Elizabeth Gaskell – Cranford

★★★★

‘It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor…I only hope it is not improper; so many pleasant things are!’ 

Title: Cranford
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Language: English
Publication details: UK: Transatlantic Press, 2012. (Originally published 1851)
Pages: 215

The gist of it:

  • Small town. English. Quaint.
  • Genteel womenfolk abounds.
  • Delicate sensibilities, ruffled. Traditions, tried. Friendships, tested.
  • But mostly all is good.

My ponderings:

Cranford is a very enjoyable book indeed! I found it most relaxing, reading about the lives of a group of middle-aged women living it up in ye old English town. The book is definitely very slice of life; most of the problems they encounter are quite trivial and sometimes even downright ridiculous. One thinks of the case where they had to retrieve some lace from inside a cat (rest assured, the cat was unharmed); a big grey flannel had to be sewn for a cow; and the absolute hubbub that occurred when a bachelor moved into the neighbourhood. One with daughters, nonetheless.
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The treasure in this book is reading about the shenanigans the womenfolk get up to, it
really is good fun seeing them get into ‘much ado about nothing’, so to speak. They are poised, dignified and pride themselves on their small town traditions and simplicity. They are independent and empowered, a symbol of feminism before the word was even coined (fun fact: it was coined in 1890). Most endearingly, they are kind, good and compassionate. Even the ever formidable and stern Deborah Jenkyns, “imperious guardian of the established order” and “upholder of traditional values”, took it upon herself to accompany a poor maiden to her father’s funeral. As she put it,

“It is not fit for you to go alone. It would be against both propriety and humanity were I to allow it.”

It’s really a pity that Deborah died so early on in the book, she was hands down one of my favorite characters. No, this isn’t a spoiler, it’s even mentioned in the summary.

 

Picture
That’s right, you’d better run.
There was a chapter near the end of the book where Miss Matty (Deborah’s sister) nearly went broke due to her bank closing down, and her friends were immediate in swooping down to help her. Subtle and tactful in their ways so as to not burden Miss Matty with the knowledge of their help, but touchingly insistent that it is not a duty, but a pleasure to assist. At this point, the ladies, Mary (Miss Matty’s niece) and I cannot but shed a tear.

 

“I imagine we are none of us what may be called rich, though we all possess a genteel competency, sufficient for tastes that are elegant and refined, and would not, if they could, be vulgarly ostentatious.”

 

The characters in Cranford are so entirely lovable! Even the arrogant Mrs Jamieson doesn’t really incur feelings of detest, but rather a chortle and a shake of the head as you continue to read on as to how the ladies carry out their “boycotting” of her. Though old-fashioned and quaint in their ways, their hearts are pure, their intent never malicious, and their constitutions much too delicate and genteel for one to ever take offence at them.I’m starting to think I have a real sweet tooth for old fashioned sort of writing, where the words used are all so formal and the sentences so properly structured. I really got a sense of the characters’ accents and the whole English town atmosphere thanks to the wonderfully written prose. Everything is spoken so delicately, with utmost manners, that even when one is angry the disparagement comes off as more a strongly-worded lecture of advisement.

Also, this book has inspired within me the compulsion to use genteel as an apropos replacement for gentle from now on. Just because…genteel has a quirky little twang to it. I like it.

Me: “Genteel.”
Person: “It’s pronounced ‘gentle’.”
Me: “…I meant what I said you vulgar lout.”

Cranford is the perfect book to read when you want to sit back, relax and have a nice cup of tea. Or coffee. Make sure to keep your chuckles quiet so as to retain your air of genteel demeanor.

I’ve watched the BBC TV series, and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. They have a really sweet romance between a doctor and a village girl in that one. I was actually quite disappointed that the romance wasn’t originally from the book!

Recommends it to: People who want to enjoy some small town shenanigans and find (tastefully delicate) entertainment and companionship among the kind, witty and dignified Cranford ladies.

Quotes:

“Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet like a jockey-cap, and altogether 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.”

“But I was right. I think that must be a hereditary quality, for my father says he is scarcely ever wrong.”

“Mrs Forrester … sat in state, pretending not to know what cakes were sent up, though she knew, and we knew, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she knew that we knew, she had been busy all the morning making tea-bread and sponge-cakes.”

“My father was a man, and I know the sex pretty well.”

Delightful.
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