Cranford (novel)

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Cranford
Miss Matty and Peter.jpg
Miss Matty and Peter
Author Elizabeth Gaskell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Victorian literature
Publisher Household Words
Publication date
1851 (serial), 1853 (complete)
Media type Print ()

Cranford[1] is one of the better-known novels of the 19th-century English writer Elizabeth Gaskell. It was first published in 1851 as a serial in the magazine Household Words, which was edited by Charles Dickens.

Plot[edit]

A collection of comic sketches serialized in Charles Dickens's journal Household Words, these stories look to sympathetically portray changing small-town customs and values.[2] Harkening back to memories of her childhood in the small Cheshire town of Knutsford, Cranford is an attempt to portray an affectionate picture of a class and customs already becoming anachronisms.[3]

Chapter I - Our Society

The book is narrated by Mary Smith, a woman who frequently visits the town and, when away, remains abreast of events through correspondence with the other characters. The first chapter introduces the leading women of Cranford, idiosyncratic yet endearing characters who hope to preserve their lifestyles (and all-important social customs) from change. Rowena Fowler, possessor of a red silk umbrella, conservatively considers an heir while her infirm body has outlived her kin. Miss Betty Barker is also determined to preserve the past, but in the form of her cow, which she sews pyjamas for, as it lost all of its hair after falling into a lime-pit. As for Miss Deborah Jenkyns, she establishes the norms and customs by which the town must abide.

However, when Captain Brown moves to town, he challenges the women's rules of politeness. First, he openly admits his own poverty. This is particularly awful to Miss Deborah Jenkyns, whom Brown also offends by finding Charles Dickens a better writer than Jenkyns' preferred Dr. Johnson. Nevertheless, Brown’s warm manner subdues his detractors’ contention of his supposed social awkwardness; therefore, they allow him to bypass custom and visit before noon. Brown also has two daughters: Miss Brown, an ill-tempered woman with hardened features, and Miss Jessie, who has an innocent face and, like her father, is naive to Cranford’s rules. For instance, Miss Jessie boasts that her uncle can provide her with large amounts of Shetland wool. When aristocratic Miss Jamieson overhears, she takes exception to Miss Jessie putting on airs.

Chapter II - The Captain

As in any other small town, all is known by all, and the Browns' affairs shortly are no exception. While their economic distress is evident from day one, the townspeople soon discover something new: Captain Brown’s kindness. This is most notable in his treatment of his elder daughter, who has a debilitating illness (which contributes to her bad temper). Captain Brown and his younger daughter endure abject poverty in order to afford small luxuries to comfort the elder daughter. Captain Brown also shows his kindness by hand-crafting a wood-fire shovel for Miss Jenkyns.

After leaving Cranford for a time, our narrator, Mary Smith, returns to find nothing changed, not even Miss Jenkyns' animosity for Captain Brown. Captain Brown is still indigent as his daughter’s condition worsens. However, the town soon becomes hectic when Captain Brown dies. The women of the town then expect to have to support Brown’s daughters. With the final pages focusing on funeral arrangements, consoling the daughters, and Miss Jenkyns' attempts to take Miss Jessie in, the chapter concludes with Major Gordon, a man who served with Captain Brown, arriving in Cranford and trying to connect with Brown’s children.

Chapter III - A Love Affair of Long Ago

Miss Jenkyns' younger sister, Miss Matty, is overwhelmed by the upcoming visit of her cousin, Major Jenkyns. This anxiety is due to the fact that Miss Matty’s sister always ruled over her. Therefore, Miss Matty is ill-prepared to receive visitors, a job Miss Jenkyns would have overseen herself. In the meantime, Miss Matty takes on a new servant, Martha, whom Mary Smith trains. Fortunately, the visit goes without a hitch, aside from one small mistake: the servant nudges Major Jenkyns when he does not help himself fast enough at the dinner table.

The chapter concludes at Johnson’s store, when Miss Matty and Mary notice the arrival of Thomas Holbrook, who proposed to Miss Matty when they were young. Recalling the incident, Miss Matty says that her elder sister did not feel Thomas Holbrook would be a suitable husband, so the two separated in spite of mutual interest. Nevertheless, Holbrook invites the women to spend a day with him at his home.

Chapter IV - A Visit to an Old Bachelor

Arriving at Mr. Holbrook’s house, Miss Matty, Miss Pole, and Mary Smith are received well, and Miss Matty is flush with ideas of what may have been. Allowing Miss Pole and Miss Matty to get acclimated, Holbrook then shows Mary around the grounds, which is a fine home indeed. Although a hard-working man, Holbrook is content with a meagre social status, as his passion is books, not climbing social ladders.

