Friday, September 17, 2010

BookLook Review "Cranberry" I mean "Cranford"

This charming Victorian novel begins: “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.” And as we read a little further we begin to see that these are remarkable women: “Their dress is very independent of fashion; as they observe, ‘What does it signify how we dress here at Cranford, where everybody knows us?’ And if they go from home, their reason is equally cogent: ‘What does it signify how we dress here, where nobody knows us...” I had to give you a taste of the delicious writing of Elizabeth Gaskell. She wraps you up in lace and carries you off to dine on tea and crumpets in her little fictional English town of Cranford. It is an escape to an earlier time and place where gentle ladies strolled along arm in arm wearing their latest bonnets.

Gaskell’s close friends included Florence Nightingale and Charlotte Bronte and she was a respected contemporary of Charles Dickens. She published “Cranford” in serial form for a literary paper where Dickens was the editor in 1851. Serials were popular reading as an economical way to read a book and sell newspapers and magazines. Maybe we should try it again to revive our declining national newspaper readership?

The ladies of Cranford are the local monarchy of their little parish. Their superstitions and social rulings are absolute law. As if Victorian society wasn’t already as rigid as a corset, Miss Matty, Miss Jenkyns, Mrs. Jamieson, and Miss Pole tighten things up to the point of painful breathlessness. The ladies manage to rise above their modest financial means to create a social order as impressive as royal court. Yet when one of their friends needs help their kind and generous hearts endear them to the reader.

Although I own “Cranford” as a part of my beautifully bound British classics, I listened to some of this book on CD to enjoy the English accent of the reader. Lasting just over 7 hours it is the perfect length for a week of daily exercising – and you can imagine you are strolling under a parasol down a dusty lane instead of toiling on a treadmill.

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