For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 33, Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
In the 1850s, Charles Dickens edited a journal called Household Words, which published affectionate and sometimes comic stories about small town life. The town of Cranford is not a real one, but the 16 chapters of Cranford the book bring it to life. The sketches appeared as serial contributions to Household Words and reflect the changing world in the microcosm of a English country town.
The narrator is Mary Smith, who is not a resident of Cranford but a frequent visitor, and so her eye and observations are not colored by inhabitancy. When she is not in Cranford, Mary keeps up with the changes and events through correspondence with the town’s leading ladies. Her first note of interest is that the town is possessed by the Amazons: “all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are ladies.” There are love affairs, old and new; childbirths and deaths; upheavals caused by progress; scandals and tiffs and friendships—events that appear small on the surface but are big news to the lady who reports them to Mary. Into the mix of Cranford’s ladies comes Captain Brown and Mr. Carter and brother Peter, who add drama but who also usher in change to a place not built for or easily swayed toward it. But change comes, and Cranford adapts with it.
Why is Cranford a good read for women? Elizabeth Gaskell was a minister’s wife who raised her family and assisted in his parish work in a rough area in Manchester. Her other novels are set in and about industrial life, so the sweet, poignant charm of Cranford is a departure. In addition to possessing a socially aware eye about challenging conditions and social classes, Gaskell was said to be an uncompromising artist. The introduction to Cranford explains that she and Dickens often butted heads, but she would not allow the much renowned male author to bully her or make changes she did not approve. Her devotion to her craft is reflected in the upright and strong-willed ladies she portrays in Cranford.