Book Review

Cranford: One Big Yawn

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been reading lately?

The answer is Cranford.

I’ve been trying to read this book for years.  I’ve started and stopped three times.  So, as part of my Lenten penance, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and just do it.

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Cranford was originally published as a series for a periodical in 1853.  I wonder if small doses wouldn’t be a better way to read this thing?

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Now I really enjoy reading Elizabeth Gaskell.  I’ve read three of her other books, and they’re excellent.  I couldn’t put them down.  A friend of mine introduced me to her a few years ago because she knew of my obsession with Jane Austen.  (I like Austen so much that I’m almost always rereading one of her six novels.)  And apparently most people know that if you like Austen, you’ll also like Gaskell.

But that statement needs clarification.  Let me rephrase it as follows:  If you like Austen, you’ll like Gaskell’s North and South and Wives and Daughters, but not Cranford.  You might also enjoy Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, but again, not Cranford.

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Need a good book?  Read these instead of Cranford.

Cranford is just one big yawn.  The whole book details the lives of a few of old spinsters sitting around in nineteenth-century parlors, knitting and mending caps and shawls, and gossiping.  Only a most devoted lover of Gaskell could ever find this interesting.

However, it may be that the deficiency lies with me, instead of Gaskell.  Likely I don’t appreciate the niceties of nineteenth-century etiquette and culture as much as I should.  Or, if only I had a better understanding of this time period, perhaps I could enter more fully into the book?

I’m not sure.  There were a few passages that I did find moving and interesting.  I’m thinking of the sad story of Miss Matty passing up marriage to Mr. Holbrook and a part wherein Mrs. Brown details her desperate flight from India to save her only remaining child.  And of course the faithfulness and generosity of Miss Matty’s friends to help her when she loses all her money is endearing, but overall, I cannot recommend this book.

I am sorry for the poor book review.

For those of you, however, who enjoy watching some of these books played out on television, I can recommend the 2007 version of Cranford, starring Judi Dench.  I remember watching it a few years ago and being entertained by it, but I warn you, it doesn’t follow the book very closely.