Friday, April 1, 2016

The Young Bluestockings Continue to Read Cranford

Hello? Anyone home? Have I interrupted your reading? A thousand pardons!

Have you finished the book yet? I must say, this was my first outing with Elizabeth Gaskell’s work, but I found the tone delightful. From the very first, the humor leapt out at me. I read some lines aloud to my husband, who even found a chuckle.

Mrs. Gaskell, as she was often called by her adoring readers, began life as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson. She did not have an easy childhood. She was the youngest of eight children, all of whom except a brother died in infancy, and her mother died a little over a year after giving birth to Elizabeth. Her grief-stricken father sent her to live with an aunt, even after he married again and had two more children. It is said the aunt’s home in Knutsford, Cheshire, was the pattern for the town of Cranford as well as Hollingford in Wives and Daughters, another of her works with which 19 Teen readers might be familiar. I couldn’t help wondering whether Miss Matty’s brother Peter wasn’t modeled a bit after Mrs. Gaskell’s brother John, a sailor in the Merchant Marine, who disappeared during an expedition to India in 1827.

At age 22, Elizabeth married a Unitarian minister like her father. Two years later, they were blessed with a daughter (Marianne), followed by Margaret in 1837, Florence in 1842, and Julia in 1846. Between Florence and Julia, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, William, who died in infancy like her siblings. It was said she felt his death so keenly that only writing would provide a solace, and her husband suggested that she try a novel rather than the short stories she had written up until then.

Her first novel (Mary Barton) was published anonymously in 1848. Though some protested the story, which deals with the working class and those who fancy themselves above and includes some darker themes, the work garnered the attention of the likes of Charles Dickens. He invited her to submit her work to his Household Words, a popular magazine. She would write Cranford for him in a series of stories, as Marissa mentioned, beginning in 1851.

But while Cranford is noted for its droll humor and delicate characterizations, Elizabeth had a strong sense of what today we would call social justice. Unlike many books published during that time, which featured the upper classes, her North and South, like Mary Barton, not only dealt with the working class but showed a marked affinity for their situations.

While her works were quite popular during her time, her literary career was not without controversy. In 1853, she dared to write a novel that openly discussed the plight of women who had been seduced and bore illegitimate children. Supposedly her readers found it quite shocking. In addition, she had met and befriended Charlotte Bronte and was asked by Charlotte’s father to write her biography. The work is heralded by many as a model for biographies, but Elizabeth was actually threatened with a lawsuit because of her depiction of some of the people in it. 

She was, apparently, a warm, welcoming hostess, who was kind to the poor and loved to travel with her daughters. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away in 1865, leaving Wives and Daughters unfinished, although at enough of a stopping point that it was published posthumously.

So, what do you think of the delightful Mrs. Gaskell?

Do you see any other influences from her life in Cranford?

Have you read or seen the adaptations for Wives and Daughters or North and South? How did they compare to Cranford?

Please, chime in!


Lynn Lovegreen said...

I admire Dickens for his social justice--and I'm impressed that Mrs. Gaskell was similar in that aspect. Very cool that they knew each other!

Regina Scott said...

I thought so too, Lynn. Thanks for commenting!

QNPoohBear said...

I'm still reading. I'm almost done. I've read Cranford before and the other stories that went into the miniseries. I loved the miniseries though it was a bit depressing, especially season 2. I remember some of the incidents from the novel that were worked into the series. I especially love the cow in flannels and sucking oranges. The old ladies are funny and made even better by the grandes dames of the British theater. The all star cast is top notch.

I have loved and seen North & South and Wives & Daughters. North & South with Richard Armitage is wonderful and swoonworthy! Wives & Daughters was left unfinished but I loved the unrealistic but romantic ending of the mini-series.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a woman ahead of her time. Her Unitarian beliefs were in line with the Transcendentalists here in New England. Her stories broke ground and discussed issues that affected women and the poor.

Regina Scott said...

She certainly sounds like a lady who used fiction to open people's eyes. I admit to having not had the opportunity to watch North and South, but it's on my queue at Netflix. :-) Thanks for weighing in, QNPoohBear!

Rachel said...

It's been a while seen I have read Cranford. While I liked it, I love her 'serious' books more probably because they are similar to Dickens' by showing the lower classes.

I think the adaptations they have made of her novels have been fantastic. I agree with QNPoohBear. The cast they have chosen for all of the adaptations have been stellar!!

Definitely watch North and South!!

QNPoohBear said...

I finished the novel. It turned into more of a story towards the end with Brunoni and Miss Matty's troubles. If I didn't already know the story, I would have been eager to find out if the Aga was Peter and what happens to Miss Matty. She's so sweet and kind. She's the lovely grandmother that all the village kids have adopted. What I find most frustrating about the book is that Mary, the narrator, doesn't really enter into the story until the end. I have Cranford Chronicles downloaded on my computer from the library. That includes the other stories that went into the miniseries.

Regina You NEED to see North and South- not on Netflix- on DVD where you can see every wonderful scene. Brendan Coyle as Higgins was fantastic. The whole cast was terrific and I liked the adaptation a lot. The non-historically accurate ending is fine by me! :D

Regina Scott said...

Thanks for the tip, QNPoohBear! I checked, and our library system has the DVD, so I will order it soon. By your comment, I take it the Netflix version is cut? I didn't know they did that.

QNPoohBear said...

The Netflix version of North & South is missing a key scene revealing more about Thornton, the hero's, character. The die-hard Richard Armitage fans can tell you if there's any more scenes cut. I can only remember one. I also liked the special features on the DVD. The deleted scenes make the story flow better.