“In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.”
Thus opens Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford, a wonderful, poignant comedy (or comic drama; your choice.) I’ve never read anything by Gaskell before, and I was absolutely delighted with her story of a small town inhabited almost entirely by widows and spinsters. Each chapter, in its gentle way, tells of Cranford’s peculiarities: the way the women get along with each other, their quirks, their interests, the importance they place on “gentility,” their stubbornness and their good hearts, their history and the nostalgia of a place that has not changed with the changing times.
Gaskell’s voice is often witty, the way Jane Austen’s is. She shows the weaknesses and foibles of her subjects in a gentle social satire, and there are also scenes of farce that had me laughing out loud. But the book is not entirely comedy: I also found myself in tears several times, when an unexpected death occurred or a character who had seemed narrow turned out to be generous and kind. The book is acutely observed, full of the detail that brings characters to life, a joy to read. I will certainly look for more of her work, and at 180 pages, you can’t go wrong keeping company with Cranford for an evening or two.
Curses! You’re making my TBR pile grow. If I’m found crushed beneath it one day, you’ll be on the list of people responsible. :-)
[rubs hands and cackles] My work here is done!
I’ve not read this yet but can recommend North and South, Ruth and Wives and Daughters by Gaskell. I do have it in the TBR pile, so must read it soon.
I’ll second Sarah’s recommendation of Ruth and add Mary Barton as a slightly less enthusiastic recommendation. I will warn you, though, these books are more like social problem novels, so they have a rather different tone from Cranford. I say this because I was quite surprised by Cranford when I read it!
I recently read Cranford and loved it too. What a fun book! I’ve read a couple other Gaskells, and they are more traditional novels, in the sense that there is more focus on plot rather than the more static character and place descriptions of Cranford. They are wonderful too (North and South and Wives and Daughters are the ones I’ve read).
I’m so happy to find myself in such good company! Sarah, Teresa and Dorothy — which was your favorite of Gaskell’s books? In other words, which one should I put on my TBR list next?
Well, I would say Ruth, but it’s a “fallen woman” novel, and I love a good fallen woman novel. I’ve read it twice in fact. I believe North and South and Wives and Daughters are considered her masterpieces, but those are the very two I haven’t read.
Wives and Daughters, I’d say. Enjoy, whichever one you pick!
Comparing to Austen does it for me:)
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