Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

Okay, turns out this was a re-read!  I had a suspicion that some of these might turn up: if I wasn't 100% sure I'd read a book on the 1001 list already, I left it marked as unread.  I was fairly sure I'd read Cranford, I'm an Elizabeth Gaskell fan, and wasn't sure how I could have missed it, but couldn't remember anything at all about it!

This definitely shouldn't be taken as a negative about the book, which is a fine one, perhaps more of a memory trick I played on myself, or that year I may have read a lot of Gaskell, or something.   Pays to write books down...I guess!

Cranford is a finely drawn portrait of small town life, or a slice of that life, in particular of the women of a certain class.  It's told from the point of view of an 'insider' visitor who participates in the story, a loosely disguised version of Gaskell herself.

Gaskell is a keen and wry observer of human interaction, and captures the lives of these women so beautifully, sensitively, but with a perfect sense of amusement about it all that made me smile through the whole work.  In parts it is painfully sad, the lives of these women are so limited, and in some cases, tragic.  Gaskell perfectly captures this contained life, while showing that the inner lives and kindnesses of this tightly woven community are expanded, despite the constraints of their circumstances.

As a history of women, it's a powerful one.  I had a sense of horror that this was all I could have expected from that world and that time, this limited and constrained existence, set about by rules of action that are so different from what women of my own "class" get to expect today.  Of course, we have just as many social rules now, but then, it was so small, geographically and socially, women were unable to be strong social actors, to act to change their circumstances, other than within the boundaries set (like marriage, the actions of relatives, or the kindnesses of friends).  Forbidden so much, to both rise or fall, they were trapped like bugs in amber.

Gaskell's writing perfectly matches this constraint, her wry observations, and clear sympathies and admirations, this is a powerful read, disguised as a small story about some women of the middle class who live in the small village of Cranford.  Well worth a read (or a re-read, as the case may be!).

The discussion of Cranford at Gaskell Blog is well worth a read, it adds much to the story.



Kristi said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I haven't read anything by Gaskell but this one is on my list of books I'd like to get to.

anne said...

I love Cranford, it's one of my all time comfort reads. Which is a bit odd considering all the restrictions in the women's lives. But - no, I will blog about it at some stage on The Trick is to Keep Reading. And thanks for commenting there.

Selene said...

Thanks for the mention over at your blog! Like I said over there, Cranford is so lovely because of the friendships and care these women have for each other. I'm reading Ruth as a readalong, too, you should join us!