Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell

This is not really an actual story and more a series of vignettes that detail life in a small North England village in the mid-nineteenth century. All the gentry in Cranford are female, elderly, and not nearly as well-off as they once were or pretend to be. Mary is a younger woman who lives in the nearby city of Drumble and often stays with the Matty Jenkyns, an old family friend, in Cranford. It is through Mary's first-person narration that we meet the people and see the daily life of the upper classes in this small town.

Due to the lack of an over-arching plot, this is a slow, quiet book, but I liked it nonetheless and often laughed out loud. (The edition I have is heavily endnoted to explain some of the references.) Cranford originally appeared serially in Household Words, edited by Charles Dickens. There is a great interaction between characters as they fight over which author is better--Dickens or Samuel Johnson. Dickens is seen as lowbrow. As a modern reader, this is extra hilarious, as Dickens is what has lasted and while Johnson is still well-remembered, his novels aren't. Despite the frequent references to Dickens and Johnson, this has more in common with Austen then either of them-- it's the same focus on female gentility with a sharp wit and keen eye for the small details of daily life.

Of course, I squeed when I saw Gaskell lived in Manchester and her husband was the minister at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, which is where I went when I lived there. (Of course, the building's moved, as the chapel he was at was lost in the 1996 IRA bombing. Now it's in an office building.)

I must now read more of her stuff, as I'm sure she won't hate on the North! North and South is on the list, as is... OOO! More stories about Cranford and the ladies within-- Mr. Harrison's Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. here's a UK version that binds them in one book...

Book Provided by... my local library

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Unknown said...

Cranford is all over the blogs lately. I need to give it a reread, maybe suggest it to my book club. I read it in graduate school and loved it. I wrote a very excellent paper on it, too, if I say so myself.

Dickens was considered "low-brow" up to the early part of the 20th century. It's funny how tastes change over time.

JoV said...

Tuck in the corner of the Oxford Road Manchester, a fork that turned into Swinton Grove (84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, M13 9LW‎) is the former home of Gaskell, called Gaskell House obviously. There was a project to restore the house in 2007 which has form part of the Manchester Business School MBA course project to do the voluntary work. It's interesting to note that you used to stay in Manchester! I'm there from 2006 - 2008.

New shopping mall called Arndale and shops are built on the IRA bombing site. It is a vibrant place to be, not to mention value for money shopping too!