I greatly enjoyed everything I’ve read by Mrs Gaskell so far and this one was no exception. All the stories were good, but in my opinion Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and Cousin Phyllis are the ones that stand out.
Cranford is brilliant. It’s set in this small english village and revolves around the lives of its lovable and quirky residents. They do not lead extraordinary lives, their stories probably don’t stand out against the stories of every other village and small town of that time. However, Cranford is just such a charming story, it was impossible to not keep reading. Mrs Gaskell brings her characters to life, with their secrets, their pleasures, their grudges, their specific pet peeves and beliefs and all the other small things that make one a whole person. The narrator is Miss Smith who is visiting Cranford at different times. She is clever and witty, although she is always very proper and only ever hints at seeing the Cranford residents as slightly comical characters. My favourite, Miss Matty, is this sweet, timid older woman who is just adorable. Always deferring to her older, wiser sister, she has to stand on her own feet when Miss Deborah dies. This is why she continuously struggles to make any decision and is often caught in between two opposite opinions. She has her share of disappointment and pain, and even late in life she has to deal with some serious financial problems, but she never loses her dignity and always tries to do what’s right. Miss Matty is also very funny, especially the way she tries to balance her pet peeve of lighting too many candles at night (2) and never letting others know she had to watch her expenses. Also funny, the way she eats oranges. I’m definitely going to watch the BBC adaptation of Cranford and I’m hoping it will do justice to this amazing story.
Mr Harrison’s confessions is a much shorter story and it’s the story of the comical adventures of a young doctor in a small town. The town being comprised of mostly unmarried women, it’s easy to see that the arrival of a young unmarried doctor will stir things up. I liked Mr Harrison and his story which is quite funny. It does seem to me that the object of his desire and later his wife, Sophy, is a bit too boring. She has every virtue of the time, she is pretty and mostly quiet, she is kind to her father and she takes care of her younger siblings and that’s it. A bit bland and rather a disappointment considering women in Elizabeth Gaskell’s books tend to be strong and clever, opinionated individuals (Margaret Hale in North & South for example) while still being good and virtuous and kind. Of course, Sophy is not the main heroine and this is just a short story, but still I couldn’t see what attracted Mr Harrison to her, other than her appearance. Miss Bullock for example is a much more interesting girl.
Cousin Phyllis is a story of love and loss and it’s beautifully written. It is sad, it is beautiful, I should have more to say about it but I don’t.
Here’s one part from Cranford that I liked:
“I don’t know whether it is a fancy of mine, or a real fact, but I have noticed that, just after the announcement of an engagement in any set, the unmarried ladies in that set flutter out in an unusual gaiety and newness of dress, as much as to say, in a tacit and unconscious manner: ‘We also are spinsters.’”
Check out my Teaser Tuesday posts from the previous two weeks for more quotes from Cranford. This was my first book for the Victorian Literature challenge, I’m not yet sure what the next one will be.