A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances.
Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns.
Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.
The gentle, endearing ‘heroine’ in the novel.
The almost anonymous narrator, a generation or more younger than her friend Miss Matty, a link between the old world and the new industrial one.
An exotic touring conjuror, who is not all he appears.
The most lazy, wealthy aristocratic, ignorant, and prejudiced of the Cranford set.
Unpretentious widow of a Scotish baron, she is only too willing to mix and make friends with everyone.
‘‘A rough, honest-looking country-girl’. When she enters Matty’s service, she becomes her fiercely loyal friend.
Matty’s older sister, who ‘would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men. Equal indeed! She knew they were superior.’’
Matty’s, once ‘too found of mischief’’. He is still sorely missed long years after his disappearance.
A Half-Pay captain, ‘so brazen as to talk of being poor’, who wins respect and affection and soon has ‘his opinions quoted as authority’ in cranford.
A bluff but well-read farmer who, in his younger days, made an offer of marriage to Matty.
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women.opening line
If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly 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 neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad.
“Out of the way! We are in the throes of an exceptional emergency! This is no occassion for sport- there is lace at stake!” (Ms. Pole)”
“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 an 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 once made us,” she began, “keep a diary, in two columns; on one side we were to put down in the morning what we thought would be the course and events of the coming day, and at night we were to put down on the other side what really had happened. It would be to some people rather a sad way of telling their lives,” (a tear dropped upon my hand at these words) – “I don’t mean that mine has been sad, only so very different to what I expected.”
“My father was a man, and I know the sex pretty well.”
“I don’t mean to deny that men are troublesome in a house. I don’t judge from my own experience, for my father was neatness itself, and wiped his shoes on coming in as carefully as any woman; but still a man has a sort of knowledge of what should be done in difficulties, that it is very pleasant to have one at hand ready to lean upon. Now,”
‘It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor…I only hope it is not improper; so many pleasant things are!’
About Elizabeth Gaskell
Born on the 29th September 1810 Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson, in Lindsey Row Chelsea London, the house is now 93 Cheyne Walk. The youngest of eight children. Though Elizabeth and her brother John were the only ones to survive infancy.
The Farther, a Unitarian form Berwick-upon-Tweed called William Stevenson, was at the time a minister at Failsworth, Lancashire, but left on conscientious grounds.
He was meant to goto India as a private secretary to the Earl of Lauderdale, who was going to be the Governor General of India. However, and instead, Stevenson was nominated Keeper of the Treasury Records.
Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth Holland, family was established in Lancashire and Cheshire and connected with other prominent Unitarian families, including Wedgwoods, Martineaus, Turners Darwins.
13 months after giving birth to her youngest daughter, Elizabeth’s mother died leaving a bewildered husband who saw no alternative but to send Elizabeth to live with her mother’s sister, Hannah Lumb, in Knutsford, Cheshire.
Elizabeth’s future while she was growing up was uncertain, as she had no personal wealth and no firm home, though she was a permanent guest at her aunt and grandparents’ house.
her father remarried, to Catherine Thomson, in 1814. Having a son, William, in 1815, and a daughter, Catherine, in 1816. Although Elizabeth spent several years without seeing her father, to whom she was devoted,
Her older brother John often visited her in Knutsford. John was destined for the Royal Navy from an early age, like his grandfathers and uncles, but he did not obtain preferment into the Service and had to join the Merchant Navy with the East India Company’s fleet. John went missing in 1827 during an expedition to India.
A beautiful young woman, Elizabeth was well-groomed, tidily dressed, kind, gentle, and considerate of others. Her temperament was calm and collected, joyous and innocent, she reveled in the simplicity of rural life.
Elizabeth’s childhood was spent in Cheshire, living with her aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford, the town that Cranford is based on. They lived in a large red-brick house called The Heath (now Heathwaite).
Attending a school run by the Misses Byerley at Barford House and afterward at Avonbank in Stratford-on-Avon, she received the traditional education in arts, the classics, decorum and propriety given to young ladies from relatively wealthy families at the time.
Her aunts gave her the classics to read, and she was encouraged by her father in her studies and writing. Her brother John sent her modern books, and descriptions of his life at sea and his experiences abroad
After leaving school at the age of 16, Elizabeth traveled to London to spend time with her Holland cousins.
Married life and writing career
Elizabeth married a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell, on the 30th August 1832, in Knutsford. Spending their honeymoon in North Wales, staying with her uncle, Samuel Holland, near Porthmadog.
Settling in Manchester, where William was the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel. The cities’ industrial surroundings influenced her writing in the industrial genre.
Their first child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1833. Their other children were Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily, known as Meta (1837), Florence Elizabeth (1842), and Julia Bradford (1846). Marianne and Meta boarded at the private school conducted by Rachel Martineau, sister of Harriet, a close friend of Elizabeth. Florence married Charles Crompton, a barrister and Liberal politician, in 1863.
Gaskell began a diary documenting the development of her daughter Marianne in march 1835: she explored parenthood, the values she placed on her role as a mother; her faith, and, later, relations between Marianne and her sister, Meta.
