Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (published between December 1851 and May 1853) is a delightful read about a village populated mostly by women. It is refreshing to read about women in their middle age who support one another. The first two stories or chapters of Cranford are set in the 1830s, the following scenes are in the 1840s with the tale concluding in 1853.
In fact, Gaskell wrote the vignettes of Cranford in response to the Victorian debate that women couldn’t be friends with other women (because of a ‘natural’ tendency for jealousy, vindictiveness, and spite) and wouldn’t be able to manage outside their designated domestic sphere. She set out to show the Victorian angels in the house could live alongside each other and thrive in the outside world.
A tight-knit community, we meet the many women living in Cranford through the eyes of our younger narrator, Mary Smith. Between the spinsters, widows, and ladies, there are a lot of characters to keep track of as you follow the narrative—so here’s a cheat sheet for you!
Note that the BBC adaptation of Cranford pulls from more of Gaskell’s writing than just the 16 stories that appear in the publication. The Cranford TV show also pulls plots from Mr. Harrison’s Confession (1851) and My Lady Ludlow(1858). These additional characters won’t appear in the graphic below.
Be aware that there are some plot spoilers in the graphic below.