The Scandalous Sacrifice of Mr. Harry Carson

“So I naturally wished her to know what a sacrifice of prejudice, of – of myself, in short, I was willing to make for her sake; yet I don’t think she was aware of it after all. I believe I might have any lady in Manchester if I liked, and yet I was willing and ready to marry a poor dressmaker. Don’t you understand me now? And don’t you see what a sacrifice I was making to humour her?” (138).

In this dialogue passage, Mr. Carson is talking to Sally about his relationship with Mary Barton after she rejects him. The repetitions of “willing” and “sacrifice” not only stress the “hardship” he has gone through for Mary, but also make his courtship a favour for her rather than a part of a mutual relationship. Moreover, the phrases “sacrifice of prejudice” and “poor dressmaker” indicate that he is well aware of the differences in class and status between him and Mary, making it more seem like Mary owes him for liking and wanting to marry her. His awareness of his status is also shown when he says he could marry anyone in Manchester if he wants to, further establishing his ego and pride in his wealth. Additionally, the repetitions of “I” with active verbs and adjectives indicate his belief that it is him that put all the work and face all the “hardship” for the relationship. Thus, what I am really trying to say here is that I think these lines show Mr. Carson has great pride in his status, leading to him feeling entitled to Mary, who is poorer than him, and her affection.

Comparing Mr. Carson and Jem Wilson, we can see the differences in their reactions to Mary’s rejections. As the novel points out, while Jem accepts the rejection as final, Mr. Carson simply views it as Mary having a “caprice” (139-140). The novel attributes Jem’s acceptance as his genuine love and respect for Mary. However, I believe that wealth is also a factor in this acceptance. As I analyze earlier, Mr. Carson’s wealth makes him think that he is doing Mary a favour by loving her, thus, her rejection is something unthinkable. Meanwhile, Jem is in the same social class as Mary. He has no promise of wealth or stable life to offer her like Mr. Carson does. He also has his widow mother to take care of. Why would a beautiful lady like Mary agree to marry someone like him when she could do much better? Hence, in his mind, and possibly some other working-class men as well, rejection from a pretty lady, even when she is in the same class as them, is a final. This connection is shown more clearly when Mary talks to Will Wilson about Margaret. He states that since she is more well off than he is (as she is a singer), he wants to be second mate on a ship to have something to offer her when he asks for marriage (193).

Therefore, in the larger context of this novel and Victorian society (as well as our society overall), Mr. Carson’s dialogue shows how wealth influences decisions, perceptions, and marriage.

2 thoughts on “The Scandalous Sacrifice of Mr. Harry Carson”

  1. Hi Herlock Shomles! I enjoyed reading your analysis of Harry Carson’s contempt for the lower class. I think this ties in nicely to the discussion we had last class about the prejudice many members of the upper class felt against the working class, as well as the fact that Gaskell wrote this novel as a way to reach the upper classes and educate them about the problems of the lower classes. Not only does Harry have a lot of pride in his status, as you point out, but he has been conditioned from a young age to feel this way. This is likely the experience of many of Gaskell’s readers, so Harry’s character might serve as a mirror to their own prejudices.

    I also liked your point that while Jem views Mary’s rejection as final, Harry feels entitled to Mary. I wonder if this is caused by the difference in their classes, or if it is simply exacerbated by the class difference. This is still a problem today, with many people, especially cisgender straight men, not acknowledging that women have a choice in whom they want to have a relationship with, and that they have the right to give or not give consent in these relationships.

  2. I liked your analysis of the two lovers of Mary and how they handle their rejection. I agree with your analysis of Harry Carson’s behavior towards Mary. He exemplifies throughout the novel his feelings of entitlement to Mary’s heart because of what he has to offer her. This entitlement plays into his sharpness when rejected by her because he feels there is no reason to reject him because he is capable of providing everything she could want. In contrast, Jem is poor, and cannot offer her everything she wants. However, he is capable of providing emotional support and love. In Chapter 11, on pages 129 and 130, Jem corners Mary and begs for her love. He explains while they may never be rich, he can provide her with a strong shoulder and pure, unconditional love. Despite this, Mary refuses his offer. Aside from the fact that Mary actually did love Jem, Jem does not take her rejection well either. He avoids her until the end of his trial and aggressively confronts her new lover. It seems as though Jem may also feel entitled to Mary’s love as much as Harry.

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