(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1027 words.)