145 of 149 people found the following review helpful
Let me begin this review by saying that if you are thinking about reading this book only because of the BBC series, you will find it very disappointing. The makers of that series used the authors name, the title of the book and some of the characters but the remainder of their production is pure invention. I am enjoying watching the BBC program, but it is not this book.
Ms Charlotte Mitchell provides an Introduction and Notes for this book. It is my belief that it is essesntial to read the Introduction in order to fully understand Cranford. Elizabeth Gaskell had written a series of stories which appeared at irregular intervals in a magazine edited by Charles Dickens titled Household Words. The stories first appeared together as a novel in 1853. Ms Mitchell uses the Introduction to explain the chronology for the publishing of this and other novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. She also takes this opportunity to explore the question of whether or not Cranford was ever meant to be taken seriously by readers of Ms Gaskell since her other novels are so very different in tone from this one.
One of the things I really appreciate which Ms Mitchell did was to include the Notes section to explain words and phrases which appear in the book which were very well understood in the 1800's but which may be unfamiliar to readers today. I read a lot of historical romantic fiction and these Notes gave me concrete explanations for words and phrases I have been too lazy to research for myself. I thought I knew what they meant before, now I know for sure. Items such as:
1. gigot - a sleeve style described as leg-of-mutton
2. baby-house - a dolls house
3. sarsenet - a soft thin silk material
4. blind man's holiday - a proverbial term for night or twilight
Ms Mitchell states in the Introduction that Gaskell later came to regret the fact that she had caused Colonel Brown to be killed in the first story. If he had remained a character longer in the series, I think that Cranford might have gone in a very different direction. As it is, Cranford is the story of a certain class of women, either unmarried or widowed, who live in a small English villiage. The main character is Miss Matty Jenkyns who only comes into prominence after the death of her older sister, Miss Deborah. The women relish their lack of male inhabitants and see themselves as lucky in not having to deal with the ways of men, which they see as uncouth and almost barbaric (they will speak too loud!). There is a very strict social structure among these women, even as to what time of day they can visit each other and what kind of clothes they should be wearing when the visits take place. These rules are in place to keep everyone on an even keel, so that everyone understands the rules, and no one may change the rules without the approval of the most prestigious ranking member of their set.
Cranford is a study in contrasts. The differences in the male approach to the world, with their freedoms, and the female approach to the world, with all the restrictions placed upon them. I can honestly say that I had fun reading this book. I grinned, smiled, chuckled and even laughed out loud. No episode was too tiny to cause a complete, unrealistic upheaval among the ladies of Cranford. One of my favorite parts of the story concerns how they all react when rumor and half-truths have them convinced that a gang of thieves and burglars are roaming the countryside. It is funny and heartwarming but also sad to see the lengths they go to in order to protect themselves and their households from these thieves who are, in reality, simply the result of gossip and overactive imaginations. Another part I am particularly fond of is when the main characters allow themselves to unbend to the extent of divulging to their friends what their worst fear is. Miss Matty revealed that she was afraid each night that a man was hiding under her bed. Her method of reassuring herself that no person was there was actually quite astute and surprising for this woman's character. But Cranford is not all warm feelings and quaint happenings. There are real tragedies which effect these women and move their lives into totally different directions.
This book is told in the narrative style, something which I usually do not like. There is very little dialogue. The name of the narrator is not even mentioned until page 137. I had read the persons name in the Introduction but I was very surprised to see that this type of presentation did not detract from my enjoyment of the book at all. It is not the most exciting book I have ever read, it is not a very long book, and it does not require much stretching of the readers intellect but I enjoyed all of the time I spent reading it and will certainly read it over and over.
Very highly recommended for any reader who enjoys historical fiction. It is not a romance, more a journal of the everyday lives of women who depend on themselves and their friends for comfort and companionship.
133 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2008
This paperback version is the one that the recent tv series fan will want, because unlike some of the other paperback versions, it includes the three Gaskell novellas that were the basis for the Judi Dench-Eileen Atkins miniseries. The three books were
"Cranford", "My Lady Ludlow" and "Mr Harrison's Confessions."
Mrs Gaskell stories are considered comedies, and this comes clear in the original texts. Some sadness of course in events, but mostly there is a clear comic, even sardonic voice in which we can fall in love with the characters and still laugh at their foibles, fashions, and foolishness which seem still so apropos today.
62 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2008
This Viking edition includes "Mr. Harrison's Confession," "Cranford," and "My Lady Ludlow," the three novellas
combined to produce the Cranford BBC series. The works are quite different from each other, "My Lady Ludlow" differing the most in tone and style.
