Thursday, 14 July 2011

"Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell

I have just been re-visiting Cranford, that Tillingesque creation of Mrs Gaskell, a community that has its own rules and customs, and whose residents are completely uninterested in anything which happens beyond its parish boundary. Like Benson's creations, Miss Matty and Miss Pole and all their friends live in a completely self-contained little ecosystem of mutual gossip, scorn and support. 

The word "support" marks an essential difference with Tilling, though. Perhaps because Benson's characters (or most of them) are fairly flat, they are left to bear their own problems, but in Cranford whenever anything really horrible happens to anyone there is a rallying round born of genuinely neighbourly feeling. A good thing too, since horrible things, particularly death, seem to occur on a regular basis. There is a lot of death in Gaskell's books, which probably does no more than mirror nineteenth century reality, when death was so much a part of everyday life.

Mrs Gaskell is not a great writer but, rather like Trollope, her male counterpart, she is a great story-teller and thus a rattling good read. Hint: read Mr Harrison's Confessions first.

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