Just a brief blog entry to note that I'm about five or six chapters into Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. We've already seen death, destruction by fire, and the misery of disease in those first chapters, but the distance maintained by Gaskell in her narrative as well as the inner strength of her characters keeps it manageable. I've encountered one lengthy intrusion of Gaskell's social philosophy (as Didi notes, this is a social justice novel), but I seem to mind it less given her general sympathy towards those on both sides of the class gap. The misery of Dorian Gray and the bitterness of his creator left something of an after-taste, so I wasn't sure I was eager to encounter the grim realities of Victorian England again.
What I'm really saying is that based on the most shallow comparison of two utterly disparate pieces of fiction, Mrs. Gaskell seems to me to be a much nicer person than Oscar Wilde. (The poor man's been dead for more than a hundred years, and yet sadly, middle-class conformists, such as myself, are still abusing him and his work. Artists suffer, you know?)