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Cranford, and, Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth…
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Cranford, and, Cousin Phillis (edition 1976)

by Elizabeth Gaskell, P.J. Keating (Editor)

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265642,932 (4.05)16
Member:CelesteM
Title:Cranford, and, Cousin Phillis
Authors:Elizabeth Gaskell
Other authors:P.J. Keating (Editor)
Info:Penguin Classics (1976), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:classic fiction, British, 19th Century, 1860's

Work details

Cranford / Cousin Phillis (Penguin Classics) by Elizabeth Gaskell

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    Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (Trogus)
    Trogus: A better read than Cranford
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Only read Cranford up to this point. Will read Cousin Phillis later. ( )
  Chrisbookarama | Sep 23, 2013 |
Cranford tells the story of a quiet English town populated almost entirely of women.* An unnamed narrator (eventually revealed to be called Mary Smith) serves as outsider (to an extent) to explain happenings in the town whenever she comes to visit. Rather than a strictly linear and straightforward narrative, the book is more like a series of vignettes, but all related to this place and these characters, and largely taking place in the same time period. The narrator mostly goes forward in time with her narrative, discussing what happens during each subsequent visit to Cranford, but oftentimes this involves going backwards chronologically as some story or other of past times is related to her.

Gaskell’s writing style reminds me a bit of Jane Austen’s with its gentle mockery of social customs/manners (i.e., the “elegant economy” of the women of Cranford) and vivid, if somewhat absurd, characterizations (such as Miss Jenkins with her love of Dr. Johnson and hatred of Boz). But Gaskell’s writing style also differs in some rather noticeable ways. For instance, as I mentioned above, Gaskell employs a narrator who tells the story in first person and sometimes breaks down the “fourth wall” to address the reader with questions of “Is it so in London?” after relaying some country habit. More strikingly, Gaskell includes some very serious – and sad – events that we never really see in Austen’s works. For instance, over the years in Cranford, we vicariously live through the death of a beloved parent and sister or a love that is forever thwarted.

But the women of Cranford are hopeful and help each other through tough times, and there are at least as many episodes of humor in this book as there are ones of resigned melancholy, making for an enjoyable read overall. I’d definitely recommend this book for Austen fans looking for a “what next?” read as well as lovers of 19th century literature, satire, or just plain good writing.

Note: While I own the printed book including Cranford and Cousin Phillis and read both novels back in college, this time I listened to an audiobook version of Cranford only. Although I remember liking Cousin Phillis when I read it, I don't recall enough details to do it justice with a full review at this time. Perhaps in the future if/when I re-read it!

*As you learn right away by Gaskell’s clever opening to the novel: In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there? The surgeon has his round of thirty miles, and sleeps at Cranford; but every man cannot be a surgeon. For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open; for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish; for keeping their neat maid-servants in admirable order; for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. “A man,” as one of them observed to me once, “is so in the way in the house!” ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Dec 23, 2012 |
Cranford gets under your skin by starting off as observations of a fading gentility in a country town. Although at first nothing much happens the characters become people we care about so that when something does happen to disrupt the way of life of one character the other characters' response is very touching and the very predictable happy ending is very welcome.

Unfortunately Cousin Phillis didn't really work in quite the same way. Country girl falls for railway engineer, who goes on assignment to Canada where he meets and marries somebody else, whereupon country girl falls dangerously ill. Shrug. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Dec 13, 2009 |
"In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford... Although the ladies of Cranford know all each other's proceedings; they are exceedingly indifferent to each other's opinions."

So begins Elizabeth Gaskell's delightful string of stories centered on the well-born ladies of a quiet English country town in the early Victorian period. The episodic tales are narrated by a favored visitor to that town who is related to Miss Matty and Miss Jenkyns, two redoubtable spinsters who form an important part of the Cranford ladies' society.

Gaskell's humor is evident from the very first page. Anyone who thinks classic literature must necessarily be stuffy to deserve the title should read Cranford. Each of the ladies in that exclusive circle has a distinct personality with well-defined quirks. Their interactions with one another, and with outsiders (especially gentlemen!) who arrive to disturb the usual equilibrium of the town, are often very funny.

One of the more humorous devices Gaskell uses is the polite deceptions of the ladies toward one another, which deceive nobody at all. They have a horror of poverty, yet none of them are really wealthy — therefore they walk when they could have taken a carriage, but say they wish to walk because it is "such a beautiful night," or "the stars are particularly fine." Miss Matty burns one candle a night as she and our narrator sit and read by the fire, but they keep two candles side by side in order that they might hurry to light the other should a visitor drop in. These little economies, carried out with perfect good faith among the ladies, seem tritely comical at first but later take on a nobility in the face of financial distress. Trade is a demeaning occupation in this society, and yet the ladies have just their dwindling family money to live on.

Critics have consistently called Cranford "delightful," "tender," and "delicate," and it certainly is these things, but I'm inclined to agree with the editor of my copy (Peter Keating), who says that while those descriptions are true, they are not the sum total of the work. There is a deep humanity to these stories, self-sacrifice, pride to carry on, friendships that last a lifetime. The ladies of Cranford provide an interesting study of how the small, insular country town deals with intrusions from the more robust and progressive outside world. The Cranford ladies are a law unto themselves, but that law is not unchangeable. New challenges and situations force the ladies to create new traditions when the old don't quite serve.

I enjoyed this book a great deal and highly recommend it. And I can't wait for the recent BBC production to make its way to the U.S.!

***

Cousin Phillis: to be read; will post review soon. ( )
2 vote wisewoman | Mar 9, 2008 |
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Gaskell's best known work is set in a small rural town, inhabited largely by women. This is a community that runs on cooperation and gossip, at the very heart of which are the daughters of the former rector: Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Miss Matty. But domestic peace is constantly threatened in the form of financial disaster, imagined burglaries, tragic accidents, and the reappearance of long-lost relatives.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140431047, 014103937X

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