Having long wanted to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell, I finally got the push I needed when I picked up The Cranford Chronicles. After loving the eponymous Cranford I decided to continue the chronicles with Mr Harrison’s Confessions.
We join Mr Harrison by the fireside in his comfortable, well-kept home as his bachelor friend, Charles, presses him to tell how he wooed such a fine wife. And so Mr Harrison takes us back to when he first came to the small, rural town of Duncombe as a young, worldly but naïve man. Newly qualified as a doctor, Harrison has been promised a partnership in an easy, country practice by a family friend. It is to be anything but easy in this insular, provincial town, where everybody knows everybody’s business and which is ruled over by gossiping middle-aged women. Before long, the poor, young doctor after several misunderstandings and misplaced comments finds himself accused of being engaged to three women! None of which are the Vicar’s angelic daughter, Sophy, whom he really loves.
I must admit to be rather disappointed this wasn’t set in Cranford! (Especially as the BBC’s 2007 TV adaptation merged the novellas into the one setting) However I can see how this story has been placed in this chronicles because of the small town setting and the predominantly female residents. Here, unlike Cranford though, men are not feared or believed to be nuisances but instead quite the opposite. Poor, young doctor Harrison is coveted, pulled from pillar to post and practically fought over! Mothers try to set him with their daughters and every spinster seems to have their eye on him; all stirred up by the town gossips! So while I didn’t always ‘like’ the characters they were very amusing to read about.
While Cranford was a steady, touching and meticulous tale of women’s’ lives in genteel poverty, this is much more a chaotic and farcical tale of a young man not at all prepared for the furore his presence will cause in a small community of women. There was still Gaskell’s detailed and personable style which made me feel I was really there by the fire hearing the older and (hopefully) wiser Harrison’s confessions of his youthful blunders. I was slightly less endeared with the characters in this novella however it was comforting to travel back in time with Gaskell again and there were still some very poignant moments, in relation to Harrison’s treatment of genuine patients.
Mr Harrison’s Confessions is a charming, comedy of errors set in a small, provincial town. I look forward to completing The Cranford Chronicles with the final tale of My Lady Ludlow. Good read.
Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell?