Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Cranford Criticism - Essay

Martin Dodsworth (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Women Without Men at Cranford,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 13, 1963, pp. 132-45.

[In the following essay, Dodsworth interprets Cranford as a plot-driven novel concerned with feminine repression of sexuality in a male-dominated world.]

Most readers seem to feel that the spirit of Cranford is most aptly expressed in the delicate—not to say charming—illustrations of Hugh Thomson. The world of Cranford is faded, full of small snobbery and great kindness; it is a feminine novel, not only as all the important characters are women, but as pre-eminently the work of a woman, ever held by the details of a room's arrangement or a bonnet's...

(The entire section is 5467 words.)

Edgar Wright (essay date 1965)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mrs. Gaskell and the World of Cranford,” in Review of English Literature, Vol. 6, No. 1, January, 1965, pp. 68-79.

[In the following essay, Wright defends Cranford’s merits as a novel, arguing against its detractors who see it as Gaskell's “reminiscences thinly disguised as fiction.”]

‘Every schoolboy knows’ that Cranford is Knutsford, the small country town where Mrs. Gaskell was brought up, and critical comments on her work all make this point. They seem to mean by this that Mrs. Gaskell draws on her knowledge of Knutsford and her memories of its inhabitants for her detail; its topography, its customs and traditions, its stories...

(The entire section is 4490 words.)

Patricia A. Wolfe (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Structure and Movement in Cranford,” in Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 2, September, 1968, pp. 161-76.

[In the following essay, Wolfe focuses on Miss Matty as the heroine of Cranford and a figure illustrating the novel's thematic progression from an initial female rejection of men to their gradual acceptance.]

The problem of Cranford's structure is central to an understanding of the book. Until Martin Dodsworth's article “Women Without Men at Cranford”1 appeared, critics generally believed that it consisted of a number of loosely-connected incidents with no underlying progression lending direction to the plot....

(The entire section is 6604 words.)

Angus Easson (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cranford (1853),” in Elizabeth Gaskell, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 97-108.

[In the following excerpt, Easson considers the sources and episodic structure of Cranford, Gaskell's skill in rendering emotion and character in the work, and the novel's enduring qualities.]

If stationary men would pay some attention to the districts in which they reside, and would publish their thoughts respecting the objects that surround them, from such materials might be drawn the most complete county-histories, which are still wanting in several parts of this kingdom …

Gilbert White,...

(The entire section is 5342 words.)

George V. Griffith (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “What Kind of Book is Cranford?” in Ariel, Vol. 14, No. 2, April, 1983, pp. 53-65.

[In the following essay, Griffith details the problematic generic unity and narrative technique of Cranford.]

“That a book is a novel means anything or nothing; the practical question relates to its character and contents.”1

For so slight a thing Cranford is a problematic book. Everyone loves it, although no one is quite sure how it works or what it is. A glance at its printing history and the history of its critical reception confirms the problem. Whereas Mrs. Gaskell's other novels have seen no...

(The entire section is 4945 words.)

Hilary M. Schor (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Affairs of the Alphabet: Reading, Writing, and Narrating in Cranford,” in Novel, Vol. 22, No. 3, Spring, 1989, pp. 288-304.

[In the following essay, Schor analyzes Cranford as an experimental woman's narrative concerned with the cultural factors of women as writers and readers.]

Elizabeth Gaskell's third novel, Cranford, which is most frequently discussed by critics and nostalgic readers as a potpourri, a bouquet of impressions, an elegiac tribute to passing ways in a dying English village,1 is in fact better read as a woman writer's experiment with narrative, an extended commentary on the ways women are taught to read...

(The entire section is 9270 words.)

Wendy K. Carse (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Penchant for Narrative: ‘Mary Smith’ in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford,” in Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 20, No. 3, Fall, 1990, pp. 318-30.

[In the following essay, Carse investigates the character and interpretive role of Cranford's self-effacing narrator, Mary Smith.]

Readers must wait until chapter twelve before the narrator of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford finally promises to “say a word or two here about myself” (117). What then follows, however, is not at all a revelation about herself, but only a brief comment, necessitated by the plot, explaining why she has extended her recent visit to Cranford. This reticence...

(The entire section is 6669 words.)

Dennis W. Allen (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Peter Was a Lady Then’: Sexuality and Gender in Cranford,” in Sexuality in Victorian Fiction, University of Oklahoma Press, 1993, pp. 60-83.

[In the following excerpt, Allen studies Victorian anxieties concerning sexuality and traditional gender roles as they are represented in Cranford.]

In the first place, if the town of Cranford is “in possession of the Amazons,” Cranford, the novel in which it appears, may be in the possession of the feminists. Ever since Martin Dodsworth's charge that the novel expiates Elizabeth Gaskell's unconscious hostility to men through a recognition of the insufficiency of women (1963, 132-45), women...

(The entire section is 10122 words.)

Adrienne E. Gavin (essay date 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Language Among the Amazons: Conjuring and Creativity in Cranford,” in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 23, 1994, pp. 205-25.

[In the following essay, Gavin discusses how the Cranford women create oral fictions while their male counterparts are merely readers and quoters.]

My dear Mrs. Forrester, conjuring and witchcraft is a mere affair of the alphabet.

(Cranford 84)

In the town of Cranford conjuring and witchcraft are affairs of the alphabet. It is their arrangements of the alphabet, in speech and in writing, that enable the women of Cranford to sustain and protect...

(The entire section is 9086 words.)

Margaret Case Croskery (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mothers without Children, Unity without Plot: Cranford's Radical Charm,” in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 52, No. 2, September, 1997, pp. 198-220.

[In the following essay, Croskery probes the charming, complex, and experimental narrative technique of Cranford, arguing that the work represents a significant development in nineteenth century sympathy and reform novels.]

Early in the modern critical reappraisal of Elizabeth Gaskell, John Gross perceptively warned that Gaskell's charm might lead critics to undervalue her work despite the fact that “her reputation has held steady for a hundred years.”1 This is both an odd...

(The entire section is 8213 words.)