After an enjoyable dinner, Holbrook offers Miss Matty the honor of filling his pipe. Then he reads poetry aloud, during which Miss Matty falls asleep. As the women are departing, Mr. Holbrook says he will call upon them. Miss Matty begins to hope that her girlhood dream may come true after all. Unfortunately, Mr. Holbrook dies later. As a result, Miss Matty resigns herself to allowing Martha to date, for she does not wish to prevent love in the same way Miss Jenkyns did to her.

Chapter V - Old Letters

In chapter five, the story shifts back in time to focus on Molly and John, the future parents of the Jenkyns sisters. John is very much in love and eager to be married, but Molly is not as enthusiastic. She expresses annoyance at John’s constant professions of love in their correspondence. However, she finally accepts his advances, and they are married when Molly is eighteen.

The chapter then includes letters from the Jenkyns sisters' grandfather, who writes at the news of his granddaughters being born. He believes they will be great beauties of Cranford. When a son is born later, the grandfather hopes that the boy will not fall into the proverbial “snares of the world.”

Finally, John, now Reverend Jenkyns, receives some acclaim in having one of his sermons published. Now Molly’s love finally matures, and is illustrated by her now addressing him as “my honored husband” in their letters.

Chapter VI - Poor Peter

Chapter six focuses on Miss Matty’s brother, Peter. Close with Matty but not with Miss Jenkyns, Peter has a life of prestige ahead of him, destined for an education of distinction at Cambridge. Preferring a life of mischief, Peter dresses up as his sister Miss Jenkyns and carried what would be construed as an illegitimate child, to upset his father, the reverend. The reverend then beats his son with his walking stick. After kissing his mother, Peter goes upstairs, and then leaves without telling anyone. His mother cries for his return.

A few days later a letter from Peter arrives. He has signed up to work on a ship. Unfortunately, Peter’s letter arrives late, and his parents’ attempts to persuade him otherwise go to no avail. Shortly thereafter, Peter’s mother dies from grief over her son, and Miss Jenkyns promises to take care of her father. After some time, Peter returns with some military accomplishment, and his father shows him off to Cranford. Peter then leaves for a war in India, and he is never heard from again.

Chapter VII - Visiting

A woman named Miss Betty Barker visits Miss Matty before the socially acceptable time. Thus, this visit once again overwhelms Matty, who accidentally puts on two caps to receive Miss Betty. Mary Smith is highly amused with the mistake. Miss Betty, a modest clerk’s daughter, once was employed as a maid. She saved enough to open a millinery shop with her sister. After working with a well-connected woman, Lady Arley, on clothing patterns, they focused on selling to aristocrats.

Miss Betty invites all the Cranford women to tea, even her former employer, Mrs. Jamieson. Class consciousness begins to inflate, and a Mrs. Fitz Adam receives no invitation due to her background. During the tea party, Miss Betty’s tea tray arrives with extravagant goodies, which is considered vulgar in Cranford. However, the rules begin to recede as the women play cards, order another tray, and consume a little too much brandy.

Chapter VIII - Your Ladyship

The widow of Mr. Jamieson’s eldest brother, Lady Glenmire, is arriving to visit the small town, and staying with Mrs. Jamieson. In turn, Cranford is buzzing to have such a prestigious woman in their midst. That is, all are excited but Mrs. Jamieson, who slightly insults Lady Glenmire. Nevertheless, while Miss Pole specifically wishes to be assured that Queen Victoria is well; however, confusion abounds as to how one should address Lady Glenmire, especially Miss Matty.

Yet in still, Mrs. Jamieson’s butler, Mr. Mulliner, sends out invitations for a small party. Most women wish to decline until they are persuaded by Miss Pole to accept. Uncomfortably quiet in the beginning, no one knows how to begin a conversation with someone of Lady Glenmire’s stature. This awkwardness is concluded when Miss Pole finally asks Lady Glenmire whether she has been to court, to which she states she had not. A mutual friendship is soon formed, while Mr. Mulliner takes too long to appease the hungry guests.

Chapter IX - Signor Brunoni

Mary Smith decides to return home to nurse her ailing father, leaving her interest in Cranford behind. Yet in November, while her father is returning to health, Mary receives an odd letter from Miss Matty. Asking about Turbans, styles and fashions, Miss Matty inevitably put the confusion to rest by saying a conjurer is coming: Signor Brunoni.

Mary decides to return, but mostly to see her friends, to which Miss Pole has a story just aching to be told. In the meantime, preparations are made for Signor Brunoni’s arrival. Miss Pole then meets a man, but this man mysteriously turns into Signor Brunoni, who is apparently demonstrating his magic. The next day Miss Matty is so excited to attend the show that she prepares early and rushes Mary to do so as well. The performance begins, and as the ladies are impressed, they aren’t quite sure what to think about the spectacle.

