Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

6534328Another Classics Club choice moved over to the read column! As always, I enjoyed my time spent with Gaskell and her characters. My edition is the Penguin Clothbound and I’m in love with the green end papers. I now want something in my house that is exactly that shade of green.

Cranford is the story of Cranford. Ha! Cranford is a small town in England with a mostly female population. And as with most Victorian literature, there is a lot of society gossip, money, and class discussions. Each chapter relays a town anecdote, particularly those events which surround Miss Mattie – an old maid and a delightfully endearing lady. Our narrator, Miss Smith, is reliable, witty, and someone who adores Miss Mattie just as much as her readers.

Being that this was my third Gaskell, I was immediately comfortable with her writing style and still think she writes some of the most accessible Victorian literature. Cranford’s story isn’t deep with any symbolic meaning and is often light, funny, and just plain enjoyable to read. The tribe of female characters we get to know range from catty to completely selfless and realistically reflect the many kinds of women who exist in any town in all the world. At roughly 190 pages, Cranford is a novel you visit briefly and hope to one day return to.

What was most appealing to me was Gaskell’s humor. I smirked often at some little bit of hilarity and laughed out loud more than once at some biting turn of phrase. Gaskell is such a keen observationist (not a word, apparently) and gifted storyteller. You often believe you are looking directly through her eyes at the goings on. Her talent makes her humor all the more effortless and genuine. Plus, it never hurts to root for the happiness of a book’s main characters and to laugh alongside them in their many trials, tribulations, and joys.

I don’t think Cranford will ever be my favorite Gaskell novel, but I still enjoyed my time and reading experience. And I’m sure I’ll find myself deep within its pages in another few years when I’m feeling an itch for lighter Victorian fare. Wives and Daughters might always remain my favorite – most likely due to its luckiness at being my first Gaskell. If you haven’t read anything by Gaskell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Add something of hers to your classics list today!


Gaskell is often compared to Austen and with Cranford the comparisons ring very true.


North and South Read-A-Long: Week Four – The Grand Finale

Y’all, I’m sitting here trying to find something to say about the ending of the story and I got nothin’.

Pa Hale’s death was so sudden and random.  I kind of wanted him to get hit by a train or something at the end, ya know?

And then Mags goes back to London to have all of the BORING times.  Seriously, the worst part of the novel for me.  Nothing happens in the hustle and bustle of London.  She begins to miss Milton.

Edith was such a little twit – ‘Oh, you don’t love me as much as I love you, Mags!’ – as she proceeds to pout on the sofa for the remainder of the day.

Also, Mr. Bell felt like a creeper to me.  Like he wanted him some Mags in all the wrong kind of ways.  The mini-series amplifies this.  Their trip back to Helstone was uneventful.  Mags just sees how imperfect Helstone is and misses Milton again.  Absence = heart fonder and all that jazz.

Then poor Mr. Thornton loses the mill!  But wait!  His landlady is Mags thanks to Mr. Bell’s demise.  She’ll cut him a deal and let him stay on as master – of her and the mill, kinky!  The End.  The finale felt anti-climactic, no?

As for the mini-series, I’m fairly certain I just drooled over Richard Armitage while somewhere in my subconscious knowing that the BBC had done an amazing job.  Mr. Bates as Higgins!  Cinematography was also superb – especially the scenes in the mill with all the cotton fluff flying around – gorgeous and deadly.  The music was hypnotically beautiful as well…but maybe I’m confusing it with ol’ Richard.  I liked the girl who played Mags and I think I liked her character more in the mini-series.  And the train station scene at the end, YES. PLEASE.  So much better than the book’s ending, but that’s to be expected.

Overall, North and South was a very enjoyable reading experience.  I must admit, however, that Wives and Daughters is still my favorite Gaskell so far.  I’ve year to read Cranford or any of her other works.  Still, I’d recommend Mags’s story to anyone who enjoys Victorian literature or really wants a great depiction of how England was affected by the Industrial Revolution.  Gaskell has a real knack for dialogue and killing nearly all of her characters.  This book would have been a better zombie re-write than P&P.

Ok – I’m still half asleep and have rambled long enough.  None of the above thoughts really showcase any sort of intellectual reading of North and South.  It’s just too much of a Monday for all that!  Now for some lovely imagery:

Another Classics Club title finished! To see the first three posts on North and South, head to these links:

(Week One)(Week Two)(Week Three)

North and South Read-A-Long: Week Three

Week three has come to an end and we only have one more week ’til the grand finale!  Let’s begin by discussing Frederick, shall we?

