I’ve long wanted to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell after hearing such wonderful things about her novels. I finally got the push I needed when I picked up this lovely collected edition, The Cranford Chronicles, from a local charity bookshop; I decided to start with the eponymous Cranford tale first.
We are introduced to the small rural town of Cranford by a young woman (we find out her name later), who regularly comes to stay with friends in the town. Through her eyes we come to see the day-to-day lives, trials, tribulations and joys of the town’s inhabitants; who are mainly widows and spinsters. They live quiet lives of genteel poverty where traditional standards and customs are upheld, and money is never discussed. Little happens to ruffle their lives except the passing of a friend, new people moving into town, or friends being lured away into marriage by those pesky men.
As you may imagine this is not a story full of action or drama, instead it is a touching and meticulous study of the lives of women in a small town in Victorian England. What really makes this story is the characters. Our young narrator comes to stay most often with the upright Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her tender-hearted sister Miss Matty; the spinster daughters of the late reverend. Their friends include Miss Pole, Mrs Jamieson, Mrs Forrester and Lady Glenmire. The few men who do come to live in Cranford cause gossip and commotion with their mere presence: the loud Captain Brown and Dr Hoggins with his audacious proposal. Yet for all the women’s airs and graces there is some true friendship too.
I think this novella was a lovely introduction to Gaskell’s work for me. It didn’t necessarily feel like a novella but more like a short story collection – as we had short snapshots into the characters lives, as and when our young narrator came to stay or received letters. I enjoyed how this helped me to dip in and out of the story as if I too were coming to visit. I found Gaskell’s style detailed and meticulous – perhaps not as gripping or dramatic as some of her contemporaries – but comforting and personable. I really felt I got to know the town and characters. I joined them in the trivia of their lives, the pain of their losses, their joys and the often silly customs and fronts they uphold.
I found Cranford to be a charming and comforting classic. I looking to reading the rest of The Cranford Chronicles which includes: My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confession. I would also love to see the BBC’s 2007 TV adaptation. Great read.
Have you read this? Have you seen the TV adaptation?