In the end, I sighed with satisfaction. Yes, everything would be alright in Miss Matty Jenkyn’s town of Cranford.
I wasn’t sure I liked Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s Cranford for most of my reading, and to be honest, the snippets of life in the town of Cranford irritated me at first. But in the end, it all comes full circle for me and I almost want to reread the portions that irritated me in the beginning. Some day, I think I’ll revisit this book. I definitely want to read more of Gaskell’s writing.
I think what I disliked most about Cranford-the-town was the superficiality of all the people. It is a town of predominately middle-aged, middle-class women, most of whom are spinsters or widows. From the beginning, though, we learn that there are certain social manners that are “required” to be followed. People with the wrong manners or even the wrong name are shunned. Middle-class people who admit to being “poor” or “unable to afford” something are social piranhas.
I have never been one to succeed in understanding popular fashions and unspoken social codes, and so such a city would seriously be hell on earth for me. I personally try hard not to care what other people think. Subsequently, I disliked most of the women for much of the book because they were so concerned about pleasing each other, and especially with pleasing the widowed Mrs Jamieson. Even Miss Matty and the narrator were guilty of such pandering to convention and it was rather disgusting to me.
Certainly, that is part of the point of Gaskell’s novel. The narrator herself often expresses frustration at the ridiculous traditions, and her comments shed light on the humor of the situations, because they certainly were humorous. When “sensational” gossip revolves around how long someone stayed to visit (i.e., longer than 15 minutes), you know some priorities are out of order. My copy had occasional endnotes that explained some of the jokes that only those familiar with the Victorian period would have picked up on. For me, most of the book was a rather roll-my-eyes funny because I just really disliked the entire framework. It felt high school-ish and depressing: 50-year-old women were still playing the “popularity” and “gossip” game with their life.
Despite my dislike of the “game” they were playing, I still loved some of the characters. Miss Matty particularly stood out to me, and as she wept in her loneliness, I found myself weeping (I cry when I read books all the time). (Highlight for spoiler) When her friends came to her aid, I wept again. (end spoiler) And I loved Lady Glenmire. I say she was the only true Amazon woman in this novel, for she truly didn’t care what anyone else thought.
The narrator has an interesting presence in the book. For much of the novel, she is nameless, and yet she is obviously present at the various social functions. Only toward the end does her roll and presence become important, and while it was a little jarring to see her as a significant character in the novel (I liked it when she was in the background), it was refreshing to see her sincere friendship to Miss Matty.
Suffice it to say, though, that despite my frustration with the city of Cranford, I felt Cranford was well resolved. (Highlight for spoilers) I loved how Peter helped return the city to order, helping the women, particularly the ridiculous Mrs Jamieson, see that Lady Glenmire could still be a friend, even when her name was Mrs Hoggins. I thought that was a reminder that while it may be fun to sit around gossiping with other women, sometimes we need a reminder to have common sense. I subconsciously wish that it was Mary Smith, our narrator, who was able to knock some sense in to them. Yet, having a man come to the village seemed to indicate that, while a city of Amazons may be a nice idea, men help keep balance and rather make life pleasant. It’s easy to get wrapped up in gossip. (end spoiler)
I finished Cranford about an hour ago, and I rarely write reviews so soon after finishing a book. But Heather’s read-along was what motivated me to read this book in the first place, and so this end-of-the-month deadline has encouraged me to finish it and post about it tonight. I’m glad for that motivation because it is kind of refreshing to write my thoughts when they are still so fresh in my mind. I should do this more often.
(P.S. I just put the Masterpiece DVD on hold at my library too! I’m looking forward to watching it.)