- Publisher: Everyman Paperback (1964)
- ASIN: B000UKM5NU
- Average Customer Review: 260 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,300,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cranford Paperback – 1964
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Cranford centres on a little village in the English countryside of the same name. The majority of the inhabitants are women, widows and spinsters living genteel lives on inherited money. Their days are spent socializing with each other and the village and church parish fill up their lives. The scene is charming and makes one homesick for a time and a place I've never actually lived in.
The real substance of this novel is the relationships of the women with each other and how they endure the various turns of life. Some harbour secret regrets for never marrying and having children and live quiet lives of loneliness and desperation as elderly spinsters too proud and decent to let anyone know how they suffer. Others grieve for family long dead and gone and confine their hope for the life hereafter as promised by their church.
The whole novel is beautiful and deserves to be read as an ode to vanished small town English life as well as the secret lives of women.
I would gladly read it again.
I did not exactly love this, but I did really enjoy it. I will continue to read more by this author and now that I have tasted her humor, I hopefully will recognize it again when I read it.
I also got a lovely picture of Mrs. Gaskell. I may even read it again for myself so that I can eek out anythign that I did not get the first telling.
Cranford is a slim collection of vignettes. Each little story explores a person, a gathering, or an incident in the past or present. Some are humourous, others are very poignant, and some just look at the life and manners of the time. In specific, to one particular group in the village.
For Cranford, as we are told in the opening sentence, is a place that is governed by Amazons. The Amazons are a group of elderly spinsters or widows who have fallen into genteel poverty, supported by meager savings left from legacies and inheritances. As a group, they inhabit nearly all of the homes of Cranford, deciding on questions of taste and morality, the correct behavior of servants, managing gardens, discretion in clothing and so forth. And where are the men, you might ask? Nearly all of them have fled, it seems -- to the military, to the navy, to the nearby city of Dumble (a stand-in for Manchester), frightened off, no doubt, by the formidable array of feminity before them.
As the 'leaders,' there are the two daughters of the former vicar of the town. Miss Jenkyns and her younger sister Miss Matty, have risen to a level of respectability in the community, leading their little bevy of companion in acts of charity, mourning, welcoming (and shunning) strangers, and even to such details as what is to be considered suitable literature. When we first meet them, the town has been sent into turmoil by the arrival of a retired military man with two daughters -- and he has the temerity to actually suggest books to Miss Jenkyns. Horrors!
But there is more to the story, and as the nameless narrator leads us through the various members of the village, there are stories that are humourous, such as when a string of burglaries occurs, or when a traveling magician arrives. Other stories are very poignant, such as Miss Matty and a collection of old letters, or when a bank in Dumble defaults and one person's savings are wiped out.
What makes this collection stand out is the level of compassion between the various women as their little world is shaken up by the encroaching Industrial Age, and their somewhat stubborn intent on keeping their village just the way it is. And underneath some of the bristly exteriors, there are acts of selflessness and care that they extend to each other. This and the humour that the author brought to each story, was what made the book for me.
I really don't want to reveal much more of the book as not to spoil it for anyone. The collection itself is rather slim, just sixteen stories of about twenty pages long. Along with the stories, there are extensive notes that have been added by Patricia Ingham, which really do help to understand the terms and usage of the language, and help to clear up some very unfamiliar terms.
All in all, a very enjoyable read that is much lighter in tone than most Victorian fiction. Great fun to read, and to sigh over as well.
Four stars. Recommended.
For a book written in the 1850s, Cranford can be pretty snarky. Aside from the Victorian style of writing, it’s easy to forget just how long ago Gaskell lived. It is sometimes excessively wordy (it was written originally as a serial after all). Some of the stories are funny. Some are dull. It’s a pretty good book overall. Not my favorite, but still good to read.