Monday 9 January 2012

Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell


This can be any classic work, from Alcott to Zola.  Always fancied trying Great Expectations, or finally feel like tackling Jane Eyre?  Now's your chance!  From the fun to the frightening, the gentle satire to the all-out swashbuckling epic, there are hundreds of years' worth of books to choose from.

I read Cranford as part of my own challenge of reading one classic per month and as part of Ellie's Mixing It Up Challenge. This is for the first category on the list which is (funnily enough) classics. I'll be doing one of these a month. You can see how I get on looking back on my first post where I will be linking all my reviews as I go.

Miss Mary Smith was once a resident of the small town/village Cranford. Since she moved away with her father she has missed her home and spends a good deal of time staying with friends. Whilst there she keeps up with the goings on of the small village. Cranford is primarily resided by ladies. Any men who move in generally find some reason to disappear whilst the ladies stay. This is the way they like it and woe betide any man who comes along and interferes with the way their society should run. The ladies have very strict rules of etiquette which they all follow or risk being snubbed. Mary Smith follows the problems and challenges these ladies face in keeping things just the way they like them.

Many a book I have read that I didn't want to end because it was exciting. This book I didn't want to end because it was just so lovely and I very much enjoyed reading it. My one and only criticism is that it was too short. I am greedy and wanted more. The book is based on a small village that the author herself lived in for sometime. In fact I think many people saw it as autobiographical with Elizabeth being represented by the narrator Mary. The chapters are short and each contains a small story about an event in the village that concerns one or more of the ladies. I was completely enamoured by it. The chapters did link in some small way but most could be read on their own and I believe that they were initially published as periodicals.

From the first page I was immediately struck by the humour. These women clearly have no tolerance for men and this is made clear from the very first chapter. One of the funniest moments was a man who enters their circle and manages to break every one of their rules of societal behavior. Yet somehow in the end he becomes much loved by them all. A lot of the stories ran along this type of humour. One of my favourites is the chapter involving a rumour of burglary turning into a crime wave around Cranford. All the ladies imagined the worst and were sure they were next to be burgled. They came up with all sorts of ideas to prevent it. The best one was rolling a ball under the bed to ensure no one is hiding there. The best scene involved the ladies running along a dark road so that they wouldn't be attacked by ghosts. Sounds ridiculous now that I have written it but it's definitely a chapter I plan on reading over again.

It wasn't all humour though. There were many sad moments too. Moments of lost loves and friends dying. Hard to believe that there was so much in that small book. I was able to feel a connection to the characters too. I loved poor Miss Matty and laughed at Miss Pole and felt sorry for Mr Hoggins.

I'm glad I picked this up in the penguin clothbound. I haven't read all of the introduction as it warned that it would spoil the story. I plan to go back and read that next. There is also a fantastic appendix which gives lots of facts about the time and fashions that were mentioned in the book.

A lovely read and an author I very much intend to read more of.


  1. I love when someone reviews a classic that looks so good that I can't wait to read it.

  2. yay, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. A friend bought it after I raved about it too. I say bought, she got it free on her kindle.

  3. Ooh, your review is responsible for my adding this to my endless TBR pile. It really sounds like something I'd enjoy.