John Barton, his pregnant wife, Mary, and their thirteen-year-old daughter, “little” Mary, are on a spring outing with their friends George and Jane Wilson and the Wilsons’ twin babies and son Jem. Mary is extremely worried because her sister Esther has disappeared, probably with a lover. When the group returns to the Barton home for tea, George’s sister Alice joins them. Later that night, Mary goes into labor; there are complications, and the doctor is unable to save her life. John blames Esther for his wife’s death.
The next year, young Mary becomes an apprentice to a dressmaker. Through Alice Wilson, she meets Margaret Jennings, a poor girl blessed with a beautiful voice, and Margaret’s self-educated grandfather, Job Legh. Margaret tells Mary that she is going blind. Since she will no longer be able to do needlework, her only hope is to earn a living by singing.
When the mill catches fire, Jem Wilson saves both his father and another mill worker from the flames, becoming a hero. The owners of the mill, including Mr. Carson, think the fire was a godsend, for with the insurance money they will be able to replace outdated equipment. Their former employees, however, out of work because the mill is not operating, face starvation. When an epidemic rages among the weakened workers, the Wilson twins, always delicate, become ill and die.
Although Mary has strong feelings for Jem, she is surreptitiously seeing Harry Carson,...
(The entire section is 800 words.)
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