Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

March 10, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): In this classic portrait of life in a quiet English village of the early nineteenth century, Elizabeth Gaskell writes with wit and affection of the foibles, follies and endearing eccentricities of its occupants as they struggle to maintain standards in their genteel poverty. This witty and poignant comedy, with its ironic observations on the pretensions of class is told through the eyes of a young woman who befriends the elderly ladies of Cranford.


  • This novel is often described as a “gentle comedy,” a term that I think fits perfectly. The events described are funny, but in a way that will make you smile and shake your head rather than laugh out loud.
  • One of the best parts of the book was when the ladies were talking about their fears and Miss Matty told about the great lengths she used to go to to ensure that there was no man hiding under her bed. When she was younger, she used to jump on the bed from far away so that the “hiding man” wouldn’t be able to grab her legs. When she got older, she rolled a ball underneath the bed, knowing that if it came out the other side, she would be okay.
  • This book provided an interesting look at daily life in the 19th century English countryside. It wasn’t exciting, to be sure, but then again, how much excitement would spinsters really have had at that time anyway?


  • Because the book was more a series of sketches than a single narrative, it was a bit difficult to get a feel for the personalities of the characters. Besides Miss Matty and maybe the narrator Mary Smith, none of the characters stood out particularly well and were just kind of a blur while I was reading. Now after a few days, I’ve pretty much forgotten all of them.


Overall, I thought Cranford was a fairly decent read. I think its modern-day significance is due more to the amusing look at daily life it provides rather than to any literary merit, but that’s okay. It was short, funny in places, and easy to get through. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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