"In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women ... the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient ... (And) although the ladies of Cranford know all each other's proceedings, they are exceedingly indifferent to each other's opinions. Indeed, as each has her own individuality, not to say eccentricity, pretty strongly developed, nothing is so easy as verbal retaliation; but, somehow good-will reigns among them."I read that Mrs. Gaskell preferred Cranford to all her other books, and I can see why. It's a subtle comedy of manners set in a quaint English village with a delightful cast of characters. There's Captain Brown, who proclaims his poverty in a too-loud voice, and his two spinster daughters: Mary, who's ailing, and Jessie, who has a dimpled smile. Then there's the sedate and proper Miss Deborah Jenkyns, the former rector's eldest daughter, and her gentle and kind-hearted sister, Matty. They live alone with one household serving maid who isn't allowed "followers". Miss Jenkyns helps set the tone for the town.
Cranford is a town of card games and caps, with rules for visiting and plenty of praise for "elegant economy" over vulgar displays of money. Along with the humdrum and ordinary, it has its share of tragedy and thwarted love affairs. There is also the return of a long lost brother, truer than true friends, and more than one happy ending. Cranford is a charming place to while away the afternoon (and an even more charming book). And since it was published in 1853, it counts as my 19th century classic for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge. (It's also the tenth book from my TBR shelf.)