I’ve decided that on Mondays I’m going to revisit the books I read for a course in college called Advanced Reading Survey, taught by the eminent scholar and lovable professor, Dr. Huff. I’m not going to re-read all the books and poems I read for that course, probably more than fifty, but I am going to post to Semicolon the entries in the reading journal that I was required to keep for that class because I think that my entries on these works of literature may be of interest to readers here and because I’m afraid that the thirty year old spiral notebook in which I wrote these entries may fall apart ere long. I may offer my more mature perspective on the books, too, if I remember enough about them to do so.
Mrs Gaskell was the daughter of a Unitarian minister and later married another Unitarian minister. The death of her son caused her to start writing as a means of alleviating her grief. Her first novel, Mary Barton, was an immediate success, bringing her the friendship of Charles Dickens in whose magazine Household Words she published the novel Cranford, first as a serial.
Miss Mary Smith, narrator of the events at Cranford.
Miss Deborah Jenkyns, a spinster and resident of Cranford.
Miss Maty Jenkyns, Deborah’s sister.
Other inhabitants of the village of Cranford and characters in the novel include:
Miss Jessie Brown
Miss Smith: “I have often noticed that almost everyone has his own individual small economies—careful habits of saving fractions of pennies in some one peculiar direction —any disturbance of which annoys him more than spending shillings or pounds on some real extravagance.”
Miss Pole: “My father was a man, and I know the sex pretty well.”
Miss Matty: “My father once made us,” she began, “keep a diary in two columns: on one side we were to put down in the morning what we thought would be the course and events of the coming days, and at night we were to put down on the other side what really had happened. It would be to some people a rather sad way of telling their lives. . . . I don’t mean that mine has been sad, only so very different to what I expected.”
Miss Matty: “Marry!” said Miss Matty once again.”Well, I never thought of it. Two people that we know going to be married. It’s coming so very near.”
Miss Smith: “We felt it would be better to consider the engagement in the same light as the Queen of Spain’s legs—facts which certainly existed, but the less said about the better.”
Martha, Miss Matty’s servant: “Reason always means what someone else has got to say.”
My thoughts thirty years later:
This story of the lives and incidental affairs of a group of elderly spinsters in a village in VIctorian England would seem at first glance to be unrelated to my hectic and technologically dominated life with eight children, a husband, and a brother-in-law in Houston, Texas. But I remember it as being full of gentle insights into human foibles, a bit melancholy at times, and warmly humorous at other places in the narrative. I’d enjoy reading it again and would recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen or Jan Karon’s Mitford series or Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels.
I’d really like to see the PBS mini-series based on Mrs. Gaskell’s book, but I have so many things I’d like to watch and so many books to read. I’d also like to read Mrs. Gaskell’s North and South, which is about the north and south of England, not about the American Civil War.