Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Writing & Publishing

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

An edition of Household Words

Published in Charles Dickens’ journal Household Words, “Our Society at Cranford” made it’s first appearance December 1851. Written as a short story, at the time, Elizabeth Gaskell had no intention of continuing it. She was focused on her next novel, Ruth. But Cranford was a favorite with many readers and Dickens, much to Gaskell’s annoyance, prompter her for more.

The two had a difficult business relationship. She did not like his interference with her writing and was upset with his editing. He changed Miss Jenkyns’ dialogue at the end of chapter two:

“Mr. Hood, you know –Hood –Admiral Hood: when I was a girl; but that’s a long time ago, –I wore a cloak with a red Hood”

and what Captain Brown was reading (Pickwick Papers) at a critical moment in his storyline, reasoning that it seemed like self-promotion. But he admired her storytelling ability, calling Gaskell his ‘dear Scheherazade’ and when he asked her to write for Household Words wrote,

“I should set a value on your help which your modesty can hardly imagine”

A first edition of Cranford

What changed her mind about Cranford? Perhaps her delightful characters beckoned her to write more. Or the darker tone of Ruth and controversial reception of Mary Barton made her want to write something charming and nostalgic.

It appeared in the journal, under no particular schedule, until May 1853 then was published in it’s own right the next month. Early critics dismissed Cranford as captivating vignettes but layered within the charm Mrs. Gaskell addresses social issues, specifically how the rules of society affect women.

Gaskell later wrote a short tale called, “The Cage at Cranford” which was published in Dickens’ second magazine, All the Year Round, November 1863.



“Cranford, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell – Introduction.” Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Juliet Byington. Vol. 97. Gale Cengage, 2001. eNotes.com. 2006. 19 Oct, 2010 <http://www.enotes.com/nineteenth-century-criticism/

Fowler, Rowena. “Cranford: Cow in Grey Flannel or Lion Couchant?.” Studies in English Literature Fall 1984: 717-729. EBSCO Host. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.

Stoneman, Patsy. “Cranford 1851.” Elizabeth Gaskell . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. 87-98. Print.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Katherine, here is my post about Gaskell bio. It’s in portuguese, but I promise in the end of the week translate it into English. You can use the translation button until there.


    1. Thank you for sharing the link, Adriana! How lovely, I hadn’t known about the red and white sand tradition at Knutsford. 🙂

      I’m so happy that you’re joining us for the group read!

  2. JaneGS says:

    Dickens and Gaskell definitely had a troubled relationship, but I’m grateful he did serialize her works. I get the feeling he just didn’t know how to deal with a woman who had a mind of her own.

    Writing Cranford must have been such a relief after the grim stories she told in Mary Barton and Ruth, as well as the short stories.

    1. Yes, it’s interesting to see the connection to Dickens as editor. I can certainly imagine Dickens being an overzealous editor.

  3. Libi Astaire says:

    Interesting … I read Cranford for the first time just a few months ago. When I saw the reference to Pickwick Papers in the text, I did wonder if Gaskell was trying to butter up her editor, or if Dickens was doing some “product placement” for his own book. Now I know. Thanks.

  4. Tami Coxen says:

    I didn’t know the history between Gaskell and Dickens. That was very interesting. It must have been quite frustrating for her to allow that kind of interference with her work. At the same time, he was definitely an admirer of her writing and that kind of support from someone of his caliber would be empowering.

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