“A sensitive and moving portrait of life and manners in an English country village during the 1830s, Cranford recounts the events and activities in the lives of a group of spinsters and widows who struggle in genteel poverty to maintain their standards of propriety, decency, and kindness.”
Thoughts: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of those novels that really has no plot. There is no mystery. There is no real tension that keeps a reader engaged and absorbed. Rather, it is a series of vignettes about life in this little English village, focusing on a small group of friends and their “adventures” as they meander through life. While it may not be the most exciting of novels, there is something about these glimpses into genteel life that is utterly charming. Therein lies its power.
Cranford harkens back to a simpler time. Life moved slowly, and the villagers were isolated. Visitors from other towns were exciting. Visitors from other countries were completely exotic and grist for the gossip mill for months. It is a life that is unfathomable to the fast-paced, rapidly-shrinking world of today, which makes Cranford all the more special for its portrayal of this historical era.
Not only does Cranford describe a simpler time, it also describes simpler people, ones who concern themselves with their knitting, their charitable acts, their invitations for tea and polite card games, and their new hats or caps. They also worry about money, albeit in a very polite, very understated manner. In fact, one of Cranford’s main themes is the limitations and lack of options women, especially unmarried women, had at the time. Regardless of a reader’s opinion on the matter, the fact is that single women over a certain age without family money and/or male relatives found themselves with very few socially acceptable options to provide an income upon which they could live.
More than anything, though, Cranford showcases the Golden Rule in action. Miss Matty is the written embodiment of acting towards others as she would like to be treated. Everything about Cranford is old-fashioned, including the seeming lack of a main plot. Yet, the Golden Rule and examples of what it looks like in action never go out of style.
Cranford is a simple story with very little action. It meanders throughout the lives of the women in Cranford with no seeming connections. Modern readers used to fast-paced novels will be uncomfortable at the slow pace and lack of action. Yet, the simplicity of the story is what creates the story’s charm. Miss Matty’s genuine niceness will soften even the most cynical of modern readers. The pacing of the story is perfect for reading it one chapter at a time, allowing for a wonderful break from the breakneck speed of modernity. So, grab your hot beverage of choice and snuggle in for a charming, old-fashioned story that is meant to be enjoyed slowly.
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.