Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
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”
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.