A Student Response to Gaskell’s Cranford

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: The First Four Chapters

Cranford has taken me by surprise! Although I have only finished the first  four chapters, the story has me hooked!

Cranford is a town that seems to be completely run by women.  The Cranford women are holders of all the houses and rent, and seem to be all middle-classed women. They are even considered Amazon’s which in Greek mythology were female warriors who were often characterized as killers of men. If there are any men in Cranford they seem to be frightened to death by being the only man in the town, which I find quite funny because  one man seems to be able to live in Cranford, and that man’s name is Captain Brown. He soon becomes quite respected by the women in Cranford, but the most well-respected person in Cranford is Miss Deborah Jenkyns. Miss Jenkyns holds the most spectacular parties; which is quite notorious for Cranford. These parties made the Cranford women feel elated and always felt good when they were able to sit around in their prettiest dresses.

The Cranford women also seem to be quite well educated, especially Miss Jenkyns. She is quite fond of poetry and reading, especially works by Dr. Johnson. Miss Jenkyns is even quite dismissive when it comes to other people’s works; when she discusses Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers with Captain Brown, she claims not to find it as good as Dr. Johnson’s work. Unfortunately, by the end of chapter two Miss Jenkyns passes away. I think that her passing is quite important to the story because of how well-respected she was, and I think chapter three express that quite a bit.

When she dies her sister Miss Matty is left alone in their estate. Once Miss Matty asks our narrator to come and visit her, the narrator sees the effects Miss Jenkyns’s passing has on Miss Matty. Miss Matty doesn’t seem to be able to do things without thinking about what Miss Jenkyns would have done.  In chapter three she often says: “Deborah would have. . .” or “Deborah would have done. . .” Miss Matty is so lost without her sister that she doesn’t seem to think she can do things on her own. Her way of grieving is by doing things her sister would have done instead of doing things her own way.

By chapter three we are also introduced to Mr. Holbrook who used to have an affair with Miss Matty a long time ago. It is suggested that Miss Matty and Mr. Holbrook were very much in love but since Miss Jenkyns didn’t see that it was good match, she dismissed their affair. To me, this seems quite unfair, but as Miss Matty is her own person and could do what she pleased it seemed like she was also to blame, but if she wasn’t so focused on her sister’s opinions and pleasing her she could have  been very happy with Mr. Holbrook. After Miss Jenkyns passing, Miss Matty and the narrator see Mr. Holbrook at a fabric shop, and when he sees her he is beyond happy to see her; he even invites them to his estate.  This leaves Miss Matty in a mix of emotions. When they go to his estate, it’s clear to see that Miss Matty is still much in love with him, as he is with her. But by chapter four Mr. Holbrook passes away. When Miss Matty, the narrator, and the servant go to his funeral, Miss Matty tells the servant girl that she is able to have a suitor, only if she approves of him, which is quite a shock to both the narrator and the servant girl because she would not allow her servants to pursue suitors in the past.

When I read this passage I was quite touched. It was clear to me that by this turn of events it changed Miss Matty, and she did not want to turn out like her sister, and control someone else’s love life. In the first four chapters, it’s clear to that women play a vital role in the town and will continue to do so throughout the novel, which I am extremely happy about, because I feel that there should be more strong female characters in literature, and it will be refreshing  to read about strong female characters that run a town in the Victorian period. I can’t wait to read more about the women and the narrator in Cranford.


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