"Mr. Harrison's Confession" is the droll account of a young doctor who comes to Dunscombe (a Cranford stand-in) to practice with the much older Mr. Morgan, an old friend of his father's. As young Harrison makes the transition from the lively streets of London to the quaint lanes of the little town to which he has moved, he is involved in many humorous misunderstandings--and especially troublesome are those caused by a prankster friend of his! There are poignant moments too, as Mr. Harrison and the townspeople learn to know each other, and the young doctor finds love.
"Cranford" is the most fully fleshed out of the three novellas, and easily the most readily absorbed by the modern reader. To one who grew up in New England of swamp Yankee parentage, the mindset of the Cranford ladies is completely familiar. Why care about dress when everyone in your town knows what clothes you own, and why care when you are away where no one knows you at all? The various subplots of the story are very reminiscent Sarah Orne Jewett, who wrote a few decades later in the US--"The Country of the Pointed Firs," for example. The novel comprises several interlocking stories centering on Miss Matilda Jenkyns, her family and her friends who inhabit the little town of Cransford--a town of Amazons. Very few men live in the village. Though many of the stories are humorous, there are those that touch the heart.
"My Lady Ludlow" is the most old-fashioned of the three novellas--set decades before the others at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and full of sentiment. Lady Ludlow, herself in old age, must learn to change as the world around her does. The story, narrated by a young woman in frail health, from the vantage point of later years, contains a lengthy and melodramatic subplot reminiscent of "A Tale of Two Cities."
"Cranford" is a wonderful piece of work, and the other two novellas are very enjoyable. Especially if you liked the BBC series, you'll enjoy this book.
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
"Cranford" is likely the best known novel of Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. The novel follows the day-to-day social lives of a group of upper-middle-class women in the small, fictional town of Cranford, England. Rather than having a strong narrative, the novel delivers a tableau of social goings on that illuminate the characters and their lives. These stories are told largely through the eyes of a younger lady (Miss Mary Smith) who often visits from a nearby town. The ladies of Cranford are not rich, but wealthy enough to belong to a certain social strata, and much of the comedy derives from their careful considerations of who to include and exclude at various social gatherings. Miss Matty is essentially the main protagonist, and she is a basically kind woman if a bit miserly, especially when it comes to candles. She and her friends typically look to the most prominent member of Cranford female society, Miss Jamieson, and then assiduously follow her lead. Unfortunately, Miss Jamieson is sometimes rather narrow-minded, unlike the other ladies, which creates certain socially awkward situations.
This enjoyable novel may seem a bit meandering to some readers, given that there is not a main narrative thread. The novel was originally published in serialized form in "Household Words" (edited by Charles Dickens), which may partially help explain its lack of a strong plot. Indeed, the 2007 BBC mini-series versions of "Cranford" included stories from several of Gaskell's other novels. However, the stories here all add up to a devastatingly accurate picture of small town life and the sometimes vicious yet amusing ways in which people in them behave. Gaskell clearly understood human nature, and readers are likely to recognize many truths about human foibles in her stories. I found myself laughing and touched often.
Note: This review is for the Kindle version. The text is well-arranged and does not contain any noticeable errors, although there are lots of spaces in between section and subsections (which actually makes reading easier). This version has no extras, such as a biography of Gaskell or an introduction to the text; however, such materials are so easily available on the internet now that this exclusion is not a major debit.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2002
To you scoffers who find this novel uneventful - I say read it again toward the close of your life. The stories of these genteel ladies with their 40 year old lost loves and their strong familial relationships are very moving. I also like the way the book is contructed in a series of vignettes. But most of all I am enchanted with the "feel" of the portrait of village life in the middle of the 19th century - such a contrast with the mores of today it's hard to believe we are the same species! If you like Mrs. Gaskell, be sure to read Barbara Pym for the 20th century version.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2008
I have just discovered this wonderful author after watching "Cranford" on Masterpiece Theatre. I ordered several of her titles and I am hooked. I will read everything she has written. As someone who always wished that Jane Austen had written just one more book (or two or five or forty!!!), Elizabeth Gaskell is a real find. Her works are more "worldly" than the mild Miss Austen, but her characters are just as compelling and I love her.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2001
I read this series of village sketches as an independent study and found that it is most commonly referred to as "charming." This so called charm is achieved through the humourous realism with which Gaskell depicts the citizens of the small, rural town of Cranford. The women presented are 'old maids' and though genteel, their economic status is far from certain. Perhaps the tender concern Gaskell shows for their welfare, and the friendship demonstrated for a friend in need is most pivotal in creating the charm of the novel. This book has the feel of a 'chick flick': no grand action necessarily, but little episodes of social excitement followed by periods of daily activity. The book provides both comic scenes and tear-jerkers and the method of storytelling could be likened to that of movies such as "Steel Magnolias" or "Fried Green Tomatoes".
