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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,471 words.)