Last Reviewed on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444
The novel opens by explaining that women are in control of the town of Cranford, or at least of all properties with high values. The author explains that if a couple moves to town, the man dies or leaves to fulfill other duties soon after, while the woman stays. The...
(The entire section contains 1471 words.)
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- Critical Essays
The novel opens by explaining that women are in control of the town of Cranford, or at least of all properties with high values. The author explains that if a couple moves to town, the man dies or leaves to fulfill other duties soon after, while the woman stays. The women of Cranford are happy and live together in harmony, even if they have differences of opinion on various issues. In some ways, time stands still there. For example, the narrator is gone for months, and when she returns, there have been no births, deaths, or marriages. Everyone seems to be going about their business in exactly the same way. The narrator exchanges letters with Miss Deborah Jenkyns to find out what's going on in town.
When Captain Brown arrives in this female-centered society with his two daughters, he gains the respect of the women in town; However, he is killed in an accident, and his older daughter dies soon after. The town comes together to take care of his younger daughter until a suitable husband is found for her.
Miss Jenkyns dies, but the narrator carries on her correspondence with Miss Matty (Miss Jenkyns's sister) and Miss Pole. This continues her connection to Cranford. Miss Matty, however, experiences even more loss after the death of her sister. When she and the narrator are shopping and looking at lilac silk, she finds out that Town and County Bank, where her money is stored, might be going under. Her income decreases from 150 pounds per year to just 13 pounds per year, and she is unable to continue her genteel lifestyle. Her friends are even concerned that they won't be able to continue their relationship with her because of her impoverished circumstances.
The community of Cranford, however, continues to care for Matty in the same way they did for Captain Brown's daughter. Her maid takes over the house and allows Matty to live there so that she can care for the woman and save her pride. Matty's friends funnel her money from their own accounts so that she can continue to live in comfort. Eventually, her estranged brother comes home with money and cares for her.
The community is set aflutter when a noblewoman decides to move to Cranford. Lady Glenmire is the sister-in-law of Mrs. Jamieson. The women want to impress her, but Mrs. Jamieson doesn't believe they're noble enough to associate with her. While they're upset by this, the women are ultimately allowed to attend her party and find that Lady Glenmire is kind and much like them. She integrates into the town and marries Mr. Hoggins, and people continue on as they always have.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1027
Cranford is a small English village inhabited mostly by ladies. Few gentlemen take up residence there, and most of those who do seem to disappear on various and mysterious errands. The doctor, the shopkeepers, and a few male servants are the only representatives of their sex who cross the ladies’ vision with any regularity.
Most of the ladies live in “elegant economy.” The spending of money is considered vulgar and showy, and one does not mention being poor unless in private to one’s dearest friend. When semiretired Captain Brown moves to Cranford and talks openly about being poor, it is quite an affront to the ladies. The captain is, however, so kind and considerate to everyone, whether they are more or less fortunate than he, that the ladies cannot long resent his vulgar behavior and talk. He has two daughters. The elder, dying of an incurable illness, has a tongue sharpened by pain, but the kind women of Cranford join the younger daughter in trying to make the dying girl’s last days pleasant and comfortable.
The women experience great sorrow when the kind captain is killed while rescuing a small child from an oncoming train. When his elder daughter dies soon after, all of the ladies are hard-pressed to make suitable arrangements for the younger daughter. One day, a former suitor appears and takes her for his wife. The village ladies rest happily in the knowledge that Captain Brown would be pleased with his daughter’s security.
Until her death, Miss Deborah Jenkyns was one of the more dominant spinsters in the town. She made all decisions for her younger sister, Miss Matilda, who is fifty-five years old. Miss Matilda, affectionately called Miss Matty by all but her sister, knew that Deborah had the better mind and did not resent her sister’s dominance. After Miss Deborah’s death, Miss Matty almost has to learn how to live again. Her particular friends are Miss Pole, Mrs. Forrester, and Mrs. Jamieson, who becomes the social leader of Cranford after Miss Deborah’s death. Miss Mary Smith also often visits Miss Matty and brings her the good advice of her father, who is Miss Matty’s financial adviser. Mary is surprised to learn that Miss Matty long ago had a suitor whom she rejected in order to stay with her mother. Not long after Miss Deborah’s death, that gentleman returns to Cranford for a visit. Mary is disappointed that he does not renew his courtship of Miss Matty. Miss Matty grieves, too, but only in secret, for she would never admit to such vulgar sentiments openly. Mary also learns that Miss Deborah and Miss Matty have a brother who disappeared many years before, after being severely punished by their father for playing a practical joke on Miss Deborah. Peter Jenkyns is believed dead, although Miss Matty hears rumors that he is living in India.
The genteel ladies are thrown into a flurry of excitement when they hear that Mrs. Jamieson’s sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, is to settle in Cranford. Since she is the first noblewoman they will encounter, they spend long hours discussing how they should address her. Their worries are for naught, however, for Mrs. Jamieson subtly but firmly informs them that they will not be included in her guest list. At first, the ladies are greatly hurt. Later, Mrs. Jamieson is forced to relent and invites them to call, for most of the country gentility are away or otherwise occupied. Miss Matty, Miss Pole, and Mrs. Forrester first think they will be engaged elsewhere for the fateful night, but their innate kindness and, perhaps, their curiosity prevail, and they accept the invitation. They find Lady Glenmire delightful and no more refined or genteel than they themselves.
Mrs. Jamieson departs from Cranford for a time, leaving Lady Glenmire in charge of her home. Soon after, Lady Glenmire becomes engaged to the doctor of the town, a man whose presence the ladies do not even acknowledge except when his services are needed for bleeding. He is no higher socially than a shopkeeper, but it is exciting that the ladies at last know someone who is to be married. They await Mrs. Jamieson’s return with fear and anticipation, and they are not disappointed, for Mrs. Jamieson, deciding to cut Lady Glenmire, states that she always knew her to be of low taste.
The engaged couple are married before Mrs. Jamieson returns. By that time, a great tragedy befalls Miss Matty. The bank in which her estate is deposited closes its doors, and she is left with only thirteen pounds a year. She makes no complaint; her biggest worry is whether Mrs. Jamieson will allow the ladies to continue their friendship with her. Mary Smith sends for her father to see what he can plan for Miss Matty. Careful that she should not know of their gift, Miss Pole, Mrs. Forrester, and another friend give up some of their own small incomes so that they can help their friend. Mary and Mr. Smith persuade Miss Matty to sell tea, but it takes a good deal of convincing to assure her that this will be a genteel way for a lady to supplement her income. Miss Matty’s faithful maid, Martha, forces her young man to marry her sooner than he anticipated so that they can rent Miss Matty’s house and have her for a lodger. In this way, Martha can continue to look after her old mistress without injuring Miss Matty’s pride. Everyone is happy when Mrs. Jamieson returns and says that the ladies can continue to call on Miss Matty because her father was a rector and his daughter, who never married, is entitled to the position he left her.
More good fortune follows. Mary writes to Miss Matty’s brother in India. When he receives the letter, Peter Jenkyns sells his property and returns to Cranford to keep his sister in comfort and in some prosperity. Peter also brings about a reconciliation between Mrs. Jamieson and Lady Glenmire, who now calls herself Mrs. instead of Lady. Once more, there is peace in Cranford.