Friday, July 25, 2008
Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
Novel by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, published serially in Charles Dickens' magazine Household Words from 1851 to 1853 and in book form in 1853. Basing her tales on the village in which she was reared, Gaskell produced a gently comic picture of life and manners in an English country village during the 1830s. The novel's narrator (a young woman who periodically visits Cranford) describes the small adventures in the lives of two middle-aged sisters in reduced circumstances who do their best to maintain their standards of propriety, decency, and kindness. Using an intimate, gossipy voice that never turns sentimental, Gaskell conveys the old-fashioned habits, subtle class distinctions, and genteel poverty of the townspeople. Cranford quickly became one of the author's best-loved works.
After having read Gaskell's North and South last year and loving it I was eager to try another one of her stories. I was fortunate to come across a copy of Cranford recently and so this was the one I read.
Unlike N&S where we had a story, and specifically a love story to follow, here it's like we get to know the daily lifes of a few people for a lenght of time. There's no particular storyline but more a number of situations that have to be faced and dealt with so everyone can go on with their lives unperturbed.
The narrator is Mary Smith, a young woman who comes to Cranford to visit the Miss Jenkyns and so is a privileged spectator of their lifes and those of the other Cranford people. Miss Mary notes how manners and society rules are observed, how an interest in neighboors can be both of gossipy nature and true will to help when needed, how when romance is in the air even the old maids become matchmakers. It really is very interesting to get to know all the characters involved, they all seem very simple and straightforward in the beginning but as we know them better we realise there are layers of complexity beneath the surface. And their peaceful lifes are going to be disrupted by the modern, more industrialised, times that approach quickly.
Besides Miss Mary we get to know Miss Matty, always very proper but with a heart broken a long time ago and dreams that will never be, Miss Debora Jenkyns, seemingly the most strict in terms of moral conduct, Miss Pole always ready for a good gossip, the Browns, newly arrived in town, and many others... They go though heartbreak, tragedies, financial problems and sometime they break those cherished society rules but they all help and support each other.
Truly a story to be read and appreciated...