In 1836 she co-authored with her husband a cycle of poems, Sketches among the Poor, which was published in Blackwood’s Magazine in January 1837. In 1840 William Howitt published Visits to Remarkable Places containing a contribution entitled Clopton Hall by “A Lady”, the first work was written and published solely by her.
In April 1840 Howitt published The Rural Life of England, which included a second work titled Notes on Cheshire Customs.
In 1841 the Gaskells traveled to Belgium and Germany. German literature was to have a strong influence on her short stories, the first of which she published in 1847 as Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras, in Howitt’s Journal, under the pseudonym “Cotton Mather Mills”.
Other influences including Adam Smith’s Social Politics enabled a much wider understanding of the cultural milieu in which her works were set. Her second story printed under the pseudonym was The Sexton’s Hero. And she made her last use of it in 1848, with the publication of her story Christmas Storms and Sunshine.
A son, William, (1844–45), died in infancy, and this tragedy was the catalyst for Gaskell’s first novel, Mary Barton. It was ready for publication in October 1848, shortly before they made the move south.
An enormous success, selling thousands of copies. Bringing slums of manufacturing in Manchester alive to readers as yet unacquainted with crowded narrow alleyways. Her obvious depth of feeling was evident, while her turn of phrase and description was described as the greatest since Jane Austen.
The Gaskells moved to a villa at 84 Plymouth Grove. She took her cow with her. For exercise, she would happily walk three miles to help another person in distress.
In Manchester, Elizabeth wrote her remaining literary works, while her husband held welfare committees and tutored the poor in his study. The Gaskells’ social circle included writers, journalists, religious dissenters, social reformers, Poets, patrons of literature and writers visited Plymouth Grove.
As did the American writers Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Eliot Norton, while the conductor Charles Hallé, who lived close by, taught piano to one of their daughters. Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Brontë stayed there three times, and on one occasion hid behind the drawing room curtains as she was too shy to meet the Gaskells’ other visitors.
In early 1850 Gaskell wrote to Charles Dickens asking for advice about assisting a girl named Pasley whom she had visited in prison. Pasley provided her with a model for the title character of Ruth in 1853. Lizzie Leigh was published in March and April 1850, in the first numbers of Dickens’s journal Household Words, in which many of her works were to be published, including Cranford and North and South, her novella My Lady Ludlow, and short stories.
Patrick Brontë asked Gaskell to write a biography of his daughter Charlotte, The book The Life of Charlotte Brontë was published in 1857. Playing a significant role in developing Gaskell’s own literary career. In the biography, Gaskell chose to focus more on Brontë as a woman rather than as a writer of Romantic fiction.
The serialization of her last novel, Wives and Daughters, began in August 1864 in The Cornhill.She died of a heart attack in 1865, while visiting a house she had purchased in Holybourne, Hampshire.
|North and South||1854-55|
|My Lady Ludlow||1858|
|A Dark Night’s Work||1863|
|Wives and Daughter: An Everyday Story||1864-66|
Novellas and Collections
|The Moorland Cottage||1850|
|Mr Harrison’s Confessions||1851|
|The Old Nurse’s Story||1852|
|Round the Sofa||1859|
|Lois the Witch||1859, 1861|
|The Grey Woman and Other Tales||1865|
|Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras||1847|
|The Sexton’s Hero||1847||Half a Life-time Ago||1855|
|Christmas Storms and Sunshine||1848||The Poor Clare||1856|
|Hand and Heart||1849||The Doom of The Griffiths||1858|
|Martha Preston||1850||An Incident at Niagara Falls||1858|
|The Well of Pen-Morfa||1850||The Sin of a Father (later published as) Right at Last||1858|
|The Heart of John Middleton||1850||The Manchester Marriage||1858|
|Disappearances||1851||The Haunted House||1859|
|Bessy’s Troubles at Home||1852||The Ghost in the Garden Room (later publishe as) The Crooked Branch||1859|
|The Old Nurse’s Story||1852||The Half Brothers||1859|
|Cumberland Sheep-Shearers||1853||Curious IF True||1860|
|Morton Hall||1853||The Grey Woman||1860|
|Traits and Stories of the Huguenots||1853||Six Weeks at Heppenheim||1862|
|My French Master||1853||The Catge at Cranford||1863|
|The Squire’s Story||1853||How the First Floor went to Crowley Castle (Latter published as) Crowley Castle||1863|
|Company Manners||1853||A Parson’s Holiday||1865|
|Notes on Cheshire Customs||1840|
|An Accursed Race||1855|
|The Life of Charlotte Bronte||1857|
|A Column Gossip From Paris||1865|
|Sketches Among the Poor||1837||William Gaskell|
|Your Show Time||1949||1||The Manchester Marriage|
|BBC Sunday-Night Theater||1951||1||Cranford|
|North and South||1966||5|
|Wive and Daughters||1971||6|
|North & South||1975||4|
|North & South||2004||4|
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