I very much like Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction, although this is the second book by her that I’ve read. I like the comforting and Victorian feel her books emanate, but simultaneously she undercuts this feeling by subtly criticising Victorian standards on gender and the tension between countryside and industrious England.
In this book the story is told about the small country town of Cranford idyllically situated in rural England and where everything seems to be perpetually stuck in past. Especially since almost everybody in this town is wary of change and as a result they are all ruffled and shaken by the most minor changes in their society. Cranford is a town, as the narrator says, of Amazons there a few to none male inhabitants or relatives and if there are any they have left the town for many reasons. As a result the town knows a very hierarchical pecking order between the women with Miss Deborah Jenkins and after her death The Honourable Mr. Jamieson on top. This pecking order makes the women dependent on each other and creates a need for affirmation, yet it also gives them a possibility to change society and possibly the way they see the world.
This small pastoral town and the relationship between the ladies has something comedic over them, the way they act, the problems they encounter might seem minor blips or of no significance to a modern audience, but to them they are very real. The fashion in which they try to solve their problems might be hilarious at times, but there is a strong undercurrent of tragedy in this book as well. The primary narrator of the story is Mary Smith who is not a native but a visitor of Miss Matty. As an outsider she is able to be more objective regarding the women’s behaviour and therefore more critical as well. This critical note highlights the tragic undercurrent in the story, namely that the town is an aging one where there are barely any young community members left. The way of live the ladies so desperately adhere to will eventually cease to exist in the ever-changing world and because there is no next generation to teach.
This book, being the second book by Gaskell I’ve read, made me want to read her other books.