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2010
I was thrilled to find these three stories published together and was riveted the entire time, a great read for fans of the BBC show as well as period literature.
The stories themselves receive 5 stars, my rating is for this specific published edition only.
The book I received was a poor publication. The picture provided by Amazon was the book I received, but it was by "Seven Treasures Publications" not the publisher listed in the details. I make a point of this as this review may not apply to all copies.
The editing of this edition is terrible, enough to take you out of the book. I noticed no less than 4 instances where "conic" was written rather than "coming," and many words were swapped with their homonyms, weather/whether, soar/sore etc.
Lastly (and this is just a personal thing) I found the book too big and cumbersome, at 10" tall and nearly 7" wide, (but only 3/4" thick) it was nearly twice the size of your average book, and quite floppy for a paperback. The book is 256 pages, which would have taken at least 400 in an average sized book (for example; Cranford is 103 pages in this edition, where my individual book of Cranford is 193.) I would not have given it a bad review on that alone, but thought I would include it just for reference.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2009
Reading "Cranford" is a lot like spending an afternoon in the doily museum of a provincial city; you can't help but admire the skill of the embroidery but you have to wonder at your own sanity for being there. I stuffed the book in my carry-on, as a relief from the 20th C anguish in the novels I'd been reading recently, and found myself waiting out a snow delay with nothing to read but this staid portrayal of a circle of spinsters nourished chiefly by their own proprieties. Cranford is not a novel at all, but rather a series of nostalgic sketches of the old-fashioned manners and quaint habits of genteel but impoverished provincial ladies, gently satirical, a porcelain cup counterpart to Charles Dickens's "Pickwick Papers". Dickens is explicitly mentioned in several chapters of Cranford; Miss Dorothy Jenkyns, the most literary of the Cranford ladies, finds him vulgar and less eloquent in every way than Dr. Johnson.
Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens were quite well acquainted with each other's work; in fact "Cranford" was first published in serial form in one of Dickens's magazines. There are many parallels, particularly between Dickens's "Hard Times" and Gaskell's "North and South". Both books focus on the dire conditions of labor in 19th C England; both can be considered liberal protest novels. I suppose Gaskell is never as knee-slapping funny as Dickens can be, but she has other virtues, closer to Trollope, in terms of cogent story-telling and sympathetic insight into characters of all classes and both genders.
Gaskell was totally 'out of fashion' when I went to college. The luminaries of Victorian literature, as taught at Harvard in the 1960s, were Eliot, Austen, and the Brontes, with Dickens and Thackeray cast as their knaves and Trollope as their butler. But Gaskell has made a comeback. Aside from "North and South", her novels "Ruth", "Sylvia's Lovers", "Wives and Daughters," and others are in print and well worth reading. As her titles suggest, her feminism was more overt than that of her peers, and her sympathies were clearly 'liberal' in the current American political sense. Above all, she could tell a good story.
Cranford was immensely popular in its time, when perhaps most readers had their own maiden aunts to caricature. It's quite well done in its way, but if you've never read Gaskell before, I wouldn't suggest starting with it. You might find it challenging to sit quietly with the ladies as they crochet and dither over their bonnets.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2007
Sherwood Anderson once described life as a "history of moments". Miss Gaskell has created in Cranford a glimpse into a dying culture of the more egalitiarian rural Bitish Yoemanry of the 18th century collapsing under the urbanization of the society and with a more repressive capitalism to claim the lives and souls of the youth leaving the village for better lives. Goldsmith's the "Deserted Village" comes to mind.
The story is told from the lives of elderly mostly female, spinster as well as widowed community of genteel rural poverty- self imposed and otherwise. Quaint yet, but with vinegary pithiness of death, stoicism and social veneer, in other words real life. This is civilized 19th century social writing at its best, like a journalistic Austen. The narrator is a wise insightful character commenting on the eccentric and slightly mad village women who make up this world. The rivalry between Captain Brown and Miss Jenkyns based upon their literary preference of Dr. Johnson vs Charles Dickens is especially amusing considering that Cranford first appeared in Dicken's magazine, "Household Words". Endearing and haunting- much more than its surface appearance.