No man’s land, gender form.
First Published: 1851-1853
Date Reviewed: 8th April 2016
Our narrator – whose name we will learn in time (this is no Du Maurier) – takes trips to the town of Cranford periodically and informs us of the goings on. Most of the residents are women – men tend to disappear – and a certain propriety functions. You’ve people like Deborah – faithful to the works of Samuel Johnson – and you’ve the richest woman, Mrs Jamieson, who struggles somewhat to retain feelings of wealth in a town where money never grows on trees.
Cranford is a novella, one of three that looks at the fictional town; it deals with many different subjects. Akin to a long-running soap opera in terms of its lack of action and overall excitement, the book is more an escape and ripe for pleasant Sunday afternoons.
This said there are two ‘sides’ to Cranford. Certainly the surface dressing and the majority of the content is frivolous – we could well imagine people in Gaskell’s time sitting down to the most recent chapter (the work was first published as a serial) but there is a second side akin to Gaskell’s work in North And South. It may take a while for the side – the social commentary – to become apparent but to put it simply, the book includes a small-scale study of poverty. One can assume Gaskell was wanting more contemplation for her readers, in fact one could assume she was wanting to say something without jeopardising their interest – she looks at poverty in general and how other people work to help each other, whilst simultaneously never implying anyone lacks money. Needless to say the book can be read in a variety of ways; Gaskell seems to want you take away what you will.
Away from this there’s little to comment on in depth. The book is all about its humour – every now and then you may laugh out loud but the emphasis is on subtlety. Here, again, Gaskell doesn’t want to alienate her serial readers – the characters are women and that’s great, but we’ll have some fun at the expense of them on occasion. The male characters, likely deliberately, are all good guys, men that can match the women in wit and personality and thus stay in town.
The writing is strictly okay; you can see why, perhaps, Gaskell is not considered on a level with her friends Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens, but it does the job.
That this review is so short should clue you in to what you can expect from Cranford – fun, yes, and escapism, but a lot of average moments and a sense of convenience. Reading the book is like watching Neighbours, just without the divorces and deaths. It’s something to read whilst you’re deciding what to read.
April 27, 2016, 2:17 pm
I’d agree that not a lot happens – but I find Cranford fits nicely into the comfortable, cosy read section of my shelves. A book for when I don’t want anything too taxing or stressful (which I suppose is much what you said)
April 27, 2016, 2:18 pm
Another author I’ve yet to read. Despite her books being highly recommended as novels I’d enjoy they’ve somehow or other never quite appealed to me and yet given this post i’m almost tempted to give this one a try.
April 27, 2016, 4:22 pm
I recently finished reading this and found it witty and truly charming – I agree a pleasant escape for lazy Sunday afternoons or snuggling down in bed of a night.
April 28, 2016, 9:25 pm
Okay, I love this — It’s something to read whilst you’re deciding what to read. — and as I’m kind of in that place, may just try Cranford, then!
May 13, 2016, 3:40 pm
Mary: That’s true, it’s a lovely comfort read.
Tracy: This is a good one in that case, Tracy. Short enough that if you’re not sure about it it hasn’t taken too much time, but enough to illustrate what she’s capable of on the whole.
Jessica: Definitely. It’s perfect for bedtime reading; that’s actually how I started it. Let’s you wind down from the day whilst being entertaining.
Audra: It is good for that. It keeps you reading but it’s short enough that if there’s something else you’re pondering over you can move onto it soon.