Cranford is, partly because of the 2007 TV series, one of Elizabeth Gaskell's most famous novels and was first published in Household Words between 1851 and 1853. It's set in the north of England (Cheshire) and portrays the small village of Cranford, which is largely dominated by women ("whatever does become of the gentlemen," it is observed, "they are not at Cranford").
There is no real traditional plot to this novel, it's more a series of sketches (by coincidence I'm currently reading Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee: Cranford is not unlike that in its structure), but what it portrays is mid-Victorian England in which the old traditions and ways of life is challenged by the Industrial Revolution that swept over Cheshire and the north of England during this period. The narrator of the story is Mary Smith who shares her observations though we know very little about her save that she once lived in Cranford, moved to the city of Drumble (no doubt Manchester; worth noting that 'drumble' means an unintelligent person), and then returned. She stays with an old, genteel spinster Miss Matty Jenkyns, and we watch a variety of events pass through the quiet town of Cranford: the arrival of Captain Brown, who causes uproar when he expresses his opinion that Dickens is superior to Dr. Johnson, the arrival of Thomas Holbrook who once proposed to Miss Matty, however her domineering sister Miss Deborah Jenkyns persuaded her to decline despite the fact that they would have made a good match, the story of the mother and father of the Jenkyns' sisters, and an earlier-than-decent visit from Miss Betty Barker. There's also robberies, engagements, the fall of the Town and County Bank, and even visitors from foreign lands.
It is a gentle book, not a favourite of mine, but I did like it. One of the most interesting aspects was Gaskell's portrait of a small group or society, their rules and customs, their relationships to individuals and to the group, and how the react when their way of life is tested. It's almost anthropological in that sense, and, a wonderful tool 19th Century writers loved to employ, we have an almost stranger, Mary, describing these events with her young and fresher eyes. It's a lovely novel, and a very intelligent one too.