Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell

CranfordFrom Goodreads.com: In this witty and poignant comedy of early-Victorian life in a country town, Elizabeth Gaskell describes the uneventful lives of the lady-like inhabitants so as to offer an ironic commentary on the diverse experiences of men and women. This edition has detailed notes and a new introduction which discusses the originality and subtlety of the book’s angle on women’s experience. Also included in this edition is the sequel to Cranford, The Cage at Cranford, and a unique appendix of related writing.

Published: 1851

Why I Chose It: I’m on a mission to read more classics! I was intrigued by the numerous reviews that suggested this book was similar to Jane Austen’s works.

The Review:

I found this read interesting, though not much is similar to Jane Austen. The story follows the women of Cranford, a relaxed society mostly populated by aged women, whether unmarried or widowed. Their interactions are punctuated by concerns of etiquette, appearance, and pure gossip.

I think there are some really interesting topics tackled in Cranford, particularly around wealth and the appearance of wealth. These ladies are meticulous in how they appear and act to one another for fear of revealing how little money they each posses. The level of anxiety that propriety and etiquette gives them is high, leading to hurried conversations trying to determine the appropriate response to situations. I was fascinated with the inner workings of these women’s minds, how they would reach out to trusted friends for help while trying to remain proper in the eyes of others.

Another aspect of the novel I found interesting was the narration style. The story was narrated by Mary Smith, yet she shares very little about herself; rather, she discusses the ladies of Cranford. It’s a different style than I’m used to with so little introspection and only observance of others. In addition Mary is so conscious of her audience, assuring us repeatedly that she is not trying to misrepresent or construe our opinion of these women, only present the events as they occurred. It was a style I actually enjoyed and would be interested in reading similarly styled stories.

Cranford was surprisingly upbeat, calling to attention all the little quirks these ladies had. It constantly made me laugh at the little details in every scene. While at first the stories of these women seemed random and wandering, I was pleased to see they draw together at the end, creating an encompassing picture of this country town. I am very happy with this introduction to Gaskell and am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Rating: 4 / 5

Quotations:

“The Cranfordians had that kindly esprit de corps which made them overlook all deficiencies in success when some among them tried to conceal their poverty. When Mrs. Forrester, for instance, gave a party in her baby-house of a dwelling, and the little maiden disturbed the ladies on the sofa by a request that she might get the tea-tray out from underneath, every one took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing in the world.” p 3

“Mrs. Forrester […] acknowledged that she always confused carnivorous and graminivorous together, just as she did horizontal and perpendicular; but then she apologised for it very prettily, by saying that in her day the only use people made of four-syllabled words was to teach how they should be spelt.” p 112

“None of the ladies in Cranford chose to sanction the marriage by congratulating either of the parties. […] We felt it would be better to consider the engagement in the same light as the Queen of Spain’s legs — facts which certainly existed, but the less said about the better.” p 117

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