Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Summary & Thoughts – Chapter 5

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Miss Matty burns the letters after reading them

Old letters, filled with the thoughts, hopes, and cares of the Jenkyns family.

There was in them a vivid and intense sense of the present time, which seemed so strong and full, as if it could never pass away, and as if the warm, living hearts that so expressed themselves could never die, and be as nothing to the sunny earth.

We meet Miss Matty and Deborah’s parents when they were young. Molly, their mother, was only eighteen when she married and clearly, by her annoyance at his constant declaration of love in their correspondence, still very much a young girl. She usually wrote asking John to convince her parents of one or another need for a frock. The curious paduasoy is mentioned.

I believe that her motive in marrying him was not originally love; she was too young to understand it but his kindness to her made her like him and since all young ladies must marry when he proposed she accepted. But love came softly upon her and after their marriage she addresses him as ‘my dearest John.’

After the birth of Deborah a letter from the grandfather arrives and he paints a:

Severe and forcible picture of the responsibilities of mothers, and a warning against the evils that were in the world, and lying in ghastly wait for the little baby of two days old.

"They lasted us two nights; and I won't deny that I made use of the time to think of many other things"

She dotes on her baby Deborah and when Matty is born is equally delighted –predicting two great beauties for Cranford. At the birth of Peter, the ominous grandfather writes another letter,

More stringent and admonitory than ever, now that there was a boy to be guarded from the snares of the world. He described all the various sins into which men might fall, until I wondered how any man ever came to a natural death.

While he doesn’t fall into the ‘snares of the world,’ Peter grows up with a love for mischief as we’ll see in the next chapter. John– the Rev. Jenkyns had one of his sermons published, a pivotal event in his life and he’s become more serious than is good for him. His wife now addresses him as ‘my honored husband’ in her letters. Perhaps Peter’s hoaxing (oops, sorry, Miss Matty), which he claimed was his way of ‘giving the ladies of Cranford something to talk about’ was really his way of asking his father to be less strict.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alexa Adams says:

    What a melancholy chapter! Though I must admit, there is a huge amount of truth in what Gaskell says regarding “small economies”, the rest of it feels so stark compared with the previous chapters. In your summary you gave away the fact that Peter does not fall into one of the “snares of the world”, which I was definitely expecting him to do. Something must have happened to him – I shall plow on and learn his fate.

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