It started with historian Robert Southey who expressed his desire to conical the “History of English domestic life”. Elizabeth Gaskell was inspired by this, and since Southey never did write the book, decided to write the article “The last generation of England” to tell stories that she has experienced or that she had been described by people she knew about how it was to live in rural England from a domestic standpoint. This article was expanded into short stories printed in the Household Worlds. Later these stories where tied together into the book Cranford.
A huge aspect of the book is how mundane it is, but why do I think it’s so mundane and should that be a bad thing? A lot of feminist point out (rightly) that it’s not just that women have been kept out of the male spheres of political power and places of importance. The female spheres were often seen as unimportant simply because they where women’s domain.
Things do happen, people die and get married and have children. It also tries to show a society based on matriarchy, a society where men really don’t have a part.
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazones; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. 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 business ale the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on the railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are no in Cranford. – Cranford, Chapter I
It was nice to actually see a society, while with it’s fault, also show the positive aspects of a female driven society. There is a sort of camaraderie in these stories about how the women do look out for one another, despite their scolding and reproaching one another for not doing what is right.
At the core the book is about change and lends a lot to the title “Last generation of England”. The book talks about how these women have to deal with change in society, in economics and if they really want to enforce the rules they had enforces on them.
This book is a slow read. Not because it’s difficult to read, but because the book needs time. Time to show you the little minuets about these women’s lives and why we as modern readers should find these important.
Not to mention that Elizabeth Gaskell is funny as always.
My father was a man, and I know the sex pretty well. – Cranford, Chapter X
“But I was right. I think that must be a hereditary quality, for my father says he is scarcely ever wrong.” – Cranford, Chapter XV
Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet like a jockey-cap, and altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men. Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior. – Cranford, Chapter II