"The Manchester Man"
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 3rd June 2011"The Manchester Man" tells the story of Jabez Clegg, rising from humble origins (an orphan of unknown parents, pucked from the floodwaters of the river Irk just before the nineteenth century, and adopted by the poor but hardworking tanner who rescued him) to become through his own efforts a respected figure in Manchester society - a gentleman, no less! Along the way Jabez encounters various obstacles, including class prejudice and unrequited love, which he meets and overcomes through his strength of character and sense of honour.
The book was first published in 1876, and although a work of fiction it does take in many contemporary historical events - both major (for example the economic effects of the Napoleonic Wars on ordinary people, and the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819) and minor (an account of a baby being rescued from the flooding is fictionalised as Jabez's own story). Also several significant characters in the book - the Reverend Joshua Brookes, the confectioner Mrs Clowes, and school mistress "Madam" Broadbent - were all real Manchester figures of the day.
If the story perhaps feels formulaic and somewhat melodramatic to a modern reader, it is still an engaging read and generally manages to accommodate the historical detail within the telling. It's also interesting to think how attitudes to certain things have changed (for example, infant mortality) although some of that may be the style. Ultimately although not a book I would ever have thought of reading (in fact I think it's unlikely I'd ever have come across it, except as a book group recommendation), "The Manchester Man" turned out to an enjoyable and educational read.