I am glad to be kicking off the first of two posts on Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. This is my second exposure to Gaskell, the first being North and South. A friend in college showed me the BBC mini-series which resulted in a reading of the book. I was in love, so I am glad I am reading more of her work!
I am also reading from my new hardcover Penguin edition of the book, which I am absolutely in love with. It is such a lovely green color, and I love the cloth bound feel! I know I rant and rave about these editions, but I am just in love with the old-fashioned feel.
Anyway, onto the ladies of Cranford!
The novel opens with some of my favorite lines;
"In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighboring town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad," (5).
The humorous tone takes over and paves the way for the gossip and meanderings of the Cranford women.
I have to say, I like the fact that the narrator is an outsider, and not one of the town's mainstays. She, whoever she is, offers the reader another perspective to life in the town-one outside of what the women are going through. She lets us see the characters how others see them in the town, without coloring them with opinions or gossip. She merely reports the goings on and lets us see the events as they unfold.
I was surprised to see that Cranford doesn't appear to be a seamless novel. Instead, it acts as recollections and memories from different moments in the characters lives. As we move deeper and the focus shifts to certain characters, like Matilda, we begin to learn about their past. More importantly, the reader learns how the women became who they were. For Matilda in particular, we can see that she had a troubled past, as evidenced in chapter 5, "Old Letters." The reader gets to learn more about her early family life and how she became the person she is.
More than anything I am getting the impression that this is a book about social norms and impressions. These are women who see each other nearly every day. To one another, they give off impressions of who they are behind closed doors, but by the conversations our narrator is having with Miss Matty, we can see that those impression may not be wholly accurate. Instead, these women all harbor secrets and fears. I hope that my assumptions are correct, and I would love to see Miss Matty change and develop even more with the town.
Another portion I really loved are the conversations between women. When a wealthier neighbor has a relative by the name of Lady Glenmire comes to visit, I love the uproar. First, the ladies are thrown into a tizzy as to how to greet her, then are told they are not allowed to call upon her, then, when the woman host changes her mind, the dilemma of what to call her ensues! The conversations and wit are hilarious as I picture a pack of middle-aged women arguing over niceties and social norms. I also love their questions about fashion and their need to impress each other.
In all, I really enjoyed these first 8 chapters. While they are not exactly what I was expecting, I am really loving the humor and style of Gaskell. I expect I am in for a treat in the last 8 chapters and I cannot wait to finish, and see what you all thought of this first half!!
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