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Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford is a collection of satirical verses and published in eight instalments from 1851 to 1853. The magazine is edited by Charles Dickens. It is published as a novel in 1853.

Cranford summary

Cranford is an emotional portrait of people and customs, collected from the childhood memories of Elizabeth Gaskell in the small Cheshire town of Knutsford. The novel portrays the small-town rituals and values in England.

Cranford is a small town with a set social hierarchy runs by a group of older women. Mary Smith is the narrator of the novel and she knows everything about everyone, even if she is out of town, her friends write her letters and gives her all the updated information about the town.

Miss Deborah Jenkins is the leader of the group and she decides to adopt Miss Jessie, the younger daughter of Captain Brown after his death, despite the fact that she is a niece of a shopkeeper.

Miss Matty, the sister of Miss Deborah, and Miss Mary go to Johnson’s store and there they see Thomas Holbrook, who has proposed Miss Matty for marriage. Miss Deborah rejected the proposal, thinking of him being unworthy for her sister.

Miss Mary, Miss Matty and Miss Pole are invited to Holbrooke’s house for dinner. Thomas Holbrook dies after someday. Later on, Miss Marry narrates about the parents of Deborah Jenkins. Peter Jenkins is the brother of Matty and Deborah. He pranks around and finds this to be cool. Moly Jenkins passes away in grief because her son, Peter, has left the house.

Mrs. Glenmire arrives in Cranford and starts living with Mrs. Jamieson, who is very arrogant and does not allow to meet her Ladyship.

Lady Glenmire gives up her luxurious lifestyle and starts living a simple life. Miss Mary starts a business of tea.
Miss Matty becomes indigent and moves to a single room and starts working as a teacher. Peter comes back home to help his sister.

Peter wonders why Matty did not marry Mr Holbrook since she wanted him since her childhood and this saddens Matty since she would have been a widow by now if she married Mr Holbrook. Peter and Matty start living happily together in Cranford.

Cranford quotes

“If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in the business”

“As most of the ladies of good family in Cranford were elderly spinsters, or widows without children, if we did not relax a little, and become less exclusive, by-and-by we should have no society at all.”

“Wafer bread-and-butter and sponge-biscuits were all that the Honourable Mrs Jamieson gave; and she was sister-in-law to the late Earl of Glenmire, although she did practice such “elegant economy.”

“But I was right. I think that must be a hereditary quality, for my father says he is scarcely ever wrong.”

Cranford analysis

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell, is one of her most famous novels. The two very first opening chapters of the novel are edited by Charles Dickens and published in Household Words magazine.

The remaining chapters of the novel are also published in the same magazine. Gaskell intended to write a series, she did not plan to write a complete novel.

Cranford is a portrayal of satirical sketches, in the Victorian era of England. In Cranford, Gaskell analyses the social hierarchy and rituals of small-town society in the nineteenth century.

The small town, Cranford has many similarities with the town of Knutsford in Cheshire, where Gaskell has spent her childhood. The story of Cranford is based on Gaskell’s personal experience and memories.

The novel portrays Gaskell’s sentimental feelings about the place where she has spent her childhood. Cranford lacks structural bond and unity.

In the novel, the author writes with friendly humour. The life of a small provincial world ruled by the group of local older women called the “Amazons”. In Cranford, everything becomes a topic of conversation instantly.

The story of the novel revolves around Mary Smith and her friends, Miss Matty and Miss Deborah. The narrator of the novel is Mary Smith who is coming from the nearby industrial city, where Gaskell lived while writing the novel, the city of Drumble, which is based on the real city of Manchester. Miss Mary, the narrator, has all kind of knowledge of, whatever is happening in the town.

The novel highlights the return of Miss Matty’s brother, Peter, who left Cranford and started living in India.
Cranford becomes famous after the death of Elizabeth Gaskell in 1865. In the present day, readers appreciate the novel more than the time when it was published.

Cranford themes

The theme of Women Empowerment

Cranford’s opening scene introduces this theme. The title of the novel, Cranford, which is a small town, runs by a group of women. Elizabeth Gaskell has presented female characters as the protagonist of the novel. This novel has highlighted female characters more than male characters.

The narrator of this novel is a woman herself. Elizabeth Gaskell mentions the Jenkins spinsters, who manage the bulk of the population. By the term “Amazon” she is establishing a connection with female readers. It’s a warning to the male readers not to underestimate the strength, dedication, resolve, intellect and emotional control of these widows and single women who never married.

The women are kind and strong enough to support one another at their hard times. No one can say at all that these women are not as superiors as men and they are missing anything that a man could do.

The Ending of an Age Theme

The major theme of the novel is the destruction of life by the forces of the Industrial Revolution. The picture of the women in Cranford some times appears to be a nostalgic one that is missing out some of the basic qualities of the age. At times it’s clear that the basic feature of the age appears to be food for ironic commentary.

The confrontation of perspectives is also personified in the narrator. The two spinsters are portrayed as the symbol of how the external compulsions which are controlled by men can be much dangerous to ruin a life anytime.
Miss Mary, a woman who comes from the nearby town of Drumble.

She represents both the system of old-fashioned socialism on one hand and contrarily the beginning of industrialism. While the nostalgic point of view which can be applied to the way how women in Cranford should behave and shows up the picture of nothing that has changed as a result of sudden economic change. this emphasizes the ironic qualities of the social system.


Elizabeth Gaskell is an English author of the Victorian age. This is the age where people start thinking of equality, equality between men and women, equality between the rich and poor. Cranford is a place where women run the social hierarchy. The social system has just two laws.

First one is, you should not show off your wealth in public and the second is, you keep your complaints about your poverty secret. Hence, the women of Cranford, their behaviour towards each other outside any false forcing of class-based, is completely on financial status. Equality becomes most transparent when Lady Glenmire arrives at Cranford.

Lady Glenmire impresses everyone and the inhabitants want to meet her. She in no time becomes one of them with her distinct qualities. Since vulgarity is one of the biggest sins according to the rules of Cranford, lady Glenmire gets rejected when her common impressive quality is identified as vulgarity.

The idea is that women are more allow to treat each other as equals than men because they share the generality of the same position, of not being treated equally in society and they are mostly belittled by society.

Elizabeth Gaskell Cranford movie

The BBC has adapted the novel thrice to release a television series. The first one is released in 1951, the second one in 1972 and after a long time the third one in 2007. The sequel to the third one is released in 2009.

Frequently asked questions about Cranford

• What town is Cranford based on?

Cranford is based on Knutsford in Cheshire, where Elizabeth Gaskell has grown up.

• What year is Cranford set in?

Cranford is set in the 1840s.

• Where was Cranford made?

The popular drama Cranford was made in the National Trust owned village of Lacock near Chippenham.

• Who is the narrator in Cranford?

• Mary Smith is the narrator of Cranford.