Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Crandford, the last in this week's unofficial "Gaskell review" series, is also the most recent Gaskell novel I've read. Like North and South, Cranford was first published in serial form in the magazine Household Words and was edited by Charles Dickens. It first appeared in 1851 and is her second novel.

After reading and thoroughly enjoying two of Gaskell's other novels I had high expectations for Cranford and Gaskell did not disappoint.

Cranford is a novel about a little town in England in the mid 1800s. Most of the town's occupants are widows or spinsters, but their lives are by no means dreary. Throughout the story (told in first person by a young woman visitor, Mary Smith) you hear of the adventures of these women, both in the past when they were younger and in the present.

As always Gaskell's writing is superb. The humor was great and I found myself laughing out loud on various occasions. And there were so many quotable passages! Something else I enjoyed about this book was the fact that each chapter could stand alone -- almost as if it was a short story itself and yet they tied together to weave a story from cover to cover. This made it easy to read here and there as I had time without worrying about where I left off in the story.

In many ways Cranford is not like Gaskell's other works, but it is delightful in its own way and a quick and somewhat light read for the era. I highly recommend it. The copy I own is a Penguin Classics edition, clocking in at 187 pages. Additional reading is included in the notes, glossary, and three appendixes which are useful and informative.

Shortly after reading Cranford PBS' Masterpiece Classics aired a new mini-series adaptation of the novel. The mini-series was well made with great costumes, sets, and a who's who of classic British actors and actresses. Unfortunately I found the mini-series dull in comparison to the book and a little irritating as several liberties were taken and characters were added to "fluff" or dramatize and "fill out" the story, both I felt completely unnecessary. In my opinion, Cranford as a novel had plenty of "meat" to make it a worthwhile story without having to add anything to it.

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