Wednesday, December 25, 2013

C_Club #16: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford was my book-to-read for the fourth Classics Spin. It was my first Elizabeth Gaskell book and I have heard good things about Wives and Daughters and North and South, whereas opinions on Cranford tended to vary a bit more, so I was a bit hesitant to start my Gaskell reads with this book. However, there was no reason for concern -  I loved Cranford.
From the back of the book:
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 torubling 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.
Cranford is a strange of a place, inhabited mostly (only?) by women:
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. /p. 5/
These vignettes are written in simple, approachable style and with a great amount of humour and wit. There are several funny scenes depicted, my favourite was the one including a lace, a cat and a vomit inducing substance (use your imagination!). However, Gaskell's message is deeply social, for me the themes of wealth and gender came out as the sharpest. How was it at the time when wealth and status meant everything to be poor and still try to be a part of the "society"? She also makes humorous remarks on men throughout the book:
"I don't mean to deny that men are troublesome in a house. I don't judge from my own experience, for my father was neatness itself, and wiped his shoes on coming in as carefully as any woman; but still a man has a sort of knowledge of what should be done in difficulties, that it is very pleasant to have obe at hand ready to lean upon." /p. 149/
I liked Cranford so well that I got the craving to pick up North and South, which has been on my classics shelf for some months now. I am currently reading it and enjoying a great deal.
I would recommend Cranford if you want to read a classic book and don't necessarily require an intense plot development: this book is kind of slice-of-life, very humorous and insightful, and in that sense meets its purpose very well.


  1. I have always wanted to read Cranford ever since the BBC did a brilliant adaptation of it. Gaskell's humour is wonderful and it worked really well on screen. North and South was one of my favourite books for a long time but, as yet, I've not actually read any of her other works. Perhaps Cranford should be the next one.

    Glad you enjoyed this spin book and are enjoying North and South (which was responsible for my ridiculous romantic notions throughout my mid to late teens).

    Hope you had a lovely Christmas and Robert is doing better!

    1. I have it in my plans to watch the BBC adaption of Cranford, I bet it's SO SO good!

      Thanks so much, Ellie, I had quite tiring Christmas (had to force feed Robert in every 5 hours), but we have been at dinner at Jan's parents with his family on Christmas even and last night, so it has been kind of festive. Yesterday Robert started feeling a bit better and has been eating a bit on his own, and although he is far from well, I'm hoping that he will start getting better now :)

  2. I've only recently discovered Gaskell when I stumbled across a collection of Gothic Tales written by her -- I am not familiar with her novels, but since I LOVE gothic, I thought that would be a nice introduction to her and then take it from there!

    Happy New Year Riv!

    1. I have heard of Gaskell's Gothing Tales - I definitely want to read those too! My experience with Elizabeth Gaskell has been very pleasant and I am very happy because she is one of those authors I really wanted to like. I'm almost done with North and South and it's a very good read, easily readable and most importantly, it's unbelievable how relevant it fields in today's world's context! I highly recommend.

      Thank you for all your lovely comments in 2013, Christine :)

  3. Elizabeth Gaskell is just wonderful. The series is somewhat different than the book, because the writers also incorporated Cranford stories published separately. However, it all seems to work and the casting was wonderful. If you liked Cranford, I'd highly recommend Wives and Daughters and North and South, also wonderful (and brilliantly adapted by the BBC).

    1. Oh, I wasn't aware that the series was different, but it's good to know! I'm very much into Gaskell already and enjoyed Cranford so much that I'm already about to finish North and South, and I definitely want to read Wives and Daughters as well! :)


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