Friday, June 13, 2014

CRANFORD by Elizabeth Gaskell

First published in 1851 as a serial novel in Household Words, a magazine edited by Charles Dickens, Cranford is an engaging experience in long ago place and time and the lives of simple small town people.  Elizabeth Gaskell took a town that she knew very well – Knutsford in Cheshire – and crafted the fictional town of Cranford where she recounts episodes from the lives of three primary characters relating to their neighbors and daily events. 

While there may not be an intricate plot nor twists and turns of suspense and deep drama, we nevertheless are granted a well-crafted glimpse into another time and another way of life.

Elizabeth Stevenson was born in September of 1810, the daughter of a Scottish Unitarian minister and the youngest of eight children. After her father resigned his orders, her life took a more insecure turn as his employment endeavors re-formed and Elizabeth’s mother died, leading him to send Elizabeth to live as a dependent with an aunt and grandparents in the small town of Knutsford, Cheshire.

Elizabeth was sent for a typical “young ladies” education in the arts, classics and decorum and encouraged by her aunts and by her father to read, study and to develop in her writing. At 22 years old, she married a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell, in Knutsford and they went to settle in Manchester where he served as the minister Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.  

The tragic loss of children, places lived; neighbors and friends experienced… all became fuel for Elizabeth’s imagination as the years passed.  She began with a diary, wrote poems with her husband under the title -  Sketches Among The Poor - which were published in a magazine and there followed other small written works which developed her style.

It was after the Gaskells traveled to the continent that influences produced new ideas and her first work of fiction was published, Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras under the name “Cotton Mather Mills”.  
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote her major literary works in the second half of the century from a villa at 84 Plymouth Grove in Manchester, England.  Her social circle grew to include such writers as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, John Ruskin and the American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. 

Her last work, Wives And Daughters, was published as an incomplete work in early 1865, a year after Gaskell died of a heart attack.

The Jane Austen Tea Society will begin our second study of British Victorian Authors with this charming Elizabeth Gaskell work and discuss over a Summer Book Breakfast to take place on Saturday the 12th of July 2014 at 10am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!