Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, first published in book form in 1853, is merely 138 pages (the Dover Thrift Edition). It has taken me over three months to read. In fact, I would have given up reading if Gaskell had not been part of the Wordsworth Classics Reading Challenge 2011.
I could not engage with the book's plot, writing style, nor characters. It's not that the 19th century-ness of Gaskell's work has put me off. A few months ago I eagerly devoured her North and South. I was looking so forward to her other work. I even blogged about my love of Cranford's opening chapters in early January.
I'm not sure what went wrong with this book. Gaskell examines the lives of the inhabitants of Cranford. Cranford, the town within Gaskell's work, is described as a town populated solely of females - the only men in the town are visiting Indian servants and teenage boys. In doing so, Gaskell weaves a tale of female domestic life in 1830s England.
Despite having professed my dislike for this novel, Cranford is at times comical. For example, Gaskell describes how the ladies in the town eat fruit. She suggests that:
sucking... was in fact the only way of enjoying the oranges; but then there was the unpleasant association with a ceremony frequently gone through by little babies; and so, after dessert, in orange season, Miss Jenkyns and Miss Matty used to rise up, possess themselves each of an orange in silence, and withdraw to the privacy of their own rooms to indulge in sucking oranges (page 22-23).
Overall, I would suggest that only individuals who really enjoy reading nineteenth century English literature should consider undertaking this book. Hopefully you will make do with it better than I.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003.