Thursday, 5 June 2014

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell


Cranford is the first novel by Elizabeth Gaskell that I have read.  It's a Victorian novel set in the small town of Cranford, that for various reasons has come to be inhabited mainly by women.  These women are genteel, but on the verge of poverty, and much of the story details the routine matters of visits, family history and dinner parties.  In some ways more of a collection of short stories than a coherent narrative, Cranford follows the fortunes of Miss Matty, a spinster living on her own following the death of her elder sister, as told by her friend Mary Smith.

It took me quite some time to get into Cranford.  It's unquestionably well written, but it's a gentle, slow paced sort of novel that submerges you completely into Cranford life.  The first few chapters are only loosely connected, and I have to admit that I was a bit bored with the day to day lives of the Cranford ladies to start with.  There seemed to be no drama, no conflicts and way too much time spent worrying about keeping up appearances.  But Cranford is a sneaky sort of book and as I reached the half-way point, I realised that I was enjoying it very much.  It's true that nothing really happens for most of the novel, but the characters have a way of growing on you, and I gradually realised that there was more happening under of the surface of the ladies than I had given them credit for.  Miss Matty in particular is an endearing character who it is hard not to like.

Cranford is really about the dignity that can come from living a quiet sort of life, in a community where everyone looks out for each other.  The story does build into an overarching plot in the second half of the novel, and it's here that we get to see the characters come into their own as Miss Matty is faced with a problem.  Gaskell shows that there can be strength in quietness, that women are as capable as men when facing life's dilemmas, that living a good and honest life can be rewarded.  It was good for me to be reminded that you don't have to go out and achieve incredible things for your life to be worthwhile, that how you choose to live and interact with people on a day to day basis is just as important.

By the time I finished Cranford, I was a fan.  It's not a book to pick up if you are in the mood for something gripping and fast-paced, more something to enjoy slowly, a reflective sort of read.  I'm not sure if I will ever read it again, but it definitely made me think about the importance of the everyday.


The Classics Club: Book 26/72
My full list of titles can be found here.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1853
Edition Read: Rockliff Publishers, 1954 (and a gorgeous edition it is too)
Score: 3.5 out of 5

19 comments:

  1. I read my first Gaskell novel this spring, Wives and Daughters. I was hooked. I bought a Gaskell novella from Melville House, but also North and South is on my list.

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    1. I think I'll read more Gaskell in the future - probably North & South first.

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  2. I've never read Mrs Gaskell, but ever since watching the delightful BBC series based on Cranford et al, I have been telling myself that I should.

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    1. I didn't know there was an adaptation - I'll have to check it out :)

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  3. I really can't wait to read this one. I see above that someone recommended the adaption. I was going to suggest the same. It's very good. :)

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    1. I'm definitely going to have to watch the adaptation :)

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  4. I go back and forth about stories where not much is happening. I think an author's talent really shines when you find yourself loving characters who haven't done anything amazing or monumental.

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    1. I do as well - I have to be really in the mood for a slower story like this one.

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  5. I had very similar thoughts about Cranford, I also enjoyed the subtle humour a lot (the incident with cat and lace collar - was it? was very funny). For some reason I was sure you had read North and South, but apparently not - in any case I think it's also something you would enjoy :)

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    1. I've never really fancied North & South to be honest, but I think I will try it now that I know I like Gaskell's writing style.

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  6. Did you see the TV series of this when it was on? I've always thought I'd love the book since seeing that but never actually felt the urge to read it. I think I probably should, particularly as I consider North and South to be one of my favourite novels. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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    1. I didn't even know there was a TV series until reading the comments above! I'll have to hunt it out :)

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  7. I haven't read this one yet (nor have I seen the TV adaptation), but Elizabeth Gaskell is a writer I've to come to like very much. I think it's usually the case with her, though, to be taken into her world by degrees, so I can very well understand your reaction to the book.

    My favourite of hers is North and South, no doubt.

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    1. So many people seem to love North & South, it'll have to be the next Gaskell I read.

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  8. Lovely to hear you thoughts Sam as I also have Cranford on my Classic Club list sounds like it is going to be my kind of thing.

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  9. Cranford is on my Classics Club list, too. I discovered Mrs. Gaskell a year or two ago with North and South - a favorite of the year! It sounds like Cranford is a very different type of book. I also hope to read Wives and Daughters before too long.

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  10. It happened the same to me, and now I list "Cranford" on all my favourite reading lists. I think that it's difficult to realize that women's everyday lives have something more than the tedious and boring aspects we are taught to see. But yes, the first chapters being loosely connected to not help getting into the book!

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  11. Yay! This one is waiting for me on the TBR.

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  12. A favourite of our family! I enjoyed your review and I am glad I found your blog.
    God bless,

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