What a gorgeous book. After years of avoiding Victorian literature, in the past twelve months I've fallen in love with Gaskell's writing. This is a short work: more a series of episodes than a linear narrative. It centres on the lives of a group of women who dominate society in the small town of Cranford. They are united by being single - widows and spinsters - and by the fact that live in genteel poverty.
Cranford is at times laugh-out-loud funny, at times deeply moving. Within five minutes of starting the novel I was laughing at the gentle satire on human foibles and life in a small town. Forty minutes later, I was crying about the death of one of the characters. The pattern of alternating laughter and tears continued until the very end. At least, the tears don't last quite till the end: it's a book which thankfully ends on a happy note. Cranford is sentimental, but not cloyingly so. The humour cuts through the sentiment, while making the sad moments even more poignant.
The novel is a first person narrative in the form of a memoir. Relatively little is revealed about the narrator, although more becomes known about her as the novel progresses. The narrator is herself a lovely character, although the real star of the novel is the wonderful Miss Matty Jenkyns. I love Miss Matty and I loved spending time in Cranford. I'm particularly happy to have listened to the Naxos audiobook version, superbly narrated by Clare Wille. Now I have to watch the BBC television series and see how it measures up to the original. This is a 4-1/2 star read.