Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.
She writes of the life of mainly single women who pay a certain level of rent in a village in England in the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century. She writes with great insight and humor and compassion of these 'genteel' women who live on the edge of poverty at a time of great social change in England.
I don't know what appeals to me the most, the picture she paints of life in England at the time, the social history, or the memorable characters she writes about. The novel is about a group of widows in the town of Cranford, a rather isolated little community which hoped to escape from the changes they saw all around them. The tone of the novel is set in the first paragraphs of the first chapter. Gaskell writes 'For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them...for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture into the gardens ..for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons and arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody's affairs in the parish...the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient.'
Miss Jenkyns and her sister Mattie are my favourite characters. Even though their characters are drawn rather humorously, they are also very sympathetically written off. Miss Jenkyns is the one who is 'quite sufficient' for any situation, while Mattie is a gentle woman who is not 'sufficient' in most situations, but needs to be looked after. Both women grow in the novel, and have a greater roundness of character than you find in most women in Victorian novels.
Review submitted by Susan Quispe, CSB Alumna, 1962