"Cranford" is likely the best known novel of Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. The novel follows the day-to-day social lives of a group of upper-middle-class women in the small, fictional town of Cranford, England. Rather than having a strong narrative, the novel delivers a tableau of social goings on that illuminate the characters and their lives. These stories are told largely through the eyes of a younger lady (Miss Mary Smith) who often visits from a nearby town. The ladies of Cranford are not rich, but wealthy enough to belong to a certain social strata, and much of the comedy derives from their careful considerations of who to include and exclude at various social gatherings. Miss Matty is essentially the main protagonist, and she is a basically kind woman if a bit miserly, especially when it comes to candles. She and her friends typically look to the most prominent member of Cranford female society, Miss Jamieson, and then assiduously follow her lead. Unfortunately, Miss Jamieson is sometimes rather narrow-minded, unlike the other ladies, which creates certain socially awkward situations. This enjoyable novel may seem a bit meandering to some readers, given that there is not a main narrative thread. The novel was originally published in serialized form in "Household Words" (edited by Charles Dickens), which may partially help explain its lack of a strong plot. Indeed, the 2007 BBC mini-series versions of "Cranford" included stories from several of Gaskell's other novels. However, the stories here all add up to a devastatingly accurate picture of small town life and the sometimes vicious yet amusing ways in which people in them behave. Gaskell clearly understood human nature, and readers are likely to recognize many truths about human foibles in her stories.
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, (1810-1865), often referred to simply as Mrs. Gaskell, was an English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. She is perhaps best known for her biography of Charlotte Brontë. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and as such are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature.