Friday, March 01, 2013

Cranford (1851)

Cranford. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1851. 257 pages.

Cranford is a wonderful read! It can be delightful and quirky and quite satisfying. It can be very funny, but it can also get quite sentimental. This novel focuses on a community of women; a strong, opinionated community of women. These women can be the best of friends and truly come together at times, but, there are other times when disagreements keep them apart. Readers catch glimpses of Cranford and its residents at various times through the eyes of a frequent visitor, Mary Smith, niece of Miss Matty. It's a novel that catches life just as it is--for better or worse.

Cranford is very different from Mary Barton and North and South, two books also by Elizabeth Gaskell. Though like both Mary Barton and North and South it remains realistic and at times tragic. Death being a part, a natural part of life. 

Here's how Cranford begins:
  In the first place, Cranford is in possessions of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. 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 neighboring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there? The surgeon has his round of thirty miles, and sleeps at Cranford; but every man cannot be a surgeon.
Favorite quotes:
“I'll not listen to reason... reason always means what someone else has got to say.”  
“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.” 
One of my favorite scenes, it is between Miss Jenkyns (Miss Matty's older sister) and Captain Brown:
When the trays re-appeared with biscuits and wine, punctually at a quarter to nine, there was conversation, comparing of cards, and talking over tricks; but by-and-by Captain Brown sported a bit of literature.
“Have you seen any numbers of ‘The Pickwick Papers’?” said he.  (They we’re then publishing in parts.)  “Capital thing!”
Now Miss Jenkyns was daughter of a deceased rector of Cranford; and, on the strength of a number of manuscript sermons, and a pretty good library of divinity, considered herself literary, and looked upon any conversation about books as a challenge to her.  So she answered and said, “Yes, she had seen them; indeed, she might say she had read them.”
“And what do you think of them?” exclaimed Captain Brown.  “Aren’t they famously good?”
So urged Miss Jenkyns could not but speak.
“I must say, I don’t think they are by any means equal to Dr Johnson.  Still, perhaps, the author is young.  Let him persevere, and who knows what he may become if he will take the great Doctor for his model?”  This was evidently too much for Captain Brown to take placidly; and I saw the words on the tip of his tongue before Miss Jenkyns had finished her sentence.
“It is quite a different sort of thing, my dear madam,” he began.
“I am quite aware of that,” returned she.  “And I make allowances, Captain Brown.”
“Just allow me to read you a scene out of this month’s number,” pleaded he.  “I had it only this morning, and I don’t think the company can have read it yet.”
“As you please,” said she, settling herself with an air of resignation.  He read the account of the “swarry” which Sam Weller gave at Bath.  Some of us laughed heartily.  I did not dare, because I was staying in the house.  Miss Jenkyns sat in patient gravity.  When it was ended, she turned to me, and said with mild dignity -
“Fetch me ‘Rasselas,’ my dear, out of the book-room.”
When I had brought it to her, she turned to Captain Brown -
“Now allow me to read you a scene, and then the present company can judge between your favourite, Mr Boz, and Dr Johnson.”
She read one of the conversations between Rasselas and Imlac, in a high-pitched, majestic voice: and when she had ended, she said, “I imagine I am now justified in my preference of Dr Johnson as a writer of fiction.”  The Captain screwed his lips up, and drummed on the table, but he did not speak.  She thought she would give him a finishing blow or two.
“I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.”
“How was the Rambler published, ma’am?” asked Captain Brown in a low voice, which I think Miss Jenkyns could not have heard.
“Dr Johnson’s style is a model for young beginners.  My father recommended it to me when I began to write letters - I have formed my own style upon it; I recommended it to your favourite.”
“I should be very sorry for him to exchange his style for any such pompous writing,” said Captain Brown.
Miss Jenkyns felt this as a personal affront, in a way of which the Captain had not dreamed.  Epistolary writing she and her friends considered as her forte.  Many a copy of many a letter have I seen written and corrected on the slate, before she “seized the half-hour just previous to post-time to assure” her friends of this or of that; and Dr Johnson was, as she said, her model in these compositions.  She drew herself up with dignity, and only replied to Captain Brown’s last remark by saying, with marked emphasis on every syllable, “I prefer Dr Johnson to Mr Boz.”
Another sampling, this time about peas served by Mr. Holbrook!
 When the ducks and green peas came, we looked at each other in dismay; we had only two-pronged, black-handled forks.  It is true the steel was as bright as silver; but what were we to do?  Miss Matty picked up her peas, one by one, on the point of the prongs, much as Aminé ate her grains of rice after her previous feast with the Ghoul.  Miss Pole sighed over her delicate young peas as she left them on one side of her plate untasted, for they would drop between the prongs.  I looked at my host: the peas were going wholesale into his capacious mouth, shovelled up by his large round-ended knife.  I saw, I imitated, I survived!  My friends, in spite of my precedent, could not muster up courage enough to do an ungenteel thing; and, if Mr Holbrook had not been so heartily hungry, he would probably have seen that the good peas went away almost untouched.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

JaneGS said...

I love this book--and you picked some marvelous quotes. Captain Brown and Mr. Holbrock had their work cut out for them, dealing with the Amazons.

Lovely book about characters who always seem very real to me.