Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
This chapter centers around the story of Miss Matty’s brother, Peter. He was meant to win honors at Shrewsbury and continue with distinction to Cambridge. Afterward his god-father, Sir Peter Arley, would provide him with a living as a clergyman. But as Rev. Jenkyns would say bonus bernardus non videt omnia, which means: we are all apt to forget sometimes; events do not always turn out as they are planned before-hand.
The sole honor Peter brought away from Shrewsbury, was the reputation of being the best good fellow that ever was, and of being the captain of the school in the art of practical joking.
Rev. Jenkyns prided himself on his published sermons. Peter dressed up as a lady passing through Cranford who wished to see the clever author and to Peter’s horror his father, blinded by vanity, was completely taken in.
He was close to Miss Matty and often confided in her but didn’t get along with Deborah. When she leaves for a fortnight he puts on her frock and cuddling a pillow as if it were a baby, stands out in the garden creating quite a stir. Miss Deborah has had an illegitimate child they all think. As Rev. Jenkyns approaches he believes the crowd is admiring his rhododendrons and is aghast when he sees what’s going on. Tearing the dress from Peter he fiercely reprimands him with his walking stick in front of everyone.
This joke seems quite maliciously motivated –why would Peter risk his sisters reputation? Rev. Jenkyns’ fury seems just but scholar Alyson Kiesel points out that it was the idea of Deborah with a child that seemed humorous to him; a most unlikely and contradictory thing. Which in turn tells us what he really thinks of his fathers sermons. Peter suffers from a lack of respect for Deborah and his father but perhaps, to him, it seemed mutual. His father was constantly berating him for his disinterest in studying and Deborah for his cheeky ways.
Peter enters the house, there is a change about him; he has grown up. He gently kisses his mother goes to his room. After speaking with Rev. Jenkyns and learning what has happened, Molly goes to talk her son Peter, but he’s not there. She calls for him softly at first but as she realizes he’s gone her cries grow louder and wilder. Rev. Jenkyns becomes very penitent, he hadn’t realized Peter would react so and he must have feared Molly wouldn’t forgive him. He becomes a humble, gentle, and patient man. Molly’s mind never truly recovers from the loss of her son.
Miss Matty has no time for crying, revealing an inner strength, she does her best to take charge of the search but when a servant asks her if they should dredge the pond the thought of her dear brother resorting to such despair makes her give way and the tears flow bringing her mother momentarily back to her normal state to comfort her child.
A letter arrives for them a few days later from Liverpool. It’s from Peter, he’s offered his services to a ship and asks his parents to come and see him off but by an unfortunate fate the letter was delayed and by the time the Rev. and Mrs. Jenkyns arrive in Liverpool the ship had sailed. How this must have torn everyone’s hearts! Molly doesn’t live much longer and the day after her death a letter and package arrive from India. A beautiful white shawl from Peter in which his mother is buried. Deborah vows to stay with her father and never marry. When his eyesight begins to fail she reads and writes for him.
Peter visits once when he is a lieutenant and Rev. Jenkyns proudly shows off his son to the neighborhood– the two were good friends during this visit the misunderstandings and frustrations melting away. But while Peter is there the Rev. Jenkyns, in his joy, forgets Deborah. It must have pained her a great deal to see her father so proud of his son and realizing that he’d never looked like that about his daughter. But he was grateful for her devotion to him and no doubt proud of her too though he didn’t show it the same way as he did with Peter. After a great war in India Peter is never heard from again and it’s presumed he is dead.
Kiesel, Alyson. “Meaning and Misinterpretation in Cranford.” ELH Winter 2004: 1001-1017. Print.