Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre: Classics / Fiction
Date: 2011 (1853)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Started: 17th January 2019
Completed: 18th January 2019
Summary: A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid-nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810 – 1865) is best known for writing novels that critiqued Victorian society and the English class system. I have previously read Mary Barton and North and South.
I bought an Oxford University Press edition because Gaskell often uses regional dialects in her work and I find the OUP notes more useful/accurate than some other editions. It’s just a personal preference.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’m a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s work so I was looking forward to reading Cranford and I was pleasantly surprised by how short it is!
There isn’t really a plot to this novel which is an odd thing to say but it’s true. Instead, it’s more of a series of events and satirical moments. Cranford is Gaskell’s ode to her childhood home town of Knutsford and it’s gloriously sentimental. It’s an affectionate representation of people and customs that were already fading from society. I love the structureless approach to this novel because it’s very different from what you’d expect but it’s done with such ease and there’s a genuine flow between sketches. I found it very refreshing to read a novel like this.
I did like some particular characters and lines in the book. One of the two main characters, Miss Matty Jenkyns, is a very kind spinster and I really liked her. This passage about her is one of my favourites in Cranford: ‘Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet like a jockey-cap, and altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men. Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior.’ She’s a delight. I also loved Martha who has a wonderful relationship with her mistress, and later tenant, Miss Matty. Martha is in love with a man called Jem and, according to Martha, one of his defining features is that he is ‘six foot one in his stocking-feet’. I genuinely laughed when I read that line because it was so unexpected.
Overall, this is a very sentimental little novel with no real plot but a series of connected chapters. I’d recommend it as it is a quick read and, since there isn’t a real plot, it’s very easy to read!
Read for The Classics Club.