Cranford is such a lovely little book. I’m a big fan of both North & South and Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, so I’m slowly making my way to her other books. Cranford is less of a traditional novel than the other two books. Really, it’s a set of connected vignettes or novellas. Most of the action takes place in tiny Cranford and within the social circle of the highest class in the town. It’s a long running joke in the novel that Cranford is mostly made up of old ladies and they’re all a little shy of men (who invariably never last long in Cranford). The narrator of the novel doesn’t actually live in town, but has many close friends there so she visits often over the years and we get to see how life changes (or doesn’t change).
As always, Gaskell’s characters are her best strength. These little old ladies all feel very real by the end of the book, almost as if she had based them on real people. Then there are the fun bit characters who pop in for a vignette here and there. It also wouldn’t be a Gaskell book without some social commentary on class. Class and money is an underlying theme through the whole book since most of the ladies are pretty poor, but come from genteel backgrounds.
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Prunella Scales and it was a great choice. Scales has a very pleasant voice and never distracted from the narrative. She has a great ability to bring out the emotions in a story without being overt or obnoxious about it.