Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Summary & Thoughts – Chapter 7

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Miss Betty Barker pays a visit to Miss Matty before the usual calling hours sending Matty into a fluster putting on two caps, much to Mary Smith’s gentle amusement:

Miss Matty bowed acceptance; and I wondered that, in the graceful action, she did not feel the unusual weight and extraordinary height of her head-dress. But I do not think she did; for she recovered her balance, and went on talking to Miss Betty in a kind, condescending manner, very different from the fidgety way she would have had, if she had suspected how singular her appearance was.

Miss Betty’s very conscious of the differences of rank, which makes her oppressively modest. The daughter of a clerk, she served as a lady’s maid. She and her sister saved enough to set up a millinery shop. Lady Arley let them copy the pattern of her old caps and they prided themselves on the aristocratic connection, letting only those with pedigree make a purchase — what a different retail world compared with today. She ‘presumptiously’ invites the ladies to tea on Tuesday, even Mrs. Jameison to whom her late sister was lady’s maid

The ladies of Cranford consider Shakespeare’s ‘What’s in a name?’

Mrs. Fitz-Adam was not invited to tea on account of her background, her

Parents were respectable farmers, content with their station. The name of these good people was Hoggins. Mr. Hoggins was the Cranford doctor now; we disliked the name, and considered it coarse; but, as Miss Jenkyns said, if he changed it to Piggins it would not be much better.

Mr. ffoulkes and Mrs. ffaringdon

But she married a Mr. Fitz-Adam and Mrs. Forrester suggests that ‘Ftiz’ is so often used for royalty it must mean something aristocratic.

No one, who had not some good blood in their veins, would dare to be called Fitz; there was a deal in a name — she [Mrs. Forrester] had had a cousin who spelt his name with two little ffs— ffoulkes, — and he always looked down upon capital letters, and said they belonged to lately-invented families. She had been afraid he would die a bachelor, he was so very choice. When he met with a Mrs. ffaringdon, at a watering-place, he took to her immediately; and a very pretty genteel woman she was — a widow with a very good fortune; and ‘my cousin,’ Mr. ffoulkes, married her; and it was all owing to her two little ffs.”

So while Miss Betty snubbed Mrs. Fitz-Adam the rest of Cranford called on her and enjoyed her society.

Now to the tea.

Cranford is quite strict on elegant economy anything expensive is considered vulgar so it comes as a surprise that when Miss Betty’s tea tray arrives abudantly heaped with delicacies including seed-cake, which Mrs. Jameison

Told us, on the occasion of her last party, that she never had it in her house, it reminded her so much of scented soap …However, Mrs. Jamieson was kindly indulgent to Miss Barker’s want of knowledge of the customs of high life; and, to spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid, ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow’s.

The ladies followed her lead and the heaps disappear;  The rules are beginning to relax. While they play cards, a very serious and earnest sport in Cranford, what should come in but another tray with cherry brandy, oysters, lobsters, and little cupids! Perhaps Mrs. Jameison had a little too much of the brandy for she tells them that her sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, will be coming to stay with her.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alexa Adams says:

    I really loved the seen with the supper tray. How well Gaskell captures human behavior! I have been in so many situations in which people profess to prefer a more economical option, only to appear hypocrites when they readily accept something better when it is offered. What would Miss Jenkyns have said about this gathering? I also loved the coughs emitted to indicate the ladies being unaccustomed to spirits. People are so funny.

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