Set in a small English town during the 19th century, Cranford depicts the lives of women, centering on the elderly, the widowed, and the unmarried. The social expectations and customs of Cranford are mostly enforced by three older women. Rowena Fowler is a wealthy woman who takes pride in her luxury items and has outlived all of her kin. Betsy Barker is a sweet, but a bit odd lady who has a pet cow that she loves so dearly that she sews pajamas for the animal. Deborah Jenkyns possesses the most social power. While the other two ladies help her police other townspeople, Deborah is the one who establishes the norms and customs that the town is expected to abide by. The town have more or less agreed to the standards these leading ladies set, which has set a balanced dynamic in Cranford. With vigorous gossip and a close-knit community, Cranford is a picturesque rural town. However, Cranford is shaken when a new family moves into town. Captain Brown and his two daughters unknowingly challenge Cranford's rules soon after they arrive. First, Captain Brown openly admits that he is poor. Traditionally, he is expected to keep up appearances to appear well-off, but Captain Brown, who is unfamiliar with such a custom freely admits his financial troubles. Next, he disagrees with Deborah over who is the best author of the time, which Deborah sees as a personal attack. As the town of Cranford witnesses every quirk and flaw of the Brown family, tearing them apart with gossip, they notice something else too. Captain Brown is an incredibly kind man, who makes homemade gifts and emphatically listens to others. This glowing virtue paired with all of Brown's social inadequacies challenge the town of Cranford like never before, forcing the townspeople to decide what merits really matter.
Told through a series of satirical sketches, Cranford provides an intimate narrative that allows readers to experience the life and people of the 19th century, especially the women. Often excluded from narratives, Gaskell has created strong and memorable female characters, giving the women a well-deserved spotlight. Filled with humor and sentiment, Cranford is a tranquil and fun read.
This edition of Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell's Cranford is printed in a modern font and features an eye-catching cover design, creating an assessible reading experience for a contemporary audience.