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How does 'Cranford' represent Victorian society in microcosm?

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Introduction

Word count 1,738. How does Cranford represent Victorian society in microcosm? 'Cranford', a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, was written in the Victorian era and is based on the author's own experiences of growing up in Knutsford. Written in the first person, the narrator, Mary Smith, is no longer a resident of Cranford but is an outside observer writing an account from her point of view about the happenings that have occurred over the years in this small town. The themes of gender, class, religion, dress, manners and behaviour in this novel, are all reflections on the values of the Victorian era and Cranford could be one of numerous towns across the country 'Cranford' is also a heart warming story of friendship that extends beyond the rigid boundaries that governed the Victorian way of life. Upon the opening of the novel, the narrator introduces the reader to the inhabitants and the correct social practices that must be adhered to in Cranford. It is said to be 'in the possession of the Amazons' (p5), a clear indication that this is town controlled by strong women, however, as with any tribe, there is a hierarchy of social status and a code by which they are governed by. However, the word 'Amazons' is so strong it is sarcastic, Amazonian women, in Greek mythology, were a group of strong, fearless warrior women who lived independently from men. ...read more.

Middle

Other works of the time such as Charles Dickens's 'Bleak House' also reflects the changing times. Set in the foggy, industrialized capital of London, it portrays Dickens's world at that time: sanitary reform, slum clearance, orphans schools, the new detective branch of the Police Force and female emancipation. Mrs Jellyby, who is said to have been based on Mrs Caroline Chisholm who pioneered an ill fated expedition in 1841 to establish a colony in Africa, has her home described as dirty and unsanitary and the children there dirty and unkempt. She is clearly the dominant partner as her mild-mannered, long suffering husband sits in silence as she pours her and her family's efforts and money into her cause. However, this is a clear contrast to Esther who is the depicted as the idealistic Victorian woman. Neat, tidy, plain and humble she selflessly devotes herself to her husband and her family's happiness much like the Cranford ladies. Therefore it could be argued that Gaskell seems to ignore the most significant aspect of the times, the industrial revolution and how this was changing society. The outside world is barely mentioned in 'Cranford' and when it is mentioned, it brings devastation like the death of Captain Brown. In doing this, Gaskell makes a very subtle point. She believes society is changing for the worse. ...read more.

Conclusion

This reflects how the times were beginning to change in the respect of women's role in society. It is the relationships between the women of Cranford that set the story apart from the norm of the Victorian age. 'Cranford' reflects a lifestyle that is reminiscent of the time; however, the relationships of the women in the novel overcome the boundaries of class and social status. There are several occasions throughout the novel where etiquette suggests an action should not be taken but it is taken in order to support a friend in a time of need. When Miss Matty faces bankruptcy, Gaskell makes it clear that the codes of social practice are so strictly adhered that even if someone were facing complete destitution, accepting charity is not even be considered. The whole of Cranford Society is determined to assist her in her time of need so they are forced to concoct a plan that enables them all to help her without her knowledge. The Jenkyns's social stature is due to their being the late Rector's daughters and biblical references, such as Martha stating "she was not one to serve Mammon" (p152) show how the Bible plays a central role in life. The Bible is quoted many times in the novel for example when Captain Brown passes away and Miss Brown is near death Miss Jessie quotes "he has gone before you to the place where the weary are at rest" (p25) (Job 13:17) and "though He slay me, yet I will trust in him" (p26) (Job 13:15). ...read more.

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