Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Summary & Thoughts – Chapter 8

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Lady Glenmire, the widow of Mr. Jamieson’s eldest brother (a baron), is arriving for a long visit. Cranford is all excitement, they are to have a member of the peerage amongst them! Miss Pole looks forward to being assured by someone who’s seen her that Queen Victoria is doing well. And they all begin to worry about the correct form of addressing her, bewildering poor Miss Matty the more they talk of it. But their worries are put to rest with an insult from Mrs. Jamieson who,

Came now to insinuate pretty plainly, that she did not particularly wish that the Cranford ladies should call upon her sister-in-law. I can hardly say how she made this clear; for I grew very indignant and warm, while with slow deliberation she was explaining her wishes to Miss Matty, who, a true lady herself, could hardly understand the feeling which made Mrs. Jamieson wish to appear to her noble sister-in-law as if she only visited “county” families.

Well! Nothing can be done but not paying the slightest attention or compliment to Lady Glenmire. She is not even glanced at, despite their curiosity, when they go to church. Thankfully Martha can glance for them and tells them she’s more like Mrs. Deacon of the Coach and Horses than anyone. What a thing to say Martha, hush! But she also observes that she is sharp, has bright eyes, and is younger than Mrs. Jamieson.

Perhaps the company of the apathetic Mrs. Jamieson wasn’t enough to keep the lively Lady Glenmire entertained or Mrs. Jamieson finally realized that all the county families were currently in London; However it came about invitations were sent out for a small party on the following Tuesday, delivered by the overbearing Mr. Mulliner who never forgot

his condescension in coming to live at Cranford… in his pleasantest and most gracious moods he looked like a sulky cockatoo.

At first they plan to decline the invitation but Miss Pole vigorously persuades them to accept –she has a new cap she must show of –and they can’t let Mrs. Jamieson think she can upset them so easily. So, they put on their best caps, for in Cranford they were like ostriches and only the head mattered when it came to fashion. Brooches seem to be of importance as well and Mary Smith tells us she

counted seven brooches… on Miss Pole’s dress. Two were fixed negligently in her cap (one was a butterfly made of Scotch pebbles, which a vivid imagination might believe to be the real insect); one fastened her net neck-kerchief; one her collar; one ornamented the front of her gown, midway between her throat and waist; and another adorned the point of her stomacher. Where the seventh was I have forgotten, but it was somewhere about her, I am sure.

All is rather uncomfortable and silent at first, what conversation would interest Lady Glenmire? The price of sugar had gone up causing vexation on the part of Cranford for preserve-time was near but does my Lady eat preserves or know how they are made? Miss Pole finally breaks down and asks if she has ever been at court, which the unpretentious Lady answers she’s ‘never been there in her life,’ no doubt to the horror of Mrs. Jamieson; the spell of awe had been broken. 

It was pleasant to suspect that a peeress could be poor, and partly reconciled us to the fact that her husband had never sat in the House of Lords; which, when we first heard of it, seemed a kind of swindling us out of our respect on false pretenses; a sort of “A Lord and No Lord” business.

A mutual friendship is soon formed over the bread and butter. Mr. Mulliner takes far too long to bring the tea and Mrs. Jamieson is reluctant to ring the bell despite her hungry guests. It’s interesting to ponder that just because Mr. Mulliner is a man she lets him rule, for it’s very impudent that a servant doesn’t do his duty because he’s reading the chronicle! Lady Glenmire doesn’t stand for it and when she gets half-permission strongly rings the bell.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Alexa Adams says:

    I like Lady Glenmire very much and harbor some hope that she will loosen Mrs. Jamieson up some and put Mr. Mulliner in his place (I do wish someone would at least call him out about the paper – Miss Pole’s private complaint doesn’t seem terribly rave, regardless of what her companions think). I am a bit confused by Lady Glenmire’s rank – I thought she was the widow of a Baron, which is why he might have been expected to sit in the House of Lords, not a Baronet. Did I read this wrong?

    1. Oops, I typed it wrong, blame it on Sir Walter. 😉 You’re correct, Alexa, he is a Baron.

      Mr. Mulliner is a terrible servant (if he acted like that in any other household he’d have been dismissed) and his use of the paper is such a lack of respect towards the ladies of Cranford! I agree Miss Pole’s complaint isn’t plucky to our standards but to Cranford’s I suppose it’ll have to do for now.

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