Monday, August 31, 2009

"In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women."

A few months back, I watched the Masterpiece mini-series presentation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford on PBS and found the stories to be witty and touching. You see, this book is really a collection of stories about the women of Cranford that were originally released serially in Charles Dickens' periodical, Household Words. In fact, Masterpiece is showing a Cranford 2 this fall based on more of Gaskell's tales of Cranford.

Cranford is a country town in Victorian England that has developed into a matriarchy -- all of the powerful and influential members of this small society are women, either widows or spinsters. The narrator is a young woman who frequently visits Cranford, especially the sisters Jenkyns. This narrator, Mary, relates both the high points and the low of this town. There are births, deaths and marriages, financial ruin and touching reunions. Though this is a short collection of stories, Gaskell draws the reader in with her vivid personalities and quick wit.

This is yet another "must read" book but I'm not sure it's for everyone. If you enjoy Victorian times and want a different view of the middle class than the standard Victorian fare, then this is a must read. However, I think that some readers may find it a bit sappy and I'm not sure that there's a greater world knowledge to be specifically gained from this book. Still, it's a good introduction to Gaskell and I will be searching out more of her novels quite soon.

Appreciating the strength of the Victorian woman,

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  1. This was my third Gaskell, and I found it utterly charming, and surprisingly funny. The other two that I've read (Ruth and Mary Barton) were more melodramatic novels that seemed focused on alerting readers to social ills. They're all good, but Cranford is good in a different way from the others.

  2. This is SOOOOOO going on my wish list. It might already be on my Top 100 Books of the 19th Century -- I'll have to check.

  3. Teresa - That was what surprised me when I saw the miniseries. It's rare to find good humor in Victorian stories. I think I will try North and South by her next. I've heard lots of good things about it.

    Rose City Reader - I definitely think it's a great one for readers who love Victorian England. It brings something totally different to the picture.