Chapter X - The Panic

Shortly after Signor Brunoni’s show, there is a spike in robberies. The ladies begin to believe Brunoni is responsible, even though he is no longer in town, and perhaps even a spy for the French. Miss Matty is also concerned, and she, Mary Smith, and Martha check the house every evening before bed. Soon after, Miss Pole also believes there is some trouble brewing when odd things happen, such as a beggar coming to the house and two men lurking around the premises as well. Similar things happen at Mrs. Jamiesons’ home, and Mr. Mulliner attempted to confront the evildoers, scaring off the assailants. In the fracas, Mrs. Jamieson’s dog, Carlo, passed away.

Miss Pole then sees the gang, 2 men and a woman, which came with their appearance including glowing auras. Later, Mrs. Forrester invites everyone to come to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Everyone attends in spite of difficult traveling conditions to support Mrs. Forrester’s night reminiscing as a widow. Showing their bravery the women confront their fears by discussing them. Miss Matty was fearful there may be a man hidden under her bed, while Miss Jenkyns thought it would be terrible to find a man staring at her from underneath a bed. Mrs. Forrester resigns to hiring boy from the cottages to keep an eye on her home. This comes with instructions that the boy should attack any strange noises with the Major’s sword.

Chapter XI - Samuel Brown

Miss Pole and Lady Glenmire go for a walk to visit a lady famous for knitting socks. Unfortunately, they become lost on the way, so they inquire for directions. Meeting two men and a woman, Miss Pole ponders as to whether these are the burglars. Mrs. Roberts, owner of the lodging place where Miss Pole and Lady Glenmire ask for directions, is insulted as if she stands accused. She goes to look for one of the apparent members of the gang, who is coincidentally Signor Brunoni, but now discovered to be an Englishman named Samuel Brown. Lady Glenmire offers to have a Dr. Hoggins look him over.

As Mary Smith is talking to Mrs. Brown, she learns of their time in India. Signor had been in the 31st regiment, but during that time she lost six children. Finally having a daughter named Phoebe, Mrs. Brown cannot bear to lose another child, and asks to go back to England. They save up, and when Phoebe is born they set off for the journey back to England. And as they near the end of their journey to leave India, Phoebe becomes ill. Meeting an Englishman named Aga Jenkyns, he nursed the baby back to health. Also, considering Peter vanished in India, curiosity abounds.

Chapter XII - Engaged to be Married

As Cranford, particularly Mrs. Jamieson and Lady Glenmire, took in Mr. and Mrs. Brown, the extra time spent between Lady Glenmire and Dr. Hoggins leads to Mrs. Fitz-Adam, Dr. Hoggins’ sister, confirming the two are to be married. This time was also lengthened when one of Mrs. Jamieson’s servants became ill, which require more interaction between the Dr. and Lady Glenmire.

This is quite the development for Cranford, the town struggles for an appropriate response, and this momentarily overshadows any discussion of Peter. However, the new spring fashion have arrived at the Johnson shop, and this may be the diversion Cranford needs.

Chapter XIII - Stopped Payment

The post-woman brings two letters to Miss Matty’s house, one for herself and one for Mary Smith. Mary’s was from her father, a correspondence that informed Mary of his continued good health. All contents were dull, aside from the attention her father devoted to the Town and Country Bank, which Miss Matty had stock in. As for Miss Matty’s, her letter came from Town and County Bank, suggesting of an important meeting to be attended. The ladies then travel to Johnson’s to inspect the latest clothing arrivals. Miss Matty considers a new silk gown, which was a great departure from Miss Jenkyns handling.

In the meantime, the shop man received a similar letter in regards to Town and County Bank. He informs the ladies it is a joint-stock bank, and there are reports out that it is likely to break. In turn, shopping becomes tiring as a quiet depression hangs over the women, for the note from Town and Country consumed them. The following morning news came that the bank stopped payment, and Miss Matty was now in financial ruin.

Chapter XIV - Friends in Need

Miss Matty, dealing with economic ruin, is supported by Martha, who refuses to leave. However, Miss Matty’s finances made it a necessity, as she now considered taking a single room and working as a teacher, a profession Mary found ill-suited. In turn, Mary Smith summoned her father to offer advice to the newly downtrodden, and a magnificent meal was made by Martha in hopes to console Miss Matty. Later, Martha suggests marrying a man, Jem Hearn, and asks Miss Matty to lodge with the newlywed couple.

