Five books about Manchester everyone should read

It is sometimes hard to imagine, on a day like this, that dreary little Manchester could be the muse for any writer. But the truth is quite the opposite.

It is safe to say that Manchester has produced some of the most famous authors such as Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Gaskell and today, the poet Lemn Sissay. Since the Victorian era, Manchester has been the subject of many acclaimed novels and continues to be an inspiration to a plethora of writers, poets and artists alike.

Sure, she is no Verona, but this gritty city has her fair share of formative texts in her arsenal, which I’m sure will continue to grow,

Mary Barton- Elizabeth Gaskell
Published in 1848, this was the debut work by English writer Elizabeth Gaskell. The book is a stark look at the lives of the Victorian working class, and is subtitled ‘A Tale of Manchester Life’.  Gaskell was adamant on recording the lives of the people who were often forgotten, including their local traditions and dialect. Upon researching this book, Gaskell met and interviewed members of the manufacturing population that were so synonymous with Manchester’s industrial prowess, and often used their words directly in the book as the dialogue of characters.


The Condition of the Working Class in England-Friedrich Engles
The seminal text by German philosopher and co-parent of Marxism, Friedrich Engels was published in English in 1885. As the title suggests, it is a study of the working class situation in the North of England where Engles spent two years between 1842-1844. Engels was in Manchester at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and in this text, he studied living and working conditions as well as mortality rates from infectious diseases. This book shone a light on the dire situations some Mancunians were living in at the time and paved the way for the social reform that would follow.

This is the Place, Choose Love- Tony Walsh and Friends
After the horrific attack at Manchester Arena earlier this year, we were all moved at the vigil by Tony Wilson and his now famous poem ‘This is the Place.’ In response, over 60 Manchester artists, illustrators and photographers have collaborated to make this book, taking a single line from Walsh’s poem and using it as inspiration for visual art. This one of a kind book is a stunning response to our sense of community, with proceeds from the book going to charitable causes in the wake of the attack.


The Manchester Man – Isabella Banks
Another text written by a female in the 19th Century, this tells the tale of an orphaned boy, Jabez Clegg and his rise to prosperity. The novel is set against the backdrop of the historic Manchester and mentions real places and events, for example, Chetham’s School for Boys and the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. The book was published under the pseudonym Mrs G Linneas Banks, and she grew up above her father’s shop on Oldham Street which is now the bohemian Northern Quarter. A born and bread Manchester lass who wrote about the city’s simultaneous ability to be both industrious and artistic, something she maintains today.

A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney
Delaney made it on to my list a few weeks back of Manchester’s most influential women, and for a good reason. Her gritty play A Taste of Honey was written at the age of 18 and is a study of life in Salford in the 1950’s. Originally a novel, it was eventually made into a play which brought Delany success and fame for her bleak study of life in Manchester from a woman’s point of view. It questioned gender, race, sexuality and went on to revolutionise mid-century theatre by creating the new genre ‘Kitchen Sink’ drama.

 

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