The ladies of Cranford
We at BookPage seem to be slightly obsessed with PBS’s literary programming. (OK, maybe it’s just me.) Another great miniseries is up to bat starting this Sunday: “Return to Cranford.” It’s a sequel to the 2008 series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel of the same name, “Cranford,” which won two Emmys and three BAFTAs (until January 10, the original “Cranford” is online). “Return to Cranford” will air in two installments on January 10 and January 17.
Starring some of the U.K.’s most talented actors of a certain age, including Dame Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton, the Cranford episodes are as charming as Gaskell’s novel, and full of compassion and humor. Based on Gaskell’s hometown of Knutford, in Cheshire, Cranford is a village peopled mostly by women. Above the usual small-town conflicts, the larger specter of modernization—factories and railroads, which were just starting to transform the landscape in the early 1840s—looms, a fact that some in the series adjust to better than others. Imagine Lake Wobegone crossed with “The Golden Girls,” and you’ll have some idea of the appeal of this warm and welcoming series, which is full of delightfully eccentric characters. But the book (and series) is not all warm fuzzies; the women of Cranford face real difficulties and losses.
Gaskell in 1851, the year 'Cranford' was published
Gaskell wrote Cranford to capture the foibles and customs of the generation preceding hers, since social mores and structures were rapidly changing. Her work combines the social satire of Austen with the social conscience of Dickens, and in recent years her novels have made a resurgence in popularity. The opening paragraph of Cranford is as memorable, if not as well known, as the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities:
In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there? . . . the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. “A man,” as one of them observed to me once, “is SO in the way in the house!”
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Gaskell’s birth (September 29, 1810) and in commemoration her name will be added to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. Celebrations are also occurring in Knutsford. I will be ringing in the year of Gaskell by watching “Return to Cranford” and reading at least one Gaskell novel this year . . . I still haven’t gotten to Wives & Daughters, which is supposed to be her masterpiece.
Anyone else a fan of Gaskell or the adaptations of her books? I hear the North & South miniseries that came out a few years ago was equally wonderful.