A Student Response to Gaskell’s Cranford

Amazon Warriors in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford

Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford satirizes the inhabitants of a small English town on the cusp of the industrial revolution. The novel is full of humour and satire which is sometimes obvious, but often subtle. In the first line of the first chapter, the narrator, Mary Smith, describes Cranford as being “in possession of the Amazons” (41). The structure of this initial sentence is interesting because one often considers the inhabitants of a town to be in possession of or stuck in that town. In Cranford, Gaskell implies that the town itself is almost its own character or object to be possessed by its inhabitants.

According to Greek myth, the Amazons were a tribe of female warriors that were considered equal to men in war. Comparing the eccentric, spinster Cranford ladies to Amazons is thus ironic and especially humourous when juxtaposed with the description of the “jobs” the Cranford ladies possess: they trim gardens, they chase away little boys and geese, they keep track of everyone else’s affairs, they keep their “maid-servants in admirable order,” and they exhibit kindness to the poor (41). On the subject of war, the only real sparring they engage in is “verbal retaliation” (41).

However, it can also be argued that the Cranford ladies are sort of Amazon warriors in their own unique way. They exhibit their own strengths as they battle their own personal anxieties. The people of Cranford also fight to keep their small town from becoming too much like London. In the novel, London represents modernization and industrialization. Cranford, in contrast, is a small, charming town that resists being completely modernized. One way in which Gaskell reflects this idea is with the small tea shop that Miss Matty eventually opens. There is another tea shop in Cranford run by Mr. Johnson. Miss Matty asks Mr. Johnson if her shop will hurt his small business, and in return for her thoughtfulness he “repeatedly sent customers her way” (202). The people of Cranford have not yet let the harsh, competitive nature of capitalism and modernisation change their little town. Mary’s father sums up the relationship between Cranford and the rest of the modern world: “such simplicity might be very well in Cranford, but would never do in the world” (203).

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