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Cranford, by Elizabeth Glaskell, on audiobook.

March 14, 2013

Cranford, by Elizabeth Glaskell, read by Clare Willie, on audiobook.

The perfect novel and format for me to hear as an audiobook while convalescing from eye surgery.

In Cranford, Elizabeth Glaskell gives readers a gentle picture of life among the ladies of a small, nineteenth-century English town.  These ladies are elderly, widowed and proudly or regretfully single.  They are always genteel and protective of their own social status, even when they struggle to make ends meet financially.   Various events in their lives are told in different chapters, and readers become acquainted with the main characters who appear in all of them.  The story is narrated by a young single woman who has lived in Cranford and returns frequently for long visits with her friends.  While totally loving toward the ladies, she frequently shares humorous comments about their foibles with readers.

The Cranford ladies always act in a kindly, if patronizing manner towards their maids and others who they do not consider their equals.  The story is always told from the viewpoint of the mistresses.  For all their propriety and gentility, the ladies could be as cutting in their assessment of men as any modern-day feminist.  Although few men punctuate their lives, they claimed to know a great deal about troublesome male behavior.  After all, as one lady stated, she knew about men because her father was a man.

Audiobooks have not appealed to me much in the past, but with my eye sight temporarily gone, I appreciated them.  Cranford was a particularly good choice.  The book created a gentle, comfortable mood in which nothing urgent was happening—a good mood for healing.   Because there was no overarching plot, I didn’t worry if I didn’t catch every word.   I had heard about the popularity of the Public Broadcasting Service adaptation of Cranford, but had not watched it.  As I listened to this audio version, I could not imagine how an enactment of the book could convey the sheer delight of the narrator’s account of the women’s stories.

The only other book of Glaskell’s that I have read was North and South, an account of a young minister’s daughter from southern England adapting to an northern industrial town.  In that book, Glaskell addresses class conflict which she claims could be ended through personal relations between the employers and workers.  While I admire her attempt to address the problem and broaden her range of characters, the result lacks much of precision and grace that make Cranford so much fun to read.  Like many authors, Glaskell is best when writing about the people she knows best.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2013 5:24 pm

    Cranford is one of my lifetime favourite books; I’ve read it several times. I didn’t much like the UK TV adaptation of it, as it invented freely. I also loved North and South for its love story and its documentation of the effects of technology on the lives of workers, its compassion in showing both sides of the story. I DID like the film series of this and have a copy of it. It, too, I have watched more than once. Wives and Daughters is another one I enjoyed, haven’t read that again for years. I agree with you that when one is unwell or troubled in some way, some books are very soothing and healing. Cranford is one. Another one for me is Lord of the Rings, which I’ve read about 8 times and have just started re-reading again!

  2. March 15, 2013 1:35 am

    I’m with you Marilyn re audiobooks. I’m not a huge fan but realise they have their place … a long road trip is one place and, I realise, as I get older and eyes start to fail is the other. Cranford was the first Gaskell I read and I enjoyed it. It’s quite different to her others … it was introduced to me as being somewhat like Austen but it lacks Austen’s bite I think. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely read. I’ve read North and South, Wives and daughters, and Ruth. North and south is, I think, my favourite and I really want to read Mary Barton. Ruth was good but her religion comes out a bit too strong in it. She cared about women’s lot but couldn’t quite overcome her religious leanings to fully expose it in Ruth.

    Hope your eyes are recovering.

    • March 17, 2013 9:30 am

      That’s a good comment on Cranford. Yes, I think what bothers me about audiobooks is that I can’t interact with the author by noting passages and returning to them. I just feel too passive.

      • March 17, 2013 4:11 pm

        Passive … Yes, that’s the perfect way to describe it … And it’s exacerbated by having a reader interpreting it for you through their voice/s, intonations etc, isn’t it.

  3. March 22, 2013 5:19 pm

    I listened to part of another audiobook with my husband. Kingsolver’s new Flight. She has a wry sense of humor and I enjoyed sharing her words. it was more like watching a movie or video with someone else than reading. Another good use of the technology.

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