The great and wondrous long, lost (criminal) brother has returned to England and his mother’s bedside.  If Frederick is found by the wrong peeps, straight to jail and certain death he goes.  In the meantime, his family reunion initially pissed me off.  Within mere moments of seeing Margaret after 8 years, he criticizes her for being clumsy.  She’s trying to bring him refreshments and the only thing he can do is make her feel even more awkward and silly?  I wanted to strangle him.  Then Ma Hale dies and it gets worse.  The whole house breaks down with Pa Hale and Frederick bawling non-stop and being no help whatsoever to Mags.  They all inform her that she is the strong one and must take care of everything – all the funeral arrangements because they can’t handle their sorrow.  I almost stopped reading.

Her family is nuts.

Anyway, eventually Frederick gets over himself and gives Mags a rest.  Thank God.  And I started to like him a bit better. Perhaps he was just boat-lagged or something?  Then he kills the man who knows his identity by accidentally/intentionally pushing him off the train depot’s ledge.  I liked him even more despite the fact that murder wasn’t his intention.  And Mags lies to the Police!  Go Mags!  But Mr. Thornton saves her from having to deal with the Police further – ah, love!   Oh, and Mags sends Frederick to see her jilted Mr. Lennox to see about solving his mutiny problems.  I should probably say something smart about Frederick’s mutiny mimicing the recent uprising and labor strike in Milton, but my head hurts.

And what about Mr. Thornton?  What’s he been up to?  Not much.  He attends Ma Hale’s funeral, but Mags doesn’t even know it!  It’s that perfect rom-com moment where they just miss each other – except that it’s at a funeral.  Thornton then spies her with her brother in the bushes?  Am I wrong about the bushes part because that was saucy?  He suspects she’s with a lover and gets all jealous.  Doesn’t he?  Sometimes I interpret the situation in my own way.

Boucher the douche is dead!  He’s committed suicide by drowning in a couple of inches of dirty water.  Lovely way to go, Boucher.  Mr. Higgins, who I’ve come to admire, has decided to help Boucher’s widow and children and take care of them in the wake of Boucher’s untimely demise.  Boucher couldn’t handle the pressure of being King Douche and trying to play both sides – support the Union, deny the Union.  Side note:  the description of his dead body was disturbing as was Mags putting her handkerchief over his bloated face.

What else, what else?  I enjoyed the discussion between the Hales and Mr. Higgins when he explains to them he wants to go South and find work.  The idea that the South could possibly have just as many hardships for non-Southerners as the North does for non-Northerners was insightful for Mags.  I believe this is a breakthrough in her prejudice.  I see her walls crumbling.  She also craved attention from Mr. Thornton and missed him just a smidge – all progress.

So, despite lots of things happening this section still felt peculiarly devoid of major progress.  I’m looking forward to the finale 30% of the novel and seeing where our characters end up.  I’m liking Mags a bit more now and hope everything comes together for her.  And for Mr. Higgins too!  He’s got a big discussion with Mr. Thornton coming up that will probably be a MAJOR deal for our plot progression.  Can’t wait!

Edit: I didn’t finish reading the section!  And I didn’t realize it until now!  I only read through Chapter 37, not 39.  Dammit.

North and South Read-A-Long: Week Two

I forced myself to slow down my reading this week and not finish chapter 27 on Wednesday, which I completely wanted to do!  This section just had so much more rising action and climactic events, no?  Also, the reading was bookended by two deaths – well, one was only foretold – Mrs. Hale and Bessy Wiggins.

So Margaret’s mom is going to die and she really doesn’t want anyone but Dixon to know.  But darling daughter won’t be put off and forces the good doctor to explain the truthfulness of her mother’s condition.  All agree not to tell Mr. Hale who eventually finds out anyway – I mean, she only has a few weeks to live.  Does Mrs. Hale truly believe her husband can’t handle the truth or is this some kind of payback for his keeping her in the dark about quitting the Church and moving to Milton?  Either way, Margaret’s always in the middle, playing liaison between her parents.  It’s almost as if she’s the parent and they the children.  I think this role creates a hardness in Margaret that otherwise might not exist and even gives birth or motivation to her lack of tact.  Her parents are so wishy-washy and always want to hide the truth or require Margaret to relate bad news that it’s no wonder she doesn’t have a tactful bone in her body.

The most physically climactic event was the strike and the altercation at the Thornton residence.  The factory workers have left Milton’s mills quiet desiring the wage they were paid two years past.  The factory owners are having hard times due to competition from America and have lowered wages.  When the workers go on strike, Mr. Thornton hires a group of Irish immigrants to replace those on strike.  Obviously, this doesn’t go well and the replaced Englishmen and women show up at his door a bit blood thirsty.  Both sides are villains and victims alike.  The labor dispute is no black and white matter.  Businesses can only exist by turning profits and workers can only survive by putting food on the table.  It’s almost as if there really is no solution to this problem.

