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Merely Mary Ann   By: (1864-1926)

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Merely Mary Ann by Israel Zangwill is a captivating novel that takes readers on a journey through the life of its young protagonist, Mary Ann. Set in the impoverished streets of East London during the late 19th century, the book explores themes of love, social class, and the struggle for self-identity.

The strength of Zangwill's writing lies in his ability to create vivid and realistic characters. Mary Ann is a relatable and sympathetic protagonist, who grows from a naive and innocent girl into a complex young woman. As readers follow her journey, we witness her sense of curiosity and determination, making it easy to root for her throughout the narrative.

The author masterfully captures the societal divides of the time, depicting the stark contrast between the opulent world of the upper class and the squalor of the working class. Zangwill's meticulous attention to detail breathes life into the setting, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves in the gritty streets of East London.

Furthermore, the novel explores the complexities of love and relationships. Mary Ann's ill-fated love affair with Harry le Breton, a man from a higher social standing, adds depth to the story. Their forbidden romance raises questions about societal norms and the influence of class on personal relationships, providing a thought-provoking aspect to the narrative.

While the overall plot is engaging and well-paced, there are moments when the story meanders, becoming slightly convoluted with unnecessary subplots. However, Zangwill's lyrical prose and his ability to inject subtle humor into the narrative help to carry the reader through these occasional lulls.

Merely Mary Ann is a testament to Zangwill's skill as a writer, demonstrating his ability to craft a compelling tale that captures the essence of a bygone era. With its vivid characters and rich historical context, the novel offers an insightful exploration of social issues and the struggles faced by individuals striving for a better life. Overall, it is a thought-provoking and enjoyable read that leaves a lasting impression.

First Page:








First Impression, September, 1904

New Impressions, September, 1904 (twice).


The wrapper design is reproduced, by special permission, from a painting by Mr. Louis Loeb of Miss Eleanor Robson, the original "Mary Ann."



Sometimes Lancelot's bell rang up Mrs. Leadbatter herself, but far more often merely Mary Ann.

The first time Lancelot saw Mary Ann she was cleaning the steps. He avoided treading upon her, being kind to animals. For the moment she was merely a quadruped, whose head was never lifted to the stars. Her faded print dress showed like the quivering hide of some crouching animal. There were strange irregular splashes of pink in the hide, standing out in bright contrast with the neutral background. These were scraps of the original material neatly patched in.

The cold, damp steps gave Lancelot a shudder, for the air was raw. He passed by the prostrate figure as quickly as he could, and hastened to throw himself into the easy chair before the red fire.

There was a lamp post before the door, so he knew the house from its neighbours... Continue reading book >>

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