11 December 2009

Book Review: Cranford

Title:  Cranford
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Published:  2005/1853  Pages:  176
Genre: Classic Literature

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
In Cranford, women reign.  Well, genteel elderly spinsters reign.  Their well-ordered lives are told by Mary, a younger woman who regularly corresponds with and visits the queens of this charming town.

My Thoughts
Cranford has very little in the way of action; the story meanders through various events in the town - death, marriage, tea parties and card parties, magicians, thieves, and fashion shows - and in the end, the book becomes more a collage designed to evoke feeling than a plot-driven novel.

The women of this novel are loveable; afterall, "each has her own individuality, not to say eccentricity": Mrs. Jamieson is the aristocrat even when she falls asleep at a card party; Miss Pole is "looked upon as a kind of prophetess for the knack she had of foreseeing things before they came to pass - although she did not like to disturb her friends by telling them of her foreknowledge"; and of course Miss Matty has a heart so big she sacrifices everything for the good of others.  Despite the abundance of characters, I would not say this is a character-driven novel any more than it is plot-driven.  In the end, this story is a portrait of a community, and the patient reader will be rewarded with the feeling she has been a part of this community, even if not much has happened.

I read this while also reading the first two chapters of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and I was struck by the fact that this novel, published in 1853, was far more feminist in nature than the publications 100 years later.  Gaskell characterizes Miss Jenkyns as a woman who "had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men.  Equal, indeed! She knew they were superior."  And news of marriage in the novel is met with despair and worry for the woman.  One hundred years later, Friedan discusses the horrifying fact that popular belief held that the cure for the frustrated housewife was less education; that way they wouldn't be so dissatisfied with their lack of intellectual pursuits upon marriage. And the spinning wheel keeps turning.

Memorable Scene:  When Lady Glenmire comments on Mrs. Forrester's lace, Mrs. Forrester relates a surprising story about the history of said lace.  She was soaking the lace in milk one day, and she happened upon her cat half-choking over the bowl.  Lo and behold, the unfortunate cat had swallowed the entire bowl, lace and all.  Not to lose her precious lace, Mrs. Forrester tied up her cat inside a top-boot, face down, gave the cat a nice diuretic, and a short time later, out came her lace.  She boiled it well, and voila, the lace was as good as new.

Memorable Quote: ...for deciding all the questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody's affairs in the parish; for keeping their neat maid-servants in admirable order; for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. 'A man,' as one of them observed to me once, 'is so in the way in the house!'

Other Stops on the Tour for Elizabeth Gaskell and Cranford
Ooh...BooksJoyfully Retired; Staircase Wit; Notes from the North; A Book Lover;

Other Elizabeth Gaskell Stops can be found at The Classics Circuit

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, please let me know.

Medieval  Bookworm; Becky's Book Reviews; Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books; A Striped Armchair;

Challenges:  Women UnBound, Back to School, (Some Odd %) Well Read, Classics Circuit


  1. I loved your review ..it actually made me consider reading this book (which is saying something as I would normally avoid books like this like the plague.) And I love how you juxtapose this book with the Friedan book. Well done!

  2. I like the way you were reading Betty Friedan's book at the same time. I enjoyed your review from that perspective.

  3. Jenners - Thanks so much! I think you should give it a try.

    Margot - It was fun to review a book partially in terms of another book. I might try to do that more often.

  4. I too really enjoy your comments about Cranford in terms of the other book! I loved that line about how she knew women were superior...very fun!

    Thanks for joining the Circuit!

  5. I think Cranford is one of those books that gets better each time you read it. At first, the lack of plot irritated, but on a reread I found I could relax and just enjoy the stories and people and their world. Lovely review, btw. I especially liked readng your thoughts about the feminism stance in the book against the backdrop of The Feminine Mystique.

  6. Rebecca - I'm loving the circuit!

    Jane - Thanks for stopping by. I'll have to reread Cranford in the coming year.


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