The next morning, Miss Pole sends a letter suggesting a meeting with Mary at 11am sharp. Mrs Forrester was there, and Mrs Fitz-Adam appeared. The women of Cranford discussed Miss Matty’s plight the day prior, and have resolved to help Miss Matty in any way possible. For later Mary gave Miss Matty the news as Mary’s father came to discuss Miss Matty’s affairs. To this, Miss Matty spoke of her initial plan, which was Martha and Jem were to be married without delay, and they can live at Miss Matty’s house after a sale of which the women of Cranford would supplement.

Chapter XV - A Happy Return

Mary Smith, leaving Cranford again, does so confident everything has been arranged for Miss Matty. Conversely, Mr. and Mrs. (Once Lady Glenmire) Hoggins return to Cranford. Mrs. Hoggins, according to custom, drops her aristocratic roots for Mr. Hoggins’ more humble class status, something that was routine for the time.

Miss Matty’s sale went well, and she even retained some of her belongings. Mary left Miss Matty feeling good about her future, as she intended to sell tea. Unfortunately, a year later Miss Matty fell ill, and Mary returned to care for her. As for the rest of Cranford, The Jamieson and Hoggins feud still raged, while Martha’s marriage to Jem was secure. As for Miss Matty, she would come to find that Peter, her long lost brother, had returned. And while he did not return an incredibly rich man, he enjoyed enough so that he and his sister could live comfortably.

Chapter XVI - Peace to Cranford

Peter became a favorite of the ladies of Cranford. Furthermore, after being questioned about never marrying by Mary, she confesses her interest in Mr. Holbrook, but it was a relationship Miss Jenkyns would have never approved of.

In conclusion, Peter remained up to his old trick to the last page. For his ruse was a vague signal of interest in marrying Mrs. Jamieson, to which she was extremely intrigued, but did little more than told stories at the time a Cranford party assumed he would ask for her hand in marriage.

Characters[edit]

  • Mary Smith – The narrator. A woman frequently staying with Miss Matty.
  • Miss Matty Jenkyns – An amiable and good-natured (though rather timid) old spinster.
  • Miss Deborah Jenkyns – Miss Matty's imperious older sister. Dies early on in the novel.
  • Miss Pole – Allegedly the most "reasonable" and "enlightened" of the Cranford ladies; the reader may draw his/her own conclusions.
  • The Honourable Mrs Jamieson – A widow with aristocratic connections and the owner of her beloved dog, Carlo. A mostly lethargic old woman.
  • Mrs Forrester – Another widow.
  • Betty Barker – A former milliner, who owns a cow whom she loves like a daughter.
  • Peter Jenkyns – The Jenkyns' long-lost brother, who returns from India at the end of the novel.
  • Thomas Holbrook – Miss Matty's admirer and a farmer. He dies a year after his trip to Paris, France, yet his death is blamed on this trip.
  • Captain Brown – A poor captain, who comes to live at Cranford with his two daughters.
  • Miss Brown – Captain Brown's elder daughter.
  • Miss Jessie Brown – Captain Brown's daughter. After his and her sister's deaths, she marries and leaves Cranford.
  • Major Gordon – A friend of Captain Brown who has been in love with Jessie Brown for years.
  • Lady Glenmire – Mrs. Jamieson's poor but aristocratic sister-in-law. Later marries Dr. Hoggins.
  • Dr. Hoggins – The Cranford surgeon. A rough but friendly and well-meaning man.
  • Martha – Miss Matty's maid. Later her landlady and companion at equal terms.
  • Mr. Mulliner – Mrs. Jamieson's creepy and cowardy butler.
  • Signor Brunoni – A travelling magician.
  • Signora Brunoni – The wife of the travelling magician, who travels on foot across India to save the life of her baby daughter.

Adaptations[edit]

The novel has been thrice adapted for television by the BBC. The first version was broadcast in 1951, the second in 1972, with Gabrielle Hamilton as Miss Matty, and the third version in 2007. The 2007 version added material from other writings by Gaskell: My Lady Ludlow, Mr. Harrison's Confessions and The Last Generation in England. Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins took the leading roles as Miss Matty and Miss Deborah Jenkyns, with Imelda Staunton cast as the town's gossip, Miss Pole, and Michael Gambon as Miss Matty's former admirer, Mr. Holbrook. The BBC sequel, Return to Cranford, was broadcast in 2009 in the UK and 2010 in the USA.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gaskell, Elizabeth. "Cranford". http://www.gutenberg.org. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Denisoff, Dennis (2004). The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Short Stories. Canada: Broadview Press. p. 123. 
  3. ^ Wright, Edgar. "Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell". Dictionary of Literary Biography. 

External links[edit]

Online texts[edit]