Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

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.











Comments

  1. It's nice to read a slightly more positive review of this book. Most people don't seem to enjoy it as much as Gaskell's other novels. It still sounds like it's not as good but you weren't as negative as most reviews I've read. This encourages me to pick it up sometime in the future. I have a copy so I really have no excuse.

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    1. No, it's not as good as her other works (Wives and Daughters as well as North and South are my favourites), but it is decent and pleasant to read :)

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  2. this is the only Gaskell book i've read and i liked it: gentle and perceptive... Cider with Rosie is a trilogy, as you undoubtedly know; all 3 books are good; i liked the last one the best, which details his experiences walking through Spain... Marvelous pictures; i thought a "calash' was a sort of carriage?

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    1. I always thought a calash was a type of dress! I'll look it up....

      Calash or caleche -

      1.
      a light low-wheeled carriage with a removable folding hood.
      2.
      CANADIAN
      a two-wheeled one-horse vehicle with a seat for the driver on the splashboard.
      3.
      a woman's hooped silk hood.

      You were more right than I was, but yes, it is also a hood (not a dress as I thought) :)

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  3. This is one my most favorite Gaskell, though I agree with you, her other works are better examples of her mastery over her craft! Maybe I read it at the right moment, but the gentle tone of the novel and like you said, the almost anthropological approach to a small town and its folks make it my constant go to! Glad you liked. I must get Cider with Rosie!

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    1. It's funny, the more I think about it the more I like Cranford! Not her best as you say, not the best example of her work, but it is a fine novel :)

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