Boring Can Be Beautiful: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell #20BooksOfSummer

It took me a while to get into Cranford. Honestly, the only reason I made it past page 50 was because I’ve been extremely busy these past 2 weeks and I was craving something slow and low-key. I definitely got that with this book. Life in Cranford could not be any different from mine. Goodness, there is NOTHING going on in that town. Well, nothing in my opinion. The ladies of the village are quite busy visiting each other and gossiping and managing their little households. A new lodger who flaunts his poverty, the visit of a magician, and the rumored marriage of a titled lady to the appallingly honest doctor are enough to keep them occupied for days on end. Not exactly my idea of fun, but…

While I was still trying to decide whether it might not be appealing to have nothing to decide on in life other than which color to pick for a new bonnet and how long it might take me to commute to work on a horse—yes, my mind wandered quite a bit when I first started listening to the book—I suddenly realized that I had grown quite fond of the ladies. They cared for each other, and fretting over whether the bonnet’s color might not be too similar to another’s new bonnet was only proof of their caring natures.

Miss Matty, in particular, was such a gentle, good, and sweet character. I wanted to give her a hug more than once over the course of the book. Having been used to deferring to her sister DeBOHrah (emphasis on the second syllable, please) in everything, she had a hard time breaking her habits after her sister’s death. I cheered her on when she finally defied her dead sister and allowed her maid to visit with a potential suitor. I felt her sorrow when the man she wanted to marry when she was young, but couldn’t, died shortly after they got reacquainted in old age. And when Miss Matty lost all of her money in a bank failure, I started fretting over her wellbeing myself. Sweet Miss Matty, how glad I was to see some happiness restored to her life—though she certainly held her own as a tea merchant.

All throughout, Gaskell pokes gentle fun at her characters. There’s a dry humor threading through the narrative that I found entertaining, and her subtle jabs at the characters spreading gossip or judging prematurely did not go unnoticed. Overall, I thought it was an honest depiction of the gentility in 19th-century England. When I first started the book, I was disappointed because I didn’t think I would feel compelled to pick up Gaskell’s North and South, which has been sitting on my Classics shelf for a long time. But once I finished Cranford, I knew that I will definitely read it… eventually.

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21 comments

  1. Great review! I have to say that I found Cranford hard going, for exactly the reasons you discuss, although I agree it’s not without its charms. North And South and Wives And Daughters, although longer, are much easier reads as both have a more gripping plot. I’d definitely recommend them, since you liked Cranford 🙂

  2. I am glad the book got better for you as you continued reading. I loved Gaskell after reading North and South so I would recommend that novel. The BBc adaptation is equally good though they have cut down parts of the novel. I want to read Cranford soon and I will keep in mind that the book is slow to pick its pace.

  3. Lovely review 🙂 I really like North and South and adore Wives and Daughters, but for some reason I’ve never picked up Cranford. You’ve convinced me it could be just what I need!

  4. I think all the folks doing the #AnneReadAlone2017 right now definitely get what you’re saying. Anne Shirley of Green Gables spends an awful lot of time pretending with her friends. However, Anne always seems to get into mischief and/or trouble, which keeps things interesting. I wonder how very much that book would be different if it had been written by Marilla instead. Probably a lot like Cranford!

  5. I think you may find other Gaskell books are a bit more lively! But even then they are more eventful, she is still excellent at social and psychological observation and commentary. Wives and Daughters was my first and still I think it’s my favorite.

  6. Sometimes it can be so comforting to read a book about practically nothing. I haven’t read anything by Gaskell yet, but I hope to sometime.

  7. Love your review of this. Like FictionFan, I haven’t read the book, but I did find the TV series rather captivating. In spite of the lack of drama (well, drama by today’s standards), there was something very humane about it – a kind of honesty and simplicity, I guess.

  8. I haven’t read it, but I adore the TV adaptation from a few years back, with Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton et al. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! I believe it incorporated elements form some of her other books, maybe because of the “nothing ever happens” problem, but from your description it certainly covers all the things you mention.

    • I initially wanted to do a “from book to movie” post, since the TV series is on Amazon, but I didn’t have the time to watch it. I’m hoping to do it over the summer, though. Some of the (positive) reviews say that the series takes some liberty with the timeline of the book to make it more exciting, but that’s fine with me. Judi Dench can do no wrong in my eyes, so I am sure the adaption is a success.

  9. I don’t know why I’ve never read Gaskell before, it seems like she’d be right up my alley. Reading your review, I was instantly soothed – I’d like one day to go back to, say, the early 1990’s, when we didn’t have the internet and Twitter and constant bombardment with horrible news. (Maybe we did have that last one, but I was in middle school, so I was oblivious.) But I’m a fan of so many other things about modern life, like women’s autonomy, and gelato, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Oh well, at least we can escape into classics for a respite!

    • If you enjoy the social commentary in Jane Austen, then I think you would enjoy the wit in this one. It is a very calming book, especially if you want to escape the real world for a while. I wouldn’t mind going back to the 90s every now and then, just for long enough to get a break from all the responsibilities that come with having to act like an adult. I want to spend a summer at the pool eating ice cream, without having to think about retirement funds and pay for car insurance and find someone to seal the driveway! Sigh!!

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