And Margaret is once again caught in the middle.  She listens to the plight of dear, upstanding Bessy Higgins who is near death – her factory job literally having killed her due to terrible work conditions.  And yet, she brazenly stands between Mr. Thornton and the angry mob getting a rather nasty head wound to defend his rights as mill owner.  And I love that Margaret totally copped a feel, boldly throwing her arms around Mr. Thornton’s neck so publicly.  I was good and properly scandalized!  I also kind of chuckled at her head wound caused by the ‘pebble’.  Seriously?

Of course, the major result of the angry mob is that Mr. Thornton has now decided that he can no longer live without his precious Margaret who has never offered him a kind word.  But since she thrust her body up against his, it’s only proper that he propose marriage.  Mrs. Thornton’s heart is broken because she will no longer be her son’s number one beloved woman.  Entirely creepy.  Margaret refuses his proposal.  She’s offended by his proposal.  Someone explain this to me please?  What is wrong with this girl?  In a modern day novel, I’d swear she was a lesbian.  She wants Mr. Thornton to believe she would have acted the same way for any poor mongrel when faced with certain bodily harm by way of belligerent factory workers?  Snort.

And lastly, Bessy takes her last breath.  RIP Bessy Wiggins.  Your life was hard, but your faith persisted until the bitter end.  Your last dying wish was only to be buried in something of Margaret’s.  And that’s not disturbing at all.  Who else was offended that Dixon wanted to give the poor, dead girl something shabby?

A few minor observations:

Boucher – is this guy a douche or is it just me?

Frederick – what is so special about him?  Why do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Thornton have such bias towards their sons?

I felt so much for Mr. Thornton when he takes that basket of fruit to Mrs. Hale.  Loved that he didn’t pay Margaret any attention.

Margaret still annoys me.

Excited to begin next week’s reading!  We’re halfway to the finish line and things are getting exciting.  Will Margaret ever learn how to say yes to a marriage proposal?  Will she find another female companion to call friend?  Does Mrs. Hale die before Frederick finds his way home?

North & South Read-A-Long: Week One

First and foremost, thanks again to the lovely Andi and Heather for hosting this awesome read-a-long!

The first 14 chapters were a delight to read, not that I ever had any doubts!  Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters was a favorite from last year so I knew North and South promised to be hours of fun.  And can I just say the Kindle pages turned like magic?  I’d settle down to read one or two chapters and find myself absorbed four chapters later.  Before I knew it, I’d blown past Chapter 14!  Gaskell’s writing is just so immensely readable.  You hardly even believe it’s a Victorian novel or that Gaskell was friends with both Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens (although her and Charlie did fight a bit).  For me, Gaskell just brings a concision and simplicity to her writing that Bronte and Dickens do not.  Did that sentence just feel blasphemous to anyone else?  Please understand that I love me some Charlotte and Charles, but Gaskell’s prose sometimes feels like a breath of fresh air.  She’s the kind of author that Victorian newbs can truly dig and the old weathered lot of us can sit back and enjoy.

That being said, Gaskell’s novels are deeply layered and tackle some of the heaviest themes of her time.  North and South finds itself right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and all the economic and social changes of that time.  Margaret, our heroine, moves with her mother and father from the affluent South England countryside to the smoky industrialized fictional northern city of Milton.  Obviously, there’s an innate prejudice against these Northern business men.  Margaret grapples with new ideas born from labor rights, social warfare between employee and employer, the age-old class system of poor versus rich, and the complex relationships between each of these groups.  The first 14 chapters have just skirted these issues so far, but we know what side Margaret’s on.  She grew up in a world of old money and agriculture.  This new class of Northerners who come from low birth and make their money through means of manufacturing and commerce are baffling to her and she’s automatically pre-disposed to prejudice and rash judgement.

As for Margaret Hale as our heroine, do y’all like her?  I’m torn and almost see her as two characters – the one that lives in her head and the one she portrays to the world.  Her inner monologues paint her as a thoughtful young woman who is really trying her best to be a great daughter, a helpful hand to the poor, and the type of woman anyone could be proud of.  But outwardly, she tends to come off as haughty, severe, and very outspoken – at times, rude.  Normally, I like a saucy protagonist, but something about her manner puts me off.  I’ve seen lots of discussions comparing her to Elizabeth Bennett and I can see how the comparison is a fair one, but so far, I’m nowhere nearly as enamored of her as I am of dear Lizzy Bennett (of course, I am superbly biased).

And as for Mr. Thornton, I haven’t fully formed my opinion of him just yet.  He represents the hardened Northern mill owner who has risen from the ashes of his wayward youth to find success.  He’s a great antagonist to Margaret’s protagonist and their bickering back and forth is highly entertaining.  I love when opposites attract so I’m fairly giddy about the prospects of their further argumentative romancing.  I do get a kind of villainous feeling from Mr. Thornton, however, especially in the face of the poor Higgins family who has been ruined by manufacturing work.  Does anyone else feel this way?

Before I stop my endless and rather pointless rambling, let me comment on some of the book’s secondary characters.  Papa Hale seems sort of aloof to me and slightly weak.  He never appears to be home, can’t get up enough nerve to tell his wife they are moving, and refuses to accept the realities of his wife’s illness.  Poor Margaret is really the head of this household.  What do you think this characterization lends towards the ideas of a learned and book loving man?  Not a very good one, I’d say.  As for Margaret’s dying mother, she’s silly in her own ways and complains A LOT, but there’s something a bit sturdier about her in the face of her failing health.  But honestly, I don’t think I like either of her parents.  And the brother, Frederick?  He’s confined to South America due to some boating mutiny?  Is this relevant?

Man, I need to shut up!  The first 14 have left me numerous questions and beginnings of several arguments.  I want to know how Margaret will reconcile her relationship with the Higgins family with that of the Thorntons.  Will Frederick make an appearance?  Will the mill workers strike?  Who will lose their life?  Will John and Margaret find peace and happiness?  And will poor, neglected Mr. Lennox find love in the face of Margaret’s rejection of his marriage proposal?

Will I be able to restrain myself from finishing the novel way ahead of schedule?  Questions, questions!


I forgot to mention something!  Reading North and South has been very interesting alongside Gone With the Wind.  How similar some of the themes are.  And technically, they take place very close historically.  Ok…I’m really going to shut up now.

Don’t forget to check out the other posts over at Andi’s blog!

Book View: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is fantastic.  I cannot imagine a world where someone would read this chunky novel and hate it – so please do not shatter my illusions.  Besides, Henry James loved it and he knows all.

On with the story!  Molly Gibson is a young girl of 17, raised by her father after her mother dies, who must navigate the English countryside during the 1830s.  Her father remarries and the new Mrs. Gibson is certainly a less-than-perfect stepmother for Molly, but Molly does gain a beloved stepsister (but really a romantic rival).  How will Molly survive her new family structure and will dear Cynthia steal away all the eligible bachelors?

In short, I would love to teach this novel if I ever manage to become a teacher of such things.  Gaskell, while appearing to write a rather light-hearted romantic sort of story, has actually crafted an intelligent and decisive work of social commentary.  She goes beyond writing about manners and class structure (though these themes are present) and journeys into deep questions of marriage’s necessity, nature vs. nurture, and what makes family family.  At the end of the novel, even Molly’s often clueless stepmother stops to wonder that “people talk a good deal about natural affinities” and what concepts beyond mere blood or familial title make us bound to each other.

For these reasons, I think Wives and Daughters was way ahead of its time.  You have women shunning marriage and enjoying being in middle age with no husband or prospects.  You have fathers that can’t get on with sons and mothers who are clueless about their daughters.  Then you have the charming relationship between Molly and her father that puts all other parent/child bonds to shame.  There are social scandals in the name of good and people crossing class lines with a nonchalant shrug of their shoulders.  With this novel, you get a front row seat to a cultural evolution of sorts and it’s a tremendous ride.

I loved Molly dearly as a vehicle of honesty – she’ll show you the truth behind every other character’s motives.  Cynthia is such a complex female and sister to Molly – a perfect FOIL really.  You’ll root for Molly while booing Cynthia only to end loving them both.  Don’t be dismayed when you learn Gaskell died before finishing the novel.  At 650 pages, the story is fairly complete in its final written chapter.  There are no doubts left as to who marries whom and besides – the BBC miniseries will give you a proper ending.  And do watch the mini-series because it is amazing and so loyal to the book.

So make plans to include Wives and Daughters in your 2012 reading.  You won’t be disappointed!  I cannot wait to read something else by her as this was my first Gaskell.  The writing is so clean and easy to read, yet sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.  She doesn’t go in for major cliffhangers, but there’s always some secret you’re waiting to be divulged that keeps you intrigued.  This novel was emotionally cathartic over Christmastime as I was dealing with my own family dilemmas and estrangement from my father.  Perhaps not as bitingly witty as Austen, but a pleasure all the same.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting on Delirium by Lauren Oliver so stay tuned!