The Cranford Chronicles consists of three short stories:
Mr Harrison's Confessions (the shortest)
My Lady Ludlow
They are all separate stories but set in the same sort of place - mainly a small northern town where the population happens to be many unmarried women who all seem half afraid of getting married or desperate to. Mr Harrison's Confessions
is about a young surgeon who comes to work in a new town and his introduction to the town folk. He is a nice young man, maybe a bit impressionable but a good doctor. In a town of unmarried or widowed women he soon finds himself rather the object of unwanted attraction. Meanwhile, he has fallen in love with the vicar's daughter.
It is a rather humour observation of people and life told in first person by Mr Harrison as if he is telling a friend. The friend is unknown and unnamed - a theme through out these three short stories. Cranford
is again, a humour observation of life within a small town consisting mainly of spinster women who are not at all used to men. Gaskell takes pleasure I think in affectionately mocking the society, making fun out of these women. At the centre is Miss Mattie Jenkyns who is the most lovely person - never married though that in itself is a little sad.
The women are terrible gossips and prone to hysteria. It is very admirable though, in those days for these women to be so independent and having chosen to remain unmarried (whether by choice or ill opportunity) when being married would have of course been easier and perhaps better financially for them.
The women of Cranford are rather infatuated with the idea of being linked to aristocracy and take pride in any trace of blue blood. In truth they are all rather poor but that is not spoken of amongst any of them.
It is told from the first person perspective of a character whose name you don't even hear of until towards the end. She is rather a background character, she just happens to be there - she is you the reader - and she merely related the goings on of Cranford to you the reader. You do not really hear of her character, what kind of person she is etc - she is a friend of the Jenkyns' and stays with them throughout the story which takes place over a number of years.
It feels almost like a gentle soap as the story happens in episodic spurts. A little slow going due to the passivity of the narration and there is very little story - more so a character study of these people. Nevertheless I did enjoy Cranford very much and loved Gaskell's subtle sense of humour.My Lady Ludlow
is slightly different from the first two, the humour is not so light hearted any more and it feels a little melancholy.
It is set I believe in the early 1800's and is about the old kind of society. Set in a time before the industrial revolution and railways and before the post arrived daily.
Lady Ludlow is an extremely kind, generous and lovely person but she does not believe that the 'lower orders' should receive an education. She comes into conflict over a lot of change and the prospect of a school being built.
This is the slowest of the three but I think from a social standpoint, very interesting. There is a long passage relating to the French revolution and the fleeing aristocrats of the time. Unfortunately I thought this felt very segmented and uninvolving despite it's obvious interest.
Once again, this is told from the view point of someone who does not become very involved in the story and instead relates what happens as she observes it. In part this has been a weakness I feel as it is difficult really to feel a part of the story, as a reader I felt more like an outsider. But then I think in part I enjoyed it for that as well - it is like having a window into a particular society - where there are some very lovely, kind people despite their face-value unlikeableness.
Lady Ludlow may have disliked schooling and felt herself to be on a higher grain - something that to today's readers and even the readers of the time of publication may have found old hat - but she was gentle and kind and looked after her people - and did not think them so beneath herself that she would not associate with them.
Miss Galindo was a severe spoken woman, quite manly (when she was trying to be!) who swore and came across sour and rude - but is in fact a lovely woman, truly kind with a big heart.
Mr Horner, cold, detached and cross was a good steward who had the estate's best interests at heart - took in a poacher's son who everyone else would have discarded - and gave him an education.
Mr Gray, parson who was always turning red and very passionate also turned people around and saw the grains in good in people where the was any.
All three stories tell of the goodness of people and the kindness. It is perhaps a littler sugar-coated but that is sometimes what we need.
It is not a book without sadness or tragedy though, but shows many characters whom we may judge to be one way, are actually in fact another.