Literature group – October/November 2021

Cranford, the classic novel by Elizabeth Gaskell published in full in 1853 was last month’s read.  First written as a series of articles in Household Words it is set in a small country town. The main characters are women, mostly widowed or spinsters eking out their lives in genteel poverty. The book goes into fascinating detail about the minutiae of their everyday lives, their homes, clothing, meagre eating habits and the strict social codes that they have to follow. It tells of friendships and both the support and the petty and often cruel snobbery in this tight little community.

The interaction between the women and their servants was eye-opening and the stories of the impact of outsiders was both funny and sad. Our discussion led us to consider class structure in Britain now and to compare our lives with the characters in the novel. Overall, however, although Cranford is well-written, we found the book rather irritating, with the narrow lives of the women and their preoccupations with, what to us, seems so unimportant.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a more political novel and would have probably been a preferable read.

Our next book is After the Fall by Charity Norman which claims to be a